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About one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes, and breast cancer is one of the more common cancers associated with a high death rate (lung cancer has the highest death rate). The good news: because it’s one of the most-studied forms of cancer, research has pointed out dozens of dietary factors, including specific foods that can reduce your risk. Seven of the best:
Are high in carotenoids—antioxidants such as beta carotene and alpha carotene—that protect against breast cancer. In one large study, women with the highest blood levels of carotenoids had an 18–28 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Other cancer-fighting foods rich in carotenoids include mango, papaya, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and leafy greens.
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 till tender, and shower with minced parsley.
2. Flax Seeds
Contain compounds called lignans, phytoestrogens that can change estrogen metabolism. In postmenopausal women, lignans can cause the body to produce less active forms of estrogen, which helps reduce breast cancer risk. Flax seeds are also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat that has been shown to suppress the 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 flax seeds with minced rosemary, garlic powder, and water, roll thin, cut into squares, and bake as savory crackers; stir ground flax seeds, chopped walnuts, and blueberries into oatmeal for a power-packed breakfast; purée ground flax, cocoa powder, instant espresso, and yogurt for a healthy mocha smoothie.
3. Red Onions
Are high in organosulfur compounds that block tumor growth in breast and other cancers. Other cancer-fighting foods rich in organosulfur compounds include yellow onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. Red onions also contain quercetin and anthocyanins—responsible for the red color—which also protect 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.
Is loaded with cancer-fighting compounds, especially glucosinolates, a group of sulfur-containing chemicals that are responsible for the pungent, bitter taste of crucifers. Glucosinolates are broken down by the body into isothiocyanates and indoles, compounds that have been shown to inhibit the development of cancer cells and promote cancer cell death. One study found that women who ate more crucifers, including arugula, kale, radishes, broccoli, and cabbage, had a lower risk of breast cancer.
Try this: Purée arugula, basil, and spinach with cashews, olive oil, and garlic for a spicy 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.
5. Green Tea
Is rich in polyphenols, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful compound that’s been shown to strengthen immunity, prevent cancer cell growth, and induce cancer cell apoptosis (cell death). In one study of 1,009 women, green tea consumption was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. EGCG is found primarily in green tea, but raspberries, peaches, strawberries, onions, and avocados also contain trace amounts.
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 as a base for grain-free pancakes.
Is high in EPA and DHA, omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation, protect against the development of breast cancer, and promote cancer cell apoptosis. Salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel are also high in EPA and DHA. And because studies have found a link between red meat, processed meat, and increased risk of breast cancer, fish may be a better choice than red meat for hearty meals.
Try this: Toss cooked whole-grain pasta with canned tuna, Kalamata olives, halved cherry tomatoes, and pesto; lightly sear thinly sliced fresh tuna and layer over sautéed greens; mix canned tuna with white beans, chopped arugula, and minced red onions for a protein-rich salad.
7. Broccoli Sprouts
Baby broccoli plants that resemble alfalfa sprouts, contain extremely high levels of sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound related to those in red onions. Studies show that sulforaphane can inhibit breast cancer cell growth and induce apoptosis of breast cancer cells. They’re also high in fiber, and high-fiber diets have been shown to reduce breast cancer risk. Other foods high in sulforaphane include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and other crucifers.
Try this: Spread mashed avocado on 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; toss cooked soba noodles with broccoli sprouts, sautéed carrots and onions, sesame oil, tamari, and black sesame seeds.