The Healthy Breast Diet

It’s time to think beyond detecting and treating breast cancer and put a greater emphasis on preventing it in the first place.   While a genetic predisposition to the disease is significant, the biggest known risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer is being overweight.  Every 11 pounds you gain as an adult increases your risk by 3-5%.    How to protect yourself, whatever your weight?
First, exercise: the standard prescription of 30-45 minutes per day of exercise helps fend off cancer even if you don’t drop the pounds.  Second, follow a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and grains, mono- and polyunsaturated fats; minimize saturated fats and eliminate trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils).  Choosing the right foods can improve your odds of avoiding the disease and may help you prevent a recurrence.   Here are some specific ingredients:

Oleic Acid:  Helps kill cancer cells and enhances the drug Herceptin when taken by women who have the disease.  It is found in olive oil, almonds and avocados.  Preliminary research suggests that oleic acid, along with monounsaturated fats found in the same foods, may help decrease abdominal fat, which would help reduce risk for insulin resistance and heart disease.

Lignans: These phytochemicals found in plant foods may shift production of estrogen to less biologically active forms and reduce various cancer-related growths.  Beans, oats, barley and ground flaxseed contain lignans.  Whole soy products, such as tofu and soy milk, also contain lignans.

Flavonoids: These anti-oxidants not only have anti-inflammatory properties but also help protect from cancer-causing agents.  Flavonoids repel free radicals, preventing them from getting through the cell wall and doing damage.  Green tea, wine (red wine has the most), grapes and chocolate contain flavonoids.

Vitamin A: Studies published in 2008 concluded that women deficient in this vitamin have double the risk of developing the disease.  Vitamin A can help stem the damage caused by free radicals in the body.  Very dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and bok-choy and deep orange fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cantaloupes and mangoes are high in vitamin A.  Vitamin A is also crucial for maintaining the immune system.  It is strongly recommended that you obtain your vitamin A from foods rather than supplements, as this vitamin can be very toxic if too much is taken over periods of time.

Folate: This B vitamin helps keep DNA healthy and is needed for cell growth.   The Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a study that found that women with the highest folate levels have a 44% lower risk of developing breast cancer than those with the lowest.  Folate is particularly protective in women who consume alcohol.   Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, lentils and citrus fruits contain high amounts of folate

Lycopene: This nutrient has been shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.  Watermelon, apricots, guavas, papayas and tomatoes contain lycopene.  Cooked and canned tomatoes and tomato sauce contain even more lycopene than fresh tomatoes because heating breaks down the cell wall of the tomato, allowing the micronutrient to be better absorbed by the body’s cells.  Lycopene has been shown to help prevent stomach and lung cancer as well.

Sulforaphane: This compound inhibits the growth and spread of human breast-cancer cells, according to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.  Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and other vegetables that contain sulfur compounds, giving off a telltale odor when cooked.  Sulforaphane is also critical in fighting lung and prostate cancer.

Vitamin D: Women with the highest levels of vitamin D suffer from breast cancer 50% less often than those with the lowest.  Latest data indicate that 53% of American women are deficient in vitamin D.  Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), eggs and fortified dairy products are foods that contain vitamin D.  Be sure to have your blood level checked before you supplement  and make sure your vitamin D supplement is D3, or cholecalciferol, and that is comes in gelcap (not tablet) form.  Recent data suggest that people with high levels of vitamin D have lower rates of all cancers and a lower risk of premature death.

Source: Nancy Kalish