October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Research has shown us how important eating a variety of nutritiously dense food is for optimizing our health. Intuitively this makes sense, the adage “you are what you eat” goes back for many generations. But how important is nutrition and diet when it comes to preventing chronic illnesses like cancer? In honor of breast cancer awareness month, The Food As Medicine Institute looks into well researched foods that may help women prevent breast cancer.
This vegetable family is a powerhouse of nutritional benefit. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage all contain a compound, which research has shown to block breast cancer tumor growth1. A great reason to eat these nutritionally dense vegetables daily.
Turmeric is a potent spice that contains many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, one the most powerful being a compound called curcumin. Turmeric also contains a polyphenol, which has been recognized as an anti-cancer and chemo-preventative agent2. While inflammation is a normal process our body uses to heal, it can spiral out of control if left unchecked. Many aspects of the Western lifestyle contribute to a state of chronic inflammation including many foods that make up a typical Western diet. Inflammation contributes to almost every single chronic illness, including breast cancer so limiting inflammation is important. Turmeric can help in this process. It is a warming spice typically found in curry and other traditional Indian dishes, but can be added to many dishes. Be sure to pair it with black pepper in order to activate it’s full potential.
There is a reason we are told to eat the rainbow. Nature has a beautiful way of alerting us to foods that are beneficial for our health. Antioxidant containing fruits and veggies tend to have bright colors like blues, reds and purples. Examples of foods containing high levels of antioxidants are berries, apples (be sure to eat the peels), and pomegranate. Most health care providers recommend two-three servings per day of these nutritional super foods. Antioxidants help take care of free radicals which we are exposed to in our environment and produce in our bodies as a natural byproduct of metabolism. Free radicals can cause damage to our cells, cell damage can lead to cancers including breast cancer, and so a diet rich in antioxidants is an important part of cancer prevention.
These flavorful nuts contain important nutrients like antioxidants, essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids that help limit inflammation and inhibit the activity of free radicals. Additionally, walnuts have been shown to slow tumor growth3. A small handful of walnuts a day are a great addition to many individual’s diets.
Flax seeds contain a component called Lignans and flavonoids. A recently published article shows that components found in flax was actually able to not only inhibit breast cancer tumor growth, but also destroy breast cancer cells4. Flax is a small seed that can either be eaten whole to increase fiber intake, or ground up and sprinkled into food, on top of salads or baked into food. Because of the nature of the seed and how our body digests it, grinding it up is more beneficial for the anti-cancer properties of this delicious food.
Sweet potatoes contain nutrients that assist in a number of important ways to benefit our health. In relation to breast cancer prevention, sweet potatoes play an important role in supporting our immune system. Immune health is crucial when we are talking about breast cancer prevention. The role of the immune system is to seek out abnormal cells and destroy them. Sweet potatoes contain B vitamins and potassium, both providing the body with a number of health benefits5. They also contain compounds that have incredible immune benefits including assisting the body in removing potentially harmful bacteria and cells. Sweet potato peels contain constituents that can serve as a dietary component in preventing cancer cell growth in a number of different types of cancer, including breast cancer6.
Fatty fish like salmon are another excellent source of omega-3s and Essential Fatty Acids. Mackerel and tuna are other great options for omega-3 fats. Fish provides a lean protein source that is healthy alternative to chicken and red meat as well as providing anti-inflammatory benefits.
Both green and white teas contain a compound called “catechin”, which have been shown in research to show benefit in breast cancer prevention. Additionally, green tea may be particularly effective at protection cells against environmental exposure.
It is empowering to realize that we can improve our health every time we prepare meals for ourselves! Keep in mind, that for most of these foods, in order to receive the full cancer fighting benefits, it may be necessary to be eating or drinking multiple servings a day or week. And while eating foods that are nutrient dense and contain cancer-fighting properties is an important part of a holistic wellness plan, this does not replace getting regularly scheduled screening exams and check ups from a licensed health care provider.
- Mol Carcinog.2010 May;49(5):500-7. Inhibition of human breast cancer xenograft growth by cruciferous vegetable constituent benzyl isothiocyanate. Warin R1, Xiao D, Arlotti JA, Bommareddy A, Singh SV.
- Drug Deliv.2016 Sep;23(7):2587-2595. Epub 2015 Jun 12. Synthesis, characterization and anti-cancer activity of Pluronic F68-curcumin conjugate micelles. Cai Y1, Sun Z2, Fang X1, Fang X3, Xiao F1,2, Wang Y1, Chen M1.
- Plant Foods Hum Nutr.2016 Sep 27. Antioxidant and Anticancer Activities of Walnut (Juglans regia L.) Protein Hydrolysates Using Different Proteases. Jahanbani R1, Ghaffari SM1, Salami M2, Vahdati K3, Sepehri H4, Sarvestani NN5, Sheibani N4, Moosavi-Movahedi AA6,7.
- Front Pharmacol.2016 Aug 31;7:282. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00282. eCollection 2016. Flavonoid C-glucosides Derived from Flax Straw Extracts Reduce Human Breast Cancer Cell Growth In vitro and Induce Apoptosis. Czemplik M1, Mierziak J2, Szopa J3, Kulma A2.
- NutrCancer.2016 Sep 27:1-8. [Epub ahead of print] Sweet Potato Peels and Cancer Prevention. Oluyori AP1,2, Shaw AK2, Olatunji GA3, Rastogi P2, Meena S4, Datta D4, Arora A5, Reddy S2, Puli S2.
Mallory Aye is in her fourth of a five-year program at NUNM in the doctor of naturopathic medicine. She has been working for the Food as Medicine Institute since her first year and has loved working with the community, teaching people the value and importance of cooking with whole foods. Her food philosophy is that there is no one size fits all diet, but that everyone can benefit from adding more whole foods into their diet. She loves empowering people by helping them realize how they can improve their health through the food they eat.