In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we focus in October on the second-most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2015 alone, an estimated 200,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed, and 50,000 U.S. women are expected to die from the disease. However, in the same year more than 2.5 million will survive due to improved treatment outcomes.
Factors that affect cancer risk
While there are many factors that influence your chance of getting cancer, scientists believe nutrition has a major impact. Over 30 years ago, the National Research Council published a report called Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, showing the evidence then available linking specific dietary factors to cancer of the breast and other organs. Research since then has only confirmed the strong connection between diet, cancer and survival outcomes.
Breast Cancer by Geography
For instance, in Asian countries such as Japan, we see low rates of breast cancer, while Western countries have cancer rates that are many times higher. The protective difference is thought to be the traditional Japanese diet, which is low in fat and primarily plant-based. By comparison, the standard American diet is centered on animal products, leading Americans to overeat fat and under consume other important nutrients. Diets that are low in animal fat but high in fiber, carbohydrates and vitamin A seem to help cancer prognosis. For reasons that are not entirely clear, vegetables and fruits, and the vitamins they contain, help keep the cells of the body in better working order. Vegetables and fruits are not only important to help to prevent cancer, but also to improve outcomes following treatment.
Foods that Prevent Cancer
While no one food can prevent or cure cancer, the combination of foods you choose to eat seems to make a difference. Experts recommend a predominantly plant-based diet including a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. A plant-based diet means eating mostly foods that come from plants: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and beans. Plant-based foods are cancer-fighting powerhouses because they have less fat, more fiber and more cancer-fighting nutrients. These three elements work together in a synergistic way, supporting your immune system and helping your body fight off and recover from cancer.
Shifting to a more plant-based diet is simple!
Choose unprocessed foods, close to their original form. For a visual reminder, think of filling a plate at least two-thirds full of whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit.
Use these tips to enjoy more plant-based foods:
- Breakfast: Add fruit and a few seeds or nuts to whole grain breakfast cereal such as oatmeal.
- Lunch: Eat a big salad filled with beans, peas and combinations of veggies. Pile extra lettuce and tomato (plus any other veggies you can!) on sandwiches. Choose whole grain bread. Enjoy a side of veggies: Suggestions include carrots, sauerkraut and cherry tomatoes.
- Snacks: Choose fresh fruit and vegetables. Grab an apple or banana for snacking. Raw veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, jicama and peppers are excellent with a dip such as hummus. Make trail mix with nuts, seeds and a little dried fruit, and eat in modest amounts (suggested serving ¼ cup).
- Dinner: Add fresh or frozen veggies to pasta sauce or rice dishes. Or top a baked potato with broccoli and low-fat yogurt, sautéed veggies or salsa. Replace creamy pasta sauces with sautéed vegetables or tomato sauce made with healthy olive oil.
- Dessert: Choose fresh fruit topped with Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. A single square of dark chocolate is a healthy indulgence!
Enjoy this easy recipe featuring cancer-fighting dark green leafy kale, which is loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Plus, you’ll get added flavor from garlic, sea vegetables and sesame oil, which also are powerful cancer preventers. Enjoy this recipe hot or chilled.
1 large bunch kale
2 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted organic sesame seeds
1/8 cup dried sea vegetables (optional)
Prepare sea vegetables per package directions. Mince garlic. Wash kale, strip the leaves from the spines and tear into bite-size pieces. Heat sesame oil to medium; add garlic and sauté until lightly browned. Add kale, sea vegetables, water and soy sauce and cook until kale is just wilted, approximately 2 minutes. Be sure not to overcook. Add sesame seeds and serve.
Nutrition information: Calories per serving (1 cup): 181; Total Fat 12.6g; Sodium 311 mg; Total Carbohydrates 14.8 g; Protein 5.0 g; Dietary Fiber 2.9 g; Sugars 2.2 g; provides 181% daily RDA for Vitamin A; 24% Calcium.