Many people are unaware of the important role nutrition plays in fighting off breast cancer and all chronic diseases. A growing body of research highlights diet’s role in not only lowering the risk of developing breast cancer, but warding off re-occurrence, too.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m sharing my top picks for cancer-fighting foods. Take a look at the following list and aim to regularly consume a wide variety of these nutrient-dense foods.
Whole Grains – Whole grains are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and natural plant compounds that help fight cancer.1 Have three a day. Good sources of whole grains include:
- Brown and wild rice
- Whole-wheat pasta and bread
- Whole- wheat cereal flakes
- Whole grain snacks including whole grain crackers, tortillas and bagels and popcorn. Yes, popcorn!
Fiber – Research has found that fiber helps reduce the risk of breast cancer by lowering the amount of estrogen in the body. In fact, a study reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those who consumed the most fiber had an 11 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who ate the least. Aim to consume 30 grams of fiber a day. Good sources for fiber include:
- Vegetables like romaine lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes
- Pinto beans, black beans, lentils and kidney beans
- Brown rice, oatmeal, kashi cereals, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread and tortillas
Vitamin D – Studies have revealed a strong link between vitamin D and breast cancer.3 Women with breast cancer often have low levels of vitamin D and those with higher vitamin D levels have been found less likely to develop breast cancer. Good sources of vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish including salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and canned tuna
- Vitamin D-fortified milk, orange juice and cereals
- Egg yolk
- Fish oils
- Omega-3 supplements fortified with extra vitamin D
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Research suggests omega-3s reduce inflammation which can encourage breast cancer cells to grow.4 Good sources include:
- Chia seeds and ground flaxseed
- Walnuts and walnut oil
- Canola oil and soy oil
Folate – Those with higher folate (a vitamin B) levels have been found to have more than a 40 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest folate levels.5 To reach a healthy level of folate, try to consume 400 micrograms of folate each day. Good sources include:
- Kidney beans, black beans
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale and arugula
- Fortified cereals , breads, rice, pasta
Don’t forget that it is your total lifestyle that counts the most – your entire eating pattern of lean meats, healthy oils, whole-grains, colorful beans, fruit, and vegetables, and low-fat dairy – combined with a healthy weight and regular exercise ( 150 minutes a week), a healthy attitude about life, and relaxation or happy events you plan daily. A handful of healthy food choices help but nothing compares to a healthy re-vamped TOTAL style of eating and living everyday! What is good for your whole body helps prevent cancer and energizes your life.
- Health Benefits with Whole Grains. Journal of Nutrition, May 2011;141(5):1011S-22S. Epub March 30, 2011
- Dietary fiber intake and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011. bit.ly/qKtsU2
- Intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of breast cancer. BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3706. 27 June 2013.
- Folate, vitamin B12 and postmenopausal breast cancer in a prospective study of French women. Cancer Causes Control. Nov 2006; 17(9): 1209–1213.
The rich flavors and health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet are hard to ignore. The heart-healthy diet is based on eating traditional foods (and drinks) of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Crete and other parts of Greece and Southern Italy. The diet focuses on consuming healthy fats, seafood, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. Ingredients emphasize fresh and real foods, which help manage blood pressure, lipids and blood sugar while promoting longevity.1 In addition to cardiovascular benefits, research suggests a delayed need for sugar-lowering drug therapy in overweight patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes.2
The century-old tradition of the Mediterranean Diet has proven to contribute to good health. Try incorporating these dietary patterns into your own home to promote an overall sense of well being while combating heart disease and chronic illness.
- Seafood. Eat seafood 2-4 times a week. Try salmon, halibut, tuna steak, snapper, mackerel, bass, sardines, tilapia, canned light white tuna, shrimp and rainbow trout. The American Heart Association recommends eating oily fish twice weekly to reduce heart disease risk by 40%. The omega 3 oils in fish are heart-healthy.
- Berries, Cherries, Red Grapes. Eat these daily. Choose fresh, frozen and dried and eat as part of meals, snacks and desserts. Add to shakes, smoothies, stews, salads. Use as toppings for yogurt, pancakes, oatmeal and cereals. The deep red pigment (identifying anthocyanins, flavonoids and polyphenols) are powerful anti-oxidants that reduce cholesterol oxidation (plaque) and inflammation in arteries, preventing the stiffening of artery walls.
- Tomatoes. Eat daily fresh or cooked in sauces, stews, spaghetti or pizza sauce, soups, salsa and tomato juice. Include other red-pigmented foods too, such as carrots, cantaloupe, oranges, red onion, red bell pepper, red cabbage, red-veined lettuce, beets, red apple, red or purple grapes, eggplant, cherries, berries and sweet potatoes. The flavonoids in these foods fight heart disease.
- Greens. Eat daily: spinach, asparagus, cabbage, greens, Brussels sprouts, lettuce and broccoli. These foods are packed with heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients, such as the B Vitamins, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, calcium and Vitamins A,C, E, K that lower blood pressure and keep arteries elastic.
- Beans. Include ½ cup daily or 4 cups a week of beans to lower lipids. Eat all types and colors, served hot or cold. Tasty options include hummus, lentil soup, black bean soup, limas, black beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, garbanzos, pintos, edamame and red beans. Try adding beans to dips and salads and snack on baby carrots and red bell pepper strips with hummus.
- Wholegrains with Fiber. Strive for 3 servings daily. Enjoy oatmeal topped with raisins, almonds or walnuts; 100% wholewheat bread, cereal, crackers; kashi, barley, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, popcorn and wheat berries. Aim for 48 grams of wholegrains daily.
- Lean Quality Protein. Include lean beef and pork cuts in your diet. Eat poultry without skin, low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), seafood and soy. These nutrient-rich foods protect your body and your heart.
- Olive Oil, Nuts, Avocado. These healthy oils lower cholesterol. Use in salads and cooking. Try up to 6 teaspoons of oils daily or 2 tablespoons of nuts, such as almonds, walnuts or pistachios.
For more ideas on heart-healthy eating, check out The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009). My guidebook of tips makes healthy eating fun and more manageable. Connect with me online at @GeorgiaKostas and Facebook/Georgia Kostas Nutrition and visit: http://www.georgiakostas.com.
1 2011 American Society for Nutrition. “The Impact of a Mediterranean Diet and Healthy Lifestyle on Premature Mortality in Men and Women.” (Piet A van den Brandt) http://www.ajcn.org
2 2009 Annals of Internal Medicine. “Effects of a Mediterranean Style Diet on the Need for Antihyperglycemic Drug Theray in Patients with Newly Diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes.” (Esposito) http://www.annals.org
This nutrition information does not address individual health conditions. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian to meet specific health and dietary needs.