October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and what better way to be aware of breast cancer than to kick its butt? That’s right: While awareness is good, even better is to do what we can to prevent the disease in the first place (or prevent it from coming back).
Since I’ve had some shady breast biopsy results myself, I try my best to keep the girls happy and healthy. Being a foodie, one of my favorite ways to do that is chowing down on breast-friendly fare! So I recently surfed the science and rounded up 5 foods that fight breast cancer—some of which I knew about, and some that were a surprise. I’m excited to share them with you, along with tasty, easy ways to enjoy!
1. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are loaded with cancer-fighting carotenoids, plant pigments that give certain veggies their vibrant orange color.1 (Think “carrot”-enoids.) Indeed, research has shown that women with the highest level of carotenoids in their blood have a 19% lower risk of breast cancer than women with the lowest levels.2 So whether mashed, baked, or boiled, sweet potatoes are a delicious way to boost breast health.
Broccoli and other cabbage-family vegetables contain compounds called glucosinolates that help balance estrogen in the body. Specifically, they help the body produce less “bad” estrogen, which may fuel breast cancer growth, and more “good” estrogen, which is safer. What’s more, in the lab some of these compounds can even trigger breast cancer cells to die—and I think we can all get behind that! (For more on how cabbage-family veggies fight breast cancer, see my post on breast cancer and cruciferous vegetables.) To get the most benefit out of your broccoli, eat it raw or lightly steamed and chew thoroughly to activate its cancer-fighting compounds.3
To try: Broccoli with Mustard Sauce
Whether you crave creminis or prefer portobellos, there’s reason for mushroom lovers to rejoice: A recent analysis of ten studies found that eating mushrooms is linked to a modest decrease in breast cancer risk. Researchers think the effect may be due to a special type of carbohydrate found in mushrooms that can block breast cancer cell growth.4 Mushrooms also contain substances called aromatase inhibitors that can help dial back estrogen production. Stuffing, shiitake, white button, portobello, cremini, and baby button mushrooms contain the highest levels of aromatase inhibitors.5 However, be sure to enjoy your mushrooms cooked, as raw mushrooms can contain toxic compounds!6 Of course, if you’re going to eat mushrooms, along comes the age-old question: Should you wipe or wash? Click here to find out.
Lab research has shown that gorgeous jewel-toned pomegranates also contain estrogen-lowering aromatase inhibitors.7 While more studies are needed to determine if this translates into decreased breast cancer risk, given the many health benefits of pomegranates, there’s every reason to add them to your diet. To enjoy, sprinkle pomegranate arils (the little red pods) over salads, blend them into smoothies, or enjoy them solo as a snack. Not sure how to peel a pomegranate? Check out this 20-second video on Lifehacker for a quick-and-easy method.
To-try: Berry pomegranate oatmeal bowl
While it’s known that beans can reduce the risk of colon cancer, it turns out they could cut breast cancer risk too. How? Beans are especially rich in fiber, and eating lots of fiber is linked to a lower risk of getting breast cancer (even when accounting for other healthy behaviors). In fact, for every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, breast cancer risk drops by 7 percent.8 That means eating 1 cup of black beans a day (which has 15 grams of fiber) could theoretically drop your breast cancer risk by 10% or so. Bring on the burritos!
To try: 10-Minute Black Bean Tacos
So there you have it: 5 foods that fight breast cancer!
Of course, if you’re being treated for breast cancer, check with your doc before making diet changes. For most of us, though, enjoying these nutritional powerhouses is great way to keep the girls going strong for years to come.Click for references & image credits
2. Eliassen AH, Hendrickson SJ, Brinton LA, et al. Circulating Carotenoids and Risk of Breast Cancer: Pooled Analysis of Eight Prospective Studies. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2012;104(24):1905-1916. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs461. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3525817/
3. Crosby L. Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk Week 3: Embrace Cruciferous Vegetables. October 21, 2013. Available at http://www.veggie-quest.com/2013/10/reduce-your-bc-risk-week-3-embrace/. Accessed September 29, 2015.
4. Li J, Zou L, Chen W, et al. Dietary Mushroom Intake May Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer: Evidence from a Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Katoh M, ed. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(4):e93437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093437. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3972098/
5. Chen S, Oh SR, Phung S, et al. Anti-Aromatase Activity of Phytochemicals in White Button Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Cancer Res. 2006 Dec 15;66(24):12026-34. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/66/24/12026.long
6. Fuhrman J. Fight Breast Cancer with G-BOMBS. October 8, 2012. Available at: http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/breast-cancer-fight-breast-cancer-with-gbombs.html. Accessed September 29, 2015.
7. Adams LS, Zhang Y, Seeram NP, Heber D, Chen S. Pomegranate Ellagitannin-Derived Compounds Exhibit Anti-proliferative and Anti-aromatase Activity in Breast Cancer Cells In Vitro. Cancer prevention research (Philadelphia, Pa). 2010;3(1):108-113. doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-08-0225. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805471/
8. Dong JY, He K, Wang P, Qin LQ. Dietary Fiber Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):900-5. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.015578. Epub 2011 Jul 20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21775566
Image credits: Pomegranate (top): Samantha Forsberg via Flickr, CC BY 2.0. Broccoli: Yumi Kimura via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0. Pomegranate (#4): Bryan T via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0. Beans: cookbookman17 via Flickr CC BY 2.0