Healthy Eating: Five foods to fight breast cancer

Find out which colorful foods are best for reducing the risk of breast cancer, and also a few which should be avoided.

Vegetables (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States. This year alone, more than 215,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with the disease, and more than 40,000 will die from it. While about 5-10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to inherited gene mutations, about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease. These cancers are due to genetic mutations that occur as a result of the aging process and life in general. Today, more and more studies are being done to examine the correlation between one’s diet and one’s risk of developing this disease. While there are still many debates as to whether or not one’s diet can affect their risk of breast cancer, a healthy diet will without doubt help with weight control - a key factor in breast cancer prevention.
In October it was time to “think pink”, but now it's time to think in multi-color as a diet rich in different colored fruits and vegetables can supply you with a variety of nutrients that are currently being studied for their cancer fighting abilities. Here are a few foods that are not only low in calories and fat, but are jam packed with nutrients that could potentially reduce your risk.
Think Green: Broccoli and kale
Loaded with many nutrients including vitamin C, carotenoids (vitamin A) fiber, calcium, and folate, broccoli is the ultimate food to keep you healthy. New studies have found that two compounds found in this superfood - sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C) - have been touted as possible anti-cancer agents. A study conducted at the University of Michigan found that sulforaphane reduced the number of breast cancer stem cells (which cause cancer spread and recurrence) in mice. While eating broccoli may not deliver enough sulforaphane to achieve the same effect in humans, it certainly won’t do any harm to give it a shot. Eat this green raw or lightly steamed as, cooking broccoli can decrease the sulforaphane by nearly 90%.
Like all green leafy vegetables, kale is abundant in numerous nutrients that boast many health benefits, including Isothiocyanates (ITCs) that exhibit cancer-fighting properties. In fact, kale's cancer risk-lowering benefits have recently been extended to at least five different types of cancer, including breast.
Think Red: Tomatoes
Responsible for tomatoes vibrant hue, lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. More and more studies have found a strong correlation between consumption of this carotenoid and a reduced risk of cancer, including breast cancer. Numerous studies have found an inverse association between breast cancer risk and increasing consumption of tomatoes, and other fruits or vegetables rich in lycopene, including watermelon.
Think Purple: Red cabbage
Cabbage is rich in anthocyanins, the pigment responsible for cabbage’s purple color as well as its cancer fighting abilities. According to a study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) this Brassica vegetable contains 36 different types of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids that have been increasingly linked to cancer protection. Now, while this flavonoid may secure cabbage a spot on this cancer-fighting food list, this purple vegetable has much more to offer. Like broccoli, cabbage is also rich in indole-3-carbinol; while the glucosinolates in cabbage are converted into isothiocyanate, compounds that are shown to have preventative effects for a variety of different cancers, including bladder cancer, colon cancer, prostate and breast cancer.
Think Yellow: The Sun
While the sun is by no means a food, it does provide us with one particular nutrient that is gaining more and more attention for its health benefits – vitamin D. While most of us have heard that this fat fat-soluble vitamin is needed to help absorb calcium in order to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, more and more studies are showing that Vitamin D may also reduce the risk of cancer. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) recently presented a report illustrating a correlation between an increased vitamin D intake and a reduced breast cancer risk.
Think Brown : Walnuts
According to a study published in September in Nutrition and Cancer, consuming walnuts slowed the development and growth of breast cancer tumors in mice. After consuming two ounces of walnuts a day for 34 days, the mice that ate the nuts had less than half the rate of developing breast cancer as those not given the walnuts. Now, while we woman are by no means mice, this nut does contain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols, all of which may reduce the risk of the disease.
A few to avoid
Saturated and Trans-Fats: We all know saturated and trans fats are a definite health no no. They increase one’s risk of a variety of diseases, specifically heart disease. However, today, more and more studies are suggesting that there's a strong correlation between a high intake of saturated and trans-fats and an increased risk of breast cancer.
Alcohol: According to the American Cancer Society there may be a direct correlation between increased alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer. While researchers have not yet fully understood this connection, they believe that it could be due to the way in which the alcohol is metabolized. However, no matter what the cause, research has confirmed that even a few drinks a day can increase one’s risk.