Foods That Fight Breast Cancer
THERE are many theories about what causes breast cancer. There is medical evidence, for example, that some people inherit a tendency to develop the disease, and some authorities cite cancer-causing substances in the environment. There isn't much we can do about heredity, and there isn't much we can do single-handedly about the environment. But we do have choices, for the latest research indicates that what you eat may help to protect you from breast cancer or help you fight the disease.
There is no "magic bullet," no single food or substance that slows the development of breast cancer. Rather, it takes a wide variety of phytochemicals or "plant chemicals" and antioxidants (compounds like beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E) to interact with one another in the body to decrease the risk of breast cancer. In fact, increasing fiber, reducing fat and including certain foods in your diet may dramatically affect breast cancer risk.
One of the greatest risk factors for breast cancer is a high level of certain types of dietary fat, which may allow cancer cells to grow and spread by reducing the ability of the immune system to kill cancer cells. Excess fat also raises estrogen levels (which in turn increase tumor growth) and enables cancer cells to invade the surrounding tissue easily.
Most of the fat in the American diet comes from meat, dairy products, poultry, fish and vegetable oil. But it is important to understand that all fats are not created equal. Saturated fats, including animal fats such as lard and butter, as well as fat from some plant sources, such as cocoa butter, coconut oil and palm oil, are solid at room temperature and have a higher melting point. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, including vegetable oils like corn and safflower, are liquid at room temperature.
One should stay away from processed and refined oils. Saturated fat, especially from red meat, clearly increases risk.
There are some protective oils like flaxseed and olive oil, which are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fatty acid that is deficient in the typical Western diet. Flaxseed oil, which is the richest plant source of phytoestrogen, lignin and also contains soluble fiber, is by far the best source of cancer-protective omega-3 essential fatty acids. Lignin acts as an antioxidant, protecting healthy cells from free radicals.
Flaxseed oil, which will enhance omega-3 fatty acid, should be a part of every woman's diet. Other sources for omega-3 are cold-water fish such as salmon, rainbow trout, tuna, sardines, cod and herring.
Flaxseed oil should be stored in an amber-colored bottle, which protects it from light damage and should be refrigerated to make sure it doesn't become rancid.
Flaxseed tastes like wheat germ and can be added to breads, muffins, hot cereals, smoothies, salads, soup, yogurt or fresh juices. Flaxseed can be bought in bulk at most health-food markets and can be ground at home in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Store unused ground flaxseed in a zipper-style plastic bag in the refrigerator and use it within a week.
Some people are allergic to flaxseed, so begin with a small amount, one-fourth teaspoon, and increase gradually if you don't have a reaction. A teaspoon of ground flaxseed included in the diet a few times a week would be a moderate approach.
Dietary fiber, which helps remove certain toxic materials from the body, also plays an important role in preventing and fighting breast cancer. Fiber can also interrupt estrogen pathways by decreasing the blood levels of estrone sulfate, the most prevalent form of estrogen. A high-fiber diet, about 30 to 40 grams per day, combined with a 20 percent low-fat diet, has been found to lower estrogen by as much 36 percent, leading to a 54 percent decrease in breast cancer risk. Some high-fiber foods are whole-grain cereals and flour, brown rice, bran, most fresh fruits, dried prunes, nuts, seeds (especially flaxseed), beans, lentils, peas, and fresh raw vegetables.
Fiber has proven to be beneficial when it comes to controlling weight and your cholesterol level. Because of its overall health-promoting benefits, nutritionists say there is no apparent downside to fiber. Increase gradually if you are just beginning to concentrate on your fiber intake. This will help avoid abdominal discomfort and gas. Experts say you should give yourself about two weeks to work up to the recommended daily intake.
Eating a lot of carotene-rich foods like orange-winter squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or dark leafy greens will also help reduce the risk of breast cancer. A main source of antioxidants, these foods stimulate the immune system. Cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, brocoli and cauliflower) are beneficial too.
Foods rich in folic acid (leafy green vegetables, legumes and fruits like oranges) have antioxidant-like properties and are helpful in fighting breast cancer.
Soy products such as miso, tofu, soy milk, soy flour and soy protein concentrate help block estrogen receptors in the body, and are among the most powerful anti-breast cancer dietary agents. The Johnson Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Nutrition Program calls for 60 grams of soy a day, either through soy products or soy supplements. A recommended amount of soy for women at a lower risk level might be 35 grams daily, the average amount consumed by Asian women who have a low incidence of breast cancer, which is about 1 in 40.
The sooner healthy eating begins, the better. After all, the development of breast cancer is a longtime process, the manifestation of accumulated cell damage over decades that continues to grow and spread. Interrupting the cancer process at any stage, including after a tumor is apparent, could help fight cancer.
Remember to eat a variety of healthy foods. Do not eat a large amount of one kind of food. The body needs a combination of phytochemicals and antioxidants working together to be effective.
Your meals should be centered around plant foods, such as vegetables and fruits. Make vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, etc., the main part of the meal. Whenever possible, bake, oven-broil or microwave meats instead of barbecuing or frying at high temperatures. This will reduce the formation of possible harmful substances.
Reduce your exposure to aflatoxins, which are naturally occurring molds that grow on improperly stored nuts, grains and seeds, and are potent carcinogens. Don't forget to drink plenty of water, at least eight glasses a day. Drink only moderate amounts of alcohol, and keep weight within range.
Today's Black woman no longer has to wait and wonder whether she is next in line to be victimized by breast cancer. She can arm herself with good breast nutrition and possibly decrease her chances of becoming a victim of this life-threatening disease.
POWERFUL FOODS TO HELP PREVENT BREAST CANCER
WHOLE-GRAIN CEREALS AND FLOUR, BROWN RICE AND BRAN
DRIED PRUNES AND RAISINS
FLAXSEED, OLIVE AND CANOLA OILS
SALMON, RAINBOW TROUT, TUNA, SARDINES, COD, LEAN MEATS, SKINNED CHICKEN AND TURKEY
BROCCOLI, CABBAGE, CAULIFLOWER, BRUSSELS SPROUTS, SPINACH, KALE, COLLARDS, TURNIP AND MUSTARD GREENS, SWEET POTATOES, CARROTS, BUTTERNUT AND ACORN SQUASH
ORANGES, LEMONS, LIMES, GRAPEFRUITS STRAWBERRIES, KIWIFRUIT AND CANTALOUPE
SOY AND SOY PRODUCTS
THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
* Choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Include cruciferous and carotene-rich vegetables. Include other plant foods such as breads, cereal, grain products, rice, pasta and dried beans with every meal. These foods are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
* Limit your intake of high-fat foods. Select foods low in fat. Added fat (butter, margarine, oil and mayonnaise) should be avoided since it only increases the total fat in the diet. Whenever available, select low-fat or nonfat food products. Also, choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources since these foods have little or no fat. You should attempt to reduce fat intake to 20-30 percent of total calories.
* Be physically active. Include some moderate active exercise for 30 minutes or more every day. Stay within your healthy weight range. It has been found that gaining more than 11 pounds in adulthood can increase the risk of cancer.
* Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.
* Do not use tobacco in any form.
SOURCE: Charlotte Lyons Author of The New EBONY Cookbook