Nutritional science offers one of the greatest hopes in the fight against breast cancer, and following this science is a critical, proactive role all women can take. The good news is that research has confirmed time and time again that certain foods can be looked at as sources of preventative medicine.
One of the most powerful tools to preventing breast cancer is what you put in your body. The following are four powerhouse foods and nutrients you need to keep your breasts healthy. As a dietician, I believe in having a game plan that’s realistic and within reach. It’s important to deliver protection in a smart way, all while making sure that it fits into your busy lifestyle.
Studies continue to confirm the link between eating fiber and a reduction in breast cancer risk. Researchers have found that both soluble and insoluble fiber reduce the risk of breast cancer, especially for women consuming upwards of 30 grams a day. How? Insoluble fiber sticks to free estrogens in the gut, and sweeps them out. In fact, fiber may also ensure that less estrogen is free in the first place. When less estrogen is absorbed, you end up exposed to lower amounts of the hormone, which in turn lowers your risk of breast cancer. Whether you’re trying to shed pounds or fight cancer, you need 35 grams of fiber each day.
Why 35 grams? Evidence from several studies suggests that women who consumed 30 grams of fiber per day had a significant risk reduction (32%) of breast cancer. Compare that to the women who were eating less than 25 grams a day who only had a very minimal risk reduction (2%), and you have a clear case for eating more than 30 grams a day!
Here’s one of my favorite fiber solutions:
(285 cal, 12 g Fiber)
1 cup steel cut patmeal (4 g)
1 tbsp white chia seeds (4 g)
Diced apple or berries (4 g)
Cinnamon (to taste)
Top your oatmeal with the Healthy Breast Breakfast Mix. Get the complete recipe here.
Omega-3s are what’s known as essential fatty acids – essential because your body doesn’t produce them. You can only get essential fatty acids from foods like fish, seeds, nuts and oils. However, another group of essential fatty acids that has been receiving a lot of attention lately compete with omega-3s. Those are called omega-6 fatty acids, and while you do need them, most Americans already get way more than enough of them since they are plentiful in today’s modern diet. And the more omega-6s you absorb from your diet, the less omega-3s you can take in (and vice-versa). While it’s important to focus your energy on eating more foods rich in omega-3s, it’s also good to be limiting – not eliminating, just limiting – your intake of omega-6s.
Why do you need omega-3s? Well-regarded research suggests that omega-3s enhance overall well-being and are particularly important for breast health. One reason may be because omega-3s reduce inflammation, a condition that damages healthy tissue and can encourage cells – including cancer cells – to grow. Omega-6s, on the other hand, are known to increase inflammation.
It’s important to know that there is more than one type of omega-3 fatty acid, and fish contain the ones that are most effective in guarding your health. Keep in mind that whole foods are always a better choice than supplements; make sure to get 3-4 servings per week!
Here’s my weekly omega-3 solution:
- Order fish when you eat out once a week. Many of us do. Easy!
- Cook fish once a week. Not so overwhelming, right?
- Tap into canned fish. Make a batch of low-mercury tuna or canned wild salmon. This can yield two meals and a snack, all from just a 5-minute prep!
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale are rich in sulforaphane – one of the primary phytochemicals (protective compounds found in plants) that helps prevent cancer. Recent studies from the Linus Pauling Institute, which was supported by the National Cancer Institute, suggest that sulforaphane can selectively target and kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells healthy and unaffected.
How do you get it? Here are some of my favorite top-of-the line cancer-fighting vegetables.
- When it comes to salads, arugula is a sulforaphane-rich superstar.
- It’s widely available on menus, so seek it out!
- One tablespoon has as much sulforaphane as a pound of broccoli!
- It can be easily added to salads, and makes a great topper in sandwiches and burgers.
- It is shown to potentially retard growth of breast cancer cells
- It is a natural diuretic (fantastic de-bloater!)
- To max out on benefits, a handful (6 oz) is the ideal serving.
- Calorie-conscious people rejoice: Watercress is practically calorie-free! One cup has just 4 calories.
If watercress or broccoli sprouts are not available, shredded red cabbage is another affordable yet powerful way to supercharge a simple salad and make it a more protective one.
A recent study found that women with the highest folate levels had a 44% lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest folate levels. To help protect yourself, you need to consume 1-2 servings of folate-rich foods a day.
How much is enough? You should aim for at least 400 micrograms of folate daily. Fortunately, there is a wide range of folate-rich foods so it won’t be difficult to get to this number. Lentils, beans, certain fruits, leafy greens and fortified cereals are all good sources.
How do you get it? Here are 10 folate-rich foods, the first being the most folate-rich and so on:
- Brewer’s yeast, 1 tablespoon = 313 mcg
- Lentils, 1/2 cup, cooked = 180 mcg
- Edamame, 2 cups = 179 mcg
- Romaine lettuce, 2 cups = 152 mcg
- Black/kidney beans, 1/2 cup, cooked = 128 mcg
- Spinach, 2 cups, fresh = 118 mcg
- Broccoli, 1 cup, chopped and cooked = 104 mcg
- Asparagus, 1 cup, fresh = 79 mcg
- Whole-wheat bread, 2 slices = 60 mcg
- Orange, 1 large = 55 mcg
Here is my favorite folate-rich recipe:
Sprouted Green Lentils
Out of all beans, lentils have the highest amount of folate! With a 5-minute prep time, it’s fast food at its best!
Cook 1 cup of lentils in 3 cups boiling water or broth for 5 minutes. The fact that it’s sprouted makes the nutrients easier to absorb by the body, so you can bypass any gas and discomfort.
Boost this dish by adding diced tomatoes, and/or red chili flakes. Add the tomato while the beans are warm, so the heat will release the lycopene from the fibers of the tomato, making it easier for your body to absorb it. The capcaisin in chili flakes is shown to help speed up your metabolism.