By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
It’s been said time and time again, but the simple truth is that a well-balanced diet is instrumental to long-term health. Though healthy eating cannot completely prevent every kind of disease and illness, it certainly goes a long way in reducing the risk of many ailments, including breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends eating a variety of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day while limiting processed and high-fat foods. Further research shows that closer to nine servings per day can help prevent or fight cancer. However there are certain foods that carry more benefits, specifically toward breast health and the immune system, than others.
Peaches and Plums
A study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that both plums and peaches offer incredibly high amounts of antioxidants that can help destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. This is important because traditional forms of cancer treatment often harm healthy cells in addition to cancer cells during the process.
Women with higher levels of carotenoids in their bloodstreams are at a reduced risk for breast cancer, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Carotenoids, also known as Vitamin A, are in many dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale, but they can also be obtained by eating sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers and winter squash. There are 600 different kinds of carotenoids and they are most commonly found in orange, yellow, red and dark green fruits and vegetables.
Grains and Beans
An increased fiber intake can help prevent the risk of breast cancer according to a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study showed that for every 10 grams of fiber a woman added to her daily diet, her risk of breast cancer decreased by seven percent. Fiber-filled foods include whole grains, vegetables, legumes, beans, barley and lentils.
Nutrition experts recommend skipping red meat and processed meats as a part of an anti-cancer diet, and there’s no better protein substitute than fish, which is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats reduce inflammation that may contribute to breast cancer. Eat about eight ounces of oily fish – salmon, sardines and tuna – every week to garner these benefits.
Sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli, reduces the number of breast cancer stem cells, according to research from the University of Michigan. Other cruciferous vegetables like brussel sprouts and cauliflower offer the same benefit and also block tumor growth to prevent further spread of the cancer. Be sure to eat these vegetables raw or lightly steamed, as boiling can destroy some of the sulforaphane properties.
An anti-inflammatory element, in addition to nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, found in walnuts may give them tumor-fighting potential. Recent research in the Journal of Nutrition also suggests that walnuts slow the growth of breast cancer tumors after diagnosis as well.
While there is no diet that can guarantee the prevention of breast cancer, consuming healthy and nutritious foods can reduce the risk and even manage some associated side effects of the disease. Dietary needs vary from person to person, so it’s important to speak with your physician or a registered dietician regarding an individualized plan.
Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more tips on how to live a healthier lifestyle, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.