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It’s easy for women to fear breast cancer. Like our hectic schedules and the environment around us, it seems out of our control. But in actuality, a woman’s diet can be the most powerful force in significantly deterring this all-too-common disease. To put it plainly, you can significantly lower your risk of developing breast cancer simply by adding more of the right foods to your diet.
And cutting that risk is important because the rate of breast cancer in Americans—one out of every eight women—is one of the highest in the world. But foods, natural herbs, and exercise can significantly reduce your risk. “Just one of these recommended changes can cut your risk in half,” says Christine Horner, MD, author of Waking The Warrior Goddess and other books.
The more estrogen a woman is exposed to over her lifetime, the higher her risk of breast cancer. According to Horner, there are both “good” and “bad” estrogens. We are bombarded daily by bad estrogens from cosmetics, plastics, metals, and toxins in the air. But good estrogens can come from foods, especially plants. “Plants not only offer vitamins and nutrients, there’s also a whole classification of phytochemicals that are like natural medicines,” says Horner.
It’s never too soon or too late to start making preventive dietary choices. Choose organic foods, and start young women on organic dairy in particular. One of the biggest contributors to breast cancer is rBGH, a growth hormone given to many cattle in the U.S. to increase milk production. The hormone causes IGF-1 in cows, and “there is no stronger stimulant for breast cancer than high levels of IGF,” says Horner.
And for women who have breast cancer, DNA is not static—we may have the ability to turn certain genes on and off, says Horner. Diet can help change cells and reduce many side effects of Western cancer treatments.
So where should you start? “A diet full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds supports the detoxification pathways and protects cells—a giant step on the path of disease prevention,” says Holly Lucille, ND, RN.
The following 10 foods will inspire you to make small, tasty changes to your diet and help you feel in control of your breast cancer prevention.
Because it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and plant lignans, Horner calls flax the superplant—the most powerful food you can eat to fight breast cancer. A 2018 review of previous studies published in Frontiers in Nutrition noted that “researchers have concluded that flaxseed has the potential to reduce the growth of tumors in patients with breast cancer, mainly postmenopausal women, and decrease the risk of this type of cancer.”
How to get more: Add 2–3 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to a blueberry-yogurt smoothie, or sprinkle on cereal, oatmeal, wholesome muffins, etc.
How to get more: Add ¼ teaspoon of turmeric to a curried chicken stir-fry or plain basmati rice.
Women who eat high-fiber diets have a lower risk of both pre-and postmenopausal breast cancer. Insoluble fiber (found in foods like green beans, seeds, and wheat bran) binds to estrogen in the colon and eliminates it from the body.
How to get more: Start your day with oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries and slivered almonds. Or satisfy the midmorning munchies with a bran muffin and apple.
4. Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, kale, and Brussels sprouts (“chemo plants” as Horner calls them) are great foods for breast cancer prevention. Their indole-3-carbinols block estrogen receptors, slowing bad estrogen from causing breast cells to grow and divide faster. Cruciferous veggies also contain a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM) that helps detoxify estrogen in the body. Women who eat the most cruciferous vegetables have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer than those who eat few if any.
How to get more: Steam veggies, sprinkle with sea salt, and drizzle with olive oil.
Fatty fish are known for their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. But don’t dive in just yet. Horner warns that most fish are laden with toxins, so she recommends sticking with flaxseeds and occasionally eating wild salmon, which may be lower in toxins than other fish.
How to get more: Bake a 4-ounce salmon fillet and serve it over a bed of quinoa and steamed broccoli drizzled with olive oil. Not into the fishy taste? Try purified fish oil supplements.
6. Green Tea
The Chinese have been reaping the medicinal benefits of green tea for more than 4,000 years. Green tea may inhibit the growth of some cancers and may also modify the body’s estrogen metabolism. A therapeutic dose is around 6 to 8 cups a day. Horner says to drink regular instead of decaffeinated—reducing the caffeine reduces the anticancer properties.
How to get more: As an added bonus, green tea has a synergic effect with turmeric—the tea enhances the prevention powers of turmeric by three times, and turmeric reciprocally enhances the tea’s effects by eight times. So brew some organic green tea and serve with an Indian curry.
Overall, studies have found that an adequate amount of soy in the diet can reduce breast cancer risk. Soy contains genistein, a plant estrogen proven to stop tumor growth, prevent metastasis, and shut off blood flow to growing tumors.
How to get more: Snack on some dried, crunchy soy nuts. Ditch the chicken or beef and sub tofu in your favorite stir-fry. Or dissolve miso paste in water to create a tasty soup.
8. Olive Oil
You’ve heard that a Mediterranean diet is among the best in the world. It’s abundant in fruits, vegetables, and healthful olive oil, which suppresses a gene in our DNA that is involved in tumor growth. Olive oil also lowers the “mammographic density” of the breast; high densities are linked to cancer.
How to get more: Use olive oil in most types of baking, frying, or cooking. It also makes a great dip for crusty breads and a light dressing for salads.
Maitake mushrooms. have been well-regarded foods for breast cancer prevention for centuries. Research shows they can stop the growth of, or even shrink existing cancerous tumors and boost your immune system (especially beneficial to those undergoing chemotherapy).
How to get more: Horner recommends 3–5 g of dried maitake mushrooms per day. Or mix fresh ones with other cancer-fighting mushrooms, such as reishi or shiitake, and top a homemade pizza. Supplements are also widely available.
Need another reason to eat sushi? Wakame and mekabu seaweeds may help kill cancer cells in much the same way man-made chemotherapeutic drugs do. They’re rich in iodine, which is toxic to breast cancer cells.
How to get more: About 1½ teaspoons of wakame or mekabu seaweeds offer about 225 mcg of iodine. Grill tempeh and serve over fresh seaweed with carrots and onions, suggests Lucille.