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The latest statistics show about one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and breast cancer death rates in the US are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. The good news: Because breast cancer research is so well funded, myriad studies have identified dozens of dietary factors and foods that can reduce your risk as well as support and accelerate recovery for those fighting the disease. Here are seven of the best:
Carrots They’re high in antioxidant carotenoids like beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, which protect against breast cancer. In one large-scale study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women with the highest blood levels of carotenoids had an 18 to 28% lower risk of breast cancer. Other foods rich in carotenoids include peppers, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and leafy greens such as kale. Try this: Shred carrots and toss with currants, pistachios and rosewater for a Middle Eastern carrot salad; purée roasted carrots with chickpeas, garlic and olive oil for a twist on hummus; toss baby carrots and cauliflower florets in melted coconut oil, roast until tender and shower with minced parsley.
Red onions are high in organosulfur compounds, which block tumor growth in breast cancer and other cancers. Other foods rich in organosulfur compounds include yellow onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and chives. Red onions also contain quercetin and anthocyanin (a water-soluble pigment that’s responsible for the red color),
which also protects against breast cancer. Try this: Sauté red onions, shaved Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in olive oil; halve red onions, drizzle with a mixture of melted coconut oil, honey and balsamic vinegar and roast until tender; thinly slice red onions, pack in a jar and cover with apple cider vinegar for quick pickles.
Broccoli sprouts, baby broccoli plants that resemble alfalfa sprouts, have sulforophane, a sulfur-containing compound with anti-cancer activities. Studies show that sulforaphane can inhibit breast cancer cell growth and induce apoptosis of breast cancer cells. They’re also high in fiber, which may protect against breast cancer by altering hormonal actions. Other foods high in sulforaphane include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower. Try this: Spread mashed avocado on whole-grain toast and layer with broccoli sprouts, red pepper slices and olives for an easy breakfast or snack; blend broccoli sprouts, bananas, pineapple and coconut milk into a creamy smoothie.
Flaxseeds contain compounds called lignans, phytoestrogens that can either enhance or inhibit estrogen’s effects. In postmenopausal women, lignans can cause the body to produce less active forms of estrogen, which may potentially reduce breast cancer risk. They’re also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat that has been shown in studies to suppress growth, size and proliferation of cancer cells and to promote breast cancer cell death. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, oats, barley, beans and berries also contain lignans. Try this: Combine ground flaxseeds with minced rosemary, garlic powder and water, then roll thin, cut into squares and bake as savory crackers; stir ground flaxseeds, blueberries and chopped walnuts into oatmeal for a power-packed breakfast; purée ground flax, cocoa powder, instant espresso and yogurt for
a healthy mocha smoothie.
Arugula is loaded with cancer-preventive compounds, especially glucosinolates, a group of sulfur-containing substances that are responsible for the pungent, bitter taste of cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates are broken down by the body into biologically active compounds such as isothiocyanates and indoles, compounds that have been shown to inhibit the development of cancer cells and promote cancer cell death. One study published in Annals of Oncology found that women who ate more cruciferous vegetables, such as arugula, kale, radishes, broccoli and cabbage, had a 17% lower risk of breast cancer. Try this: Purée arugula, basil and spinach with cashews, olive oil and garlic for a peppery pesto; toss baby arugula leaves with diced pears, chopped pecans and crumbled blue cheese and drizzle with olive oil; sauté arugula, escarole, radicchio and shallots and top with a poached egg.
Green tea is rich in polyphenols, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful compound that’s been shown to prevent cancer cell growth and induce cancer cell apoptosis. In one Chinese study that looked at 1,009 women between the ages of 20 and 87 with a histological type of breast cancer, green tea consumption was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. EGCG is found primarily in brewed green tea (78 milligrams per 100 grams) as well as in foods such as raspberries (0.54 mg per 100 g), peaches (0.30 mg per 100 g) and strawberries (0.11 mg per 100 g). Try this: Add matcha green tea powder and honey to hot almond milk for a creamy green tea latte; simmer fish in a broth of green tea and sliced ginger; combine matcha green tea powder and almond flour, and use it as a base for grain-free pancakes.
Soy isoflavones are a class of phytoestrogens – plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity. Many studies have found that moderate consumption of soy has the potential to protect against breast cancer. Additionally, genistein, the main isoflavone in soy, has been shown to protect against cancer by interfering with hormone-signaling pathways and impacting genes involved in cancer cell reproduction and death. In a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that girls who eat soy during childhood and adolescence have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer in adulthood. Other studies suggest that the consumption of soy foods containing genistein during adulthood protect against both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer. While many studies show positive benefits of soy isoflavones, there are conflicting results, so check with your health-care provider and always opt for organic, non-GMO soy products.
Vitamin D protects against breast cancer and other cancers, and observational studies show that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day (along with keeping sunlight exposure at a very moderate level) could cut breast cancer risk in half. In a German study, women with the highest levels of vitamin D had a 70% reduction in their risk; the effects were more pronounced in women who never used hormone therapy. Other studies show vitamin D combined with calcium reduced breast cancer risk in premenopausal women and could be even more protective against aggressive breast tumors.
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties, may inhibit the growth and spread of breast cancer cells and may promote cancer cell death. It also increases the activity of natural killer cells and prevents breast tumors from escaping detection by the immune system. Curcumin also appears to be effective against both estrogen-positive and estrogen-negative breast cancer cells, and it may act on breast cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapy.