Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers affecting women worldwide, making it crucial to adopt lifestyle choices that can help reduce the risk of developing this disease. While genetics play a role, several dietary strategies have been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer.
Here we discuss the top five dietary strategies you can incorporate daily to help lower your risk for breast cancer, as well as the 5 foods you should avoid to continue reducing your risk.
Need help reformulating your diet to help prevent breast cancer and other health issues? Schedule a Nutritional Consultation with our Functional Nutrition Provider today.
Top 5 Foods to Reduce Your Risk
Cruciferous Veggies – aka Broccoli: Broccoli is a mighty and powerful cruciferous vegetable containing specific plant compounds like sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol (I3C), and glucobrassicin. Sulforaphane has been shown to neutralize carcinogens, inhibit cancer cell growth, and promote detoxification of carcinogens in the body. Linked to estrogen metabolism in the body, I3C may help balance estrogen levels to prevent the accumulation of the hormone. Lastly, glucobrassicin is a compound that can break down into smaller compounds that serve to modulate inflammation and protect cells/DNA from being damaged. Other cruciferous vegetables with these super powers include cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale.
Fiber: Fiber-rich foods, like vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains – can help lower the risk of breast cancer by aiding in hormone regulation, inflammation reduction, and the promotion of a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber is also great for healthy weight management and increasing insulin sensitivity. Now this sounds counterintuitive, but insulin sensitivity is actually good, as we want our bodies to be sensitive to insulin and respond quickly. (When we are insulin resistant, this is when our body has to produce more insulin to finally get the right response so that glucose levels come down. Insulin resistance can be the gateway into type 2 diabetes if it goes unattended for too long.) The recommended intake of fiber per day is about 25-38 grams/day, which is much easier said than done. Aim to get about 7-10 grams of fiber at every meal to reach this goal. Here are some easy ways to make that happen:
– 1 cup of raspberries = 8g of fiber
– 1/2 cup of boiled lentils or black beans = 7g of fiber
– 1 cup of boiled broccoli + 1 cup of boiled brussel sprouts = 9g of fiber
– 1 cup of boiled green peas = 9g of fiber
– 1 medium sized pear = 5.5g of fiber
– 1 cup of quinoa = 5g of fiber
Tomatoes: The bright red tomato gets its color from the powerful antioxidant, lycopene. Studies have shown that lycopene has the strong potential to fight cancer with its anti-inflammatory effects. Interestingly, the level of lycopene in tomatoes increases when it is cooked and/or processed. Try making your own tomato sauce to put over lentils or gluten-free noodles! Tomato sauces also go great over vegetables like zucchini, peppers, squash, eggplant, and mushrooms.
Berries and Cherries: The antioxidants provided by berries like raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are common knowledge by now, but did you know they are also high in Vitamin C? They can easily be incorporated into smoothies, homemade baked goods, over your morning yogurt, or on their own! Cherries are another fruit that have shown great promise in recent research identifying them to be powerful agents to prevent cancer. Cherry extracts and micronutrients have been shown to inhibit breast cancer growth, proliferation, and angiogenesis of cells (aka, reduction in tumor growth potential).
Grapes: We have all heard that red wine contains a powerful antioxidant for fighting cancer, but alcohol consumption is not going to help reduce your risk for breast cancer! Luckily, wine comes from grapes, which contain resveratrol! And the skin of grapes is where the highest content of resveratrol lies. Specifically, red and purple grapes have high levels of resveratrol (green grapes don’t have nearly the same amount.) Serve up about 15 grapes either fresh or frozen. Enjoy them on a salad, as a quick snack on their own, or even frozen as a cool treat!
Top 5 Foods to Avoid to Reduce Your Risk
Alcohol: Excessive alcohol intake is a known risk factor for breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day (or less!) for women can help reduce your risk.
Fast and Fried Food: Fast and fried foods are energy-dense and nutrient-lacking foods that result in abdominal fat gain, impaired insulin and glucose regulation, systemic inflammation, and lipid disorders. They are often severely lacking in any micronutrients, too, which we now know are what fight cancer off. These foods increase the risk for all cancers, as well as multiple cardiometabolic disorders. If indulging in these foods, save them for special occasions! Otherwise, do your best to plan ahead and eat as much as you can from home.
Cured, Processed Meats: Examples of cured, processed meats include bologna, pre-cooked ham, bacon, sausages, and hot dogs. These products typically come “ready-to-eat.” These forms of meat come with harmful chemicals like nitrites, nitrates, and heterocyclic amines, which can damage DNA and encourage cells to over multiply and promote cancer growth. Opt for the unprocessed, organic, and uncured options of these meats (if incorporating in your current diet). Prioritizing leaner meats and plant-based protein sources like chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans is a great place to put your focus! With meats, it is important to find pasture-raised, grass-fed, and wild-caught sources that are organic and unprocessed/uncured.
Added Sugars and Sweeteners: A recent study found that a high intake of sugar was linked to a 50% increase in relative risk for breast cancer. This increased risk is not only due to the inflammatory responses that sugar can initiate, but also the higher likelihood of weight gain and poor blood sugar regulation. Overweight and obese individuals are much more likely to develop breast cancer (and other cancers), so this avoidance is really about keeping the gut happy and maintaining a healthy weight to avoid cancer development.
Refined Carbohydrates: Diets high in refined carbohydrates, specifically sugars (as previously mentioned) and refined starch, raise cancer risk. This increased risk is in response to higher levels of IGF-1, which is a growth factor that promotes cell replication and slows programmed cell death. This includes foods like pastas, pastries, breakfast cereals, chips, cookies, etc. Opt for high-fiber grains that contain fiber! For further reading, check out this study.
Want to use nutrition as a preventative measure against breast cancer and other serious illnesses? Functional nutrition offers an evidence-based approach to diet and nutrition. Get started by scheduling a functional nutrition consultation today.