How eating certain foods
can help reduce your risk
No specific food can cause or prevent breast cancer. However, dietary guidelines may help you reduce your overall breast cancer risk.
For example, eating a diet rich in antioxidants can be beneficial. Antioxidants help protect your cells from free radicals. Free radicals are molecules released by toxins, such as tobacco smoke. They not only have been linked to cancer, but also may contribute to premature aging and heart disease.
Making proactive dietary choices has no downside. In addition to potentially reducing your risk for breast cancer, healthy eating can improve your overall well-being: It helps keep your energy up, boost your immune system, and provide nutrients your body needs for maintenance and repair.
Keep reading to learn more about over a dozen different foods, spices, and other key ingredients that have anticancer properties.
If you’re concerned about your risk, talking to a doctor or a dietitian about foods to eat or avoid is a good first step. Just like genetic factors and lifestyle choices, food is only part of the picture. You shouldn’t rely on it as your only preventive action.
Green tea is tied to a number of benefits ranging from weight loss to blood pressure management. The popular brew has also been the subject of ongoing study in animals and humans for its role in cancer prevention.
That’s because green tea is high in polyphenol and catechins. These antioxidants may help protect cells from DNA damage caused by free radicals. More research is needed to prove its efficacy, but there’s no harm in adding a cup to your daily routine.
Pomegranate juice, which is derived from its seed pulp, also contains polyphenols. One 2009 study suggests that pomegranate juice has the potential to be a preventive tool for certain cancers, including breast cancer.
The researchers also proposed pomegranate extract as a viable alternative to pomegranate juice. The extract may carry the same benefits in smaller doses than the juice does.
More research is needed before any official recommendations can be made. There aren’t any clear guidelines on how much juice or extract you should drink to benefit from its effects.
If you have diabetes, talk with your doctor before adding pomegranate juice to your diet. The juice is typically high in sugar and may affect your blood glucose levels.
Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and black raspberries, contain high amounts of polyphenols, which may have anticancer properties. They’re also high in antioxidants, such as vitamin C. There is some evidence that berries may help reduce breast cancer risk. No current recommendation exists for daily dosage, though one serving of fruit is equivalent to 3/4 to 1 cup of berries.
Plums and peaches
According to a 2009 animal study, the polyphenols found in plums and peaches may help prevent breast cancer cells from forming and later multiplying. Evidence suggests the polyphenols help kill cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
There’s no downside to eating healthy fruit, but more research is needed to determine how much you should eat to benefit from its anticancer properties.
These vegetables are typically rich in antioxidant vitamins, such as C, E, and K, and are high in fiber. Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, a type of chemical. This chemical, as well as the other components found in cruciferous veggies, may have cancer-fighting properties.
Popular cruciferous vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts
Dark, leafy green vegetables
The darker the green, the denser the nutrition. Greens are typically high in antioxidants and fiber, which may make them potent anticancer tools.
Popular options include:
- Swiss chard
- collard, mustard, turnip, and beet greens
to look for
Carotenoids are found in many red, orange, dark green, and yellow fruits and vegetables.
These foods are typically high in vitamin A, lutein, beta carotene and lycopene, all of which might be effective against free radicals. Examples include:
- sweet potatoes
There’s some data to indicate that diets high in these foods reduce breast cancer risk, but more research is needed. No dosage recommendations currently exist, though daily intake is recommended.
Apigenin is a flavonoid found in certain fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Because apigenin is an antioxidant, these foods may have anti-inflammatory properties.
According to one 2010 study, apigenin may inhibit growth in HER2 breast cancer cells. More research is needed to determine its true efficacy. No dosage recommendations are available at this time.
Popular options include:
Some herbs contain varying amounts of apigenin:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Found abundantly in cold-water fish, omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient that supports your immune system.
Researchers in one 2015 study assessed the potential impact of omega-3s on women who are obese and have dense breasts. Women with dense breasts are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who have less dense breast tissue.
In this study, breast density declined in relation to the amount of omega-3 fatty acid being administered. This is thought to reduce the overall risk for breast cancer. No specific dosage recommendation exists at this time.
High levels of omega-3s can be found in:
- fish oils, such as cod liver oil
Lesser amounts can be found in:
- nut oils
Lignans and saponins
Lignans and saponins are polyphenols and may have anticancer properties. They’re often found in beans, such as:
- split peas
- kidney beans
Beans are also high in:
Whole-grain foods also tend to be high in anticancer polyphenols. They often include other key nutrients, such as fiber, magnesium, and protein.
Popular whole-grain options include:
- brown rice
Both dried and fresh chili peppers contain capsaicin. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it has. Until recently, capsaicin has been primarily known as an effective topical treatment for pain.
One small 2016 study found that capsaicin may prevent the growth and spread of malignant cells in some people with breast cancer. The study was performed in a laboratory on tissue samples procured from women with different types of breast cancer.
Tissues from those with triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer received the most promising results. This type of cancer is very aggressive and can be hard to treat because it doesn’t respond to hormonal therapy.
Researchers indicated that it isn’t possible to eat enough chili peppers to duplicate the results they got in the lab. Capsaicin can be purchased as a supplement, but ingesting too much can cause irritation to your digestive tract.
Currently, no specific dosage recommendation exists for capsaicin’s use in fighting breast cancer.
Part of the allium vegetable family, garlic is known for its distinctive taste and aroma. There may be a connection between increased intake of garlic and other allium vegetables, such as onions, and a reduction in the growth of breast cancer cells.
Researchers in one 2017 study analyzed the effects of garlic and other allium vegetables on breast cancer cells. They found a positive effect on both estrogen-dependent and estrogen-independent breast cancer.
While promising, more research on garlic and breast cancer risk is needed to determine conclusive results and a dosage recommendation.
A spice associated with Indian cuisine, turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Some research suggests that curcumin may help decrease the toxic effects of certain breast cancer cells and can potentially inhibit cancer cell growth. More research is needed to determine its full effects on cancerous cells.
Curcumin is unstable in water and may be poorly absorbed. Despite curcumin’s instability, many animal and human studies to date do show benefit from taking curcumin.
Currently, there isn’t a scientific consensus on recommended daily dosage, though common dosages in studies producing benefits range from 200 to 500 milligrams of curcumin daily.
Whether to avoid foods
Some foods, such as soy products, contain natural chemicals called isoflavones. These are similar in structure to the hormone estrogen. Isoflavone-rich foods are also known as phytoestrogen-rich foods.
Isoflavones bind to the same sites that estrogen does, but yield different outcomes in your body. For example, estrogen can increase inflammation in certain areas of your body, and isoflavones don’t.
Intake of isoflavones is controversial, but a 2016 comprehensive review puts to rest many fears that soy and other isoflavone foods may raise breast cancer risk. In fact, some research suggests that isoflavones carry positive health benefits, including anticancer properties.
When consuming soy, it’s best to choose whole soy foods. These include:
- soy milk
If you’re currently eating a diet containing high amounts of isoflavones, limit your intake until you’re able to talk with your doctor. They can assess your overall risk and provide individual guidance.
Foods to limit or avoid
No specific food or food group has been found to cause or worsen breast cancer. However, some evidence links alcohol use to increased rates of breast cancer in some women.
It’s thought that drinking alcoholic beverages can increase your risk for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. This may be because alcohol can increase your levels of estrogen and other hormones that are tied to this form of breast cancer.
Although more research is needed, current data estimates that women who drink three alcoholic beverages a week are 15 percent more likely than women who don’t drink to develop breast cancer. This risk may increase another 10 percent for every additional weekly drink.
Diets to follow
There isn’t any one anticancer diet to follow. The best thing you can do is eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. It may also be beneficial to reduce or eliminate processed foods, added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats.
You may find that food plans emphasizing these principles help you stay on track with your nutritional goals.
For example, the Mediterranean diet encourages high levels of:
- whole grains
- olive oil
It also encourages eating fish and poultry instead of red meat, which contains saturated fat.
The bottom line
It’s no secret that what you eat affects your health. Diet and nutrition is an important aspect of preventing and fighting breast cancer. More research is needed to determine where the impact is greatest.
Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables lose some nutritional value when they aren’t fresh. This can make it harder to determine how much you should eat to obtain the greatest value. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian to help develop a meal plan tailored to your needs and limitations.
As important as eating healthy is, so is preventive screening and reducing environmental toxins that can contribute to cell mutations. Make sure to schedule mammograms and breast sonograms annually, or follow the guidelines determined for you by your doctor.