Your Allies in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Fruits and vegetables

Major organizations from the World Health Organization to the American Cancer Society advocate a diet high in plant foods as a way to combat a whole range of chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are veritable powerhouses of nature. These are your trusted allies in the fight against breast cancer.

Large studies relating fruit and vegetable intake with cancer have shown that diets high in these foods may reduce the incidence of cancer and recurrences. Most recently, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study showed that compared with the lowest intake, the highest intake of vegetables was associated with a lower risk of overall breast cancer. What was interesting was that this was most marked in the progesterone-estrogen negative breast cancer group, the more vegetables they consumed, the lower the risk. So, adding as little as one extra serving per day to your meals and snacks could provide an additional boost to your system.

A 2017 report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund indicates that there is emerging evidence that foods containing carotenoids, and non-starchy vegetables may lower the risk of developing breast cancer. What’s more, the AICR estimates that a third of U.S. breast cancers could be prevented by being active, not drinking alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight.

What’s the Cancer Fruit and Vegetable Connection?

Cancer isn’t just one disease. And it doesn’t have just one cause. It’s what’s known as multi-factorial. Breast cancer isn’t the same disease like lung cancer, which isn’t the same as prostate cancer, and so on. Cancer initiates in the cell because for many, many reasons, some include cell damage, inflammation, inability to repair damaged cells, poor signaling to die off, inappropriate differentiation and multiplication, and sometimes genetics, among others

Many fruits and vegetables contain nutrients and other components that do exactly the opposite: protect cells from damage, reduce inflammation, repair cells, induce cell death of damaged cells, correct differentiation and stop cell multiplication of damaged cells. 

Whew! That’s a lot. And it’s no big surprise that some fruits and vegetables do one of these tasks better than others, but many are, like cancer, multi-factorial. Fruits and vegetables contain an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber. These all create an environment in your body that supports health and discourages cancer cells from thriving.

How Much Is Enough?

For most adults, four to five servings of vegetables and 1½ cups of fruit per day is a minimum. Note that one serving is equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup of salad or uncooked greens.

However, recommended amounts will vary based on weight, height and medical conditions of the individual.

Prioritize by Color

One of the golden rules of eating fruits and vegetables is to vary the colors, or, “eat the rainbow.” Many of the phytochemicals in plants are indicated by their color. For example, carotenoids are generally orange and anthocyanins are red.

By eating a variety of colors, you will naturally get a wide variety of nutrients. Aim to eat a serving of every color each day. The following should be “frequent fliers” on your plate.

Cruciferous Vegetables 

Kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage

Carotenoids 

Carrots, tomato, winter squash, sweet potato

Allium Family 

Onions, leeks, scallions, chives, garlic (to get the most from garlic: peel and cut up fresh garlic and let stand about 15 minutes before cooking)

Herbs 

Turmeric, ginger, oregano, dill, rosemary, cloves, sage, cumin, paprika (use whole leaf or unground versions of herbs and spices for the most benefit)

Leafy Greens 

Beet greens, turnip greens, spinach, dandelion, chicory, chard, watercress

Fruits 

Berries of all kinds, pomegranate, prunes, cranberries

Omega 3 Fats 

Seeds and nuts, especially flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts, and vegetables such as, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale and dark salad greens.(Note: The omega 3 fats found in plants are called alpha-linolenic acid.)

Probiotics 

These are found in fermented vegetables that are processed naturally without added vinegar, such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Only buy products from the cold section labeled ‘contains live active cultures.’

Preserving Those Precious Nutrients

Fruits and vegetables can, of course, be eaten both raw and cooked. It is known that cooking destroys some of the nutrients, or they are lost into the cooking water.  At the same time, this heating process makes some nutrients more easily absorbed.

For example, carotenoids found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables are poorly absorbed in the raw state, but function better when cooked, either by steaming, sautéing etc.

Lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, does well when cooked and combined with oil, as in our Quick Tomato Sauce.

Bottom Line: Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day, and don’t forget to include whole grains and legumes to balance your palate.  Give your body the tools it needs to stay at its best.

Registered Dietitian Approved

There are many misconceptions about nutrition and cancer in widespread media. By using current scientific literature, plus recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society, our Registered Dietitian, Kate Ueland, MS, RD, and our team of editors work to help our readers discern truth from myth.

The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Always consult your physician or registered dietitian for specific medical advice.


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