According to the American Cancer Society, the average risk of a woman in the U.S. developing breast cancer at some point in her life is 12 percent. Although many risk factors for breast cancer are out of your control, such as genetic factors (like having the BRCA1 or 2 genes), there is evidence to support that a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a nutrient-dense diet may affect your risk of cancer. In fact, experts estimate that we may be able to prevent as many as 1 out of every 20 cancer cases simply by changing what we eat. Certain compounds found in food, such as ellagic acid, phytosterols, antioxidants (such as lycopene and beta-carotene), and even fiber, have been found to regulate estrogen and inhibit cancer cell formation. Here, we’ve listed the best foods that contain cancer-fighting nutrients.
While no single food is guaranteed to keep you cancer-free, shifting your diet to include more of these foods that can help fight breast cancer wouldn’t hurt. Below, we’ve listed some of these nutritional stars.
Eating a serving of fungi a day might help protect you from breast cancer, according to an International Journal of Cancer study. Researchers found that Chinese women who consumed just 10 grams (which is equal to a single, small ‘shroom!) or more of fresh mushrooms every day were about two-thirds less likely to develop breast cancer than non-mushroom eaters. High mushroom intake has also been associated with lower risk of breast cancers among premenopausal women. While studies haven’t nailed a cause-and-effect relationship between mushrooms and breast health, you’ll still be doing your body a favor whenever you add immune-boosting vitamin-D-rich mushrooms to a meal!
2. Navy Beans
We’ve been telling you all about how high fiber foods can help with weight loss by prolonging feelings of fullness, but did you know they may also help you reduce your risk of breast cancer? According to Harvard researchers, for every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, a woman’s breast cancer risk decreases by a whopping 7 percent! The authors speculate the fiber helps to reduce high estrogen levels in the blood, which are strongly linked with breast cancer development. One of the best high-fiber foods is beans. Navy beans, in particular, pack a solid 9.6 grams of fiber per half a cup—that’s more than what you’ll find in four slices of Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal Bread! Throw some of these pulses into your next bean soup to reap the benefits.
Walnuts will help you reduce your risk of breast cancer in two ways. For starters, this heart-shaped nut contains a vitamin called gamma tocopherol that stops the activation of Akt—an enzyme that is essential for cancer cell survival—without harming healthy cells. Walnuts also contain cholesterol-like molecules called phytosterols that can help regulate estrogen levels in men and women and even slow the growth of breast cancer cells by blocking estrogen receptors. Animal research published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that when mice were given the human equivalent of two ounces of walnuts every day for a month, the growth rate of tumors in the walnut-eating mice was half that of the animals who weren’t able to crunch on the nuts.
4. Cooked Tomatoes
Besides the fact that they make a great pasta sauce, you should also consume cooked tomatoes because they may help reduce women’s risk of developing breast cancer! Recent findings, reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that a carotenoid antioxidant found in tomatoes—known as lycopene—was particularly effective at helping women with the harder-to-treat version of breast cancer: estrogen receptor (ER)–negative tumors. While women with the highest levels of carotenoids, in general, had a 19 percent lower risk of breast cancer, women with the highest levels of lycopene, specifically, had a 22 percent decreased risk.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Like tomatoes, orange-colored veggies are a top source of carotenoids. Sweet potatoes, specifically, are rich in a specific carotenoid known as beta-carotene. The same Journal of the National Cancer Institute study found that women with the highest levels of beta-carotene in their blood had a 17 percent lower risk of developing certain types of breast cancer. The theory is that carotenoids contain compounds that help regulate cell growth, defense, and repair. To get the most carotenoids out of your taters, science says your best bet is to blanch them and season with your favorite spice mix.
Sure, it’s the number-two food when it comes to fruit sugar, but eating these fiber-rich seeds can help your body inhibit the growth of hormone-dependent breast cancer. According to a study published in Cancer Prevention Research, the ellagic acid in pomegranates might help protect against breast cancer by suppressing estrogen production and preventing the growth of cancer cells. Not interested in staining your favorite shirt every time you open the fruit? Fruits like raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, and pecans are also rich in ellagic acid.
Tea, especially green tea, is packed with polyphenols—a class of antioxidants with immense health benefits. One of those benefits includes anti-breast cancer properties. A small study conducted by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute found that Japanese women who drank at least one cup of green tea daily had less urinary estrogen—a known carcinogen of the breast—than non tea-drinkers. To reap the benefits, be sure to brew your own cup at home; It would take 20 bottles of store-bought bottled tea to get the polyphenol-power of a single home-brewed cup, according to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Crunch on a crucifer and help crush cancer. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli can help you beat breast cancer. That’s all thanks to these veggies containing an anti-inflammatory compound known as sulforaphane, which has been found to eliminate breast-cancer-causing chemicals and inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells. To boost your intake of the anti-cancer compound, lightly steaming the veggie is the best way to reap the most bioactive nutrients from your food.
This fatty fish is rich in healthy fats—mainly, omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats have been linked to improved breast cancer prognosis. A large-scale analysis of international studies published in the journal BMJ found that women who consumed the most fish-based omega-3 fatty acids were 14 percent less likely to have breast cancer, compared to those who ate the least. For overall health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends adding a mere 3.5-ounce serving of wild-caught fatty fish to your diet twice a week. Salmon doesn’t even have to be your go-to. Other fish high in omega-3s include cod, mackerel, and anchovies.
10. Vitamin-D-Fortified Organic Milk
Milk alternatives might be all the rave right now, but unless they’re vitamin-D-fortified, we say forget ’em. In addition to helping your body absorb calcium, University of California San Diego researchers found that vitamin D can also ward off breast cancer as well as colon and ovarian cancers. The study, published in Cancer Prevention Research found that an adequate vitamin D intake could reduce breast cancer risk in women by up to 50 percent. Strengthening these findings, a more recent study linked low levels of vitamin D in the blood to higher rates of breast cancer tumor progression. To reap the benefits, enjoy vitamin-D-enriched dairy in your morning coffee, mix it into oatmeal, or use it to whip up a post-pump smoothie.
11. Olive Oil
Bonus points for the Mediterranean diet! When Spanish researchers had women supplement their Mediterranean diets with extra-virgin olive oil, the researchers found that these women had a 68 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to women whose dietary fats came from corn oil. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, speculated that the olive oil’s anti-inflammatory phenolic compounds and oleic acid may have quelled the growth of malignant cells.
Eggs are one of the most potent sources of an essential—and hard-to-get—nutrient known as choline. This neurotransmitter building block is necessary for the structure and function of all cells, and a deficiency in this compound has been linked to neurological disorders and decreased cognitive function. Not only does it act as brain food, but it may also help lower your risk of breast cancer! According to The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, women who consumed the highest amount of choline had the lowest risk of breast cancer compared with those who consumed the least.
Leafy greens, like spinach, pack a one-two punch when it comes to fighting breast cancer. For starters, they’re a top source of the dynamic carotenoid duo, lutein, and zeaxanthin, of which high levels have been connected to a 16 percent reduced rate of breast cancer. And secondly, they’re a primo source of folate, a B vitamin that strengthens your DNA and is crucial in lowering risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy. Low levels of folate have most recently been linked to increased breast cancer risk in a study published in the journal PLoS ONE. To reap the rewards, grab some spinach, kale, or asparagus.
This root spice contains the compound curcumin, an antioxidant polyphenol with chemopreventive properties. Because chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for the development and metastatic progression of cancer, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties play a major role in diminishing the formation of breast cancer, according to a study in Molecular Oncology.
Coffee drinkers won’t just get an energy jolt with every cup, they may actually help lower their risk of antiestrogen-resistant estrogen-receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer, as well. A 2011 study in Breast Cancer Research found that coffee drinkers had a lower incidence of ER-negative breast cancer than women who rarely drank the morning joe. According to one of the study authors, Jingmei Li, PhD, “One possibility is that coffee’s antioxidants protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer.”
They’re one of our favorite Greek yogurt toppers: antioxidant-rich peaches. In 2014, researchers at Texas A&M found that the precise mixture of phenolic compounds present in a peach extract was able to inhibit the metastasis—or spread—of breast cancer cells in mice. Researchers say that the dosage equivalent used in the experiment would be equivalent to humans consuming two to three peaches per day.
Chickpeas are one of our Surprising High-Protein Foods for Weight Loss because they’re high in fiber and plant protein, and are the main ingredient in our fave dip ever, hummus (duh!). What’s even more impressive is that a study published in the Nutrition and Cancer journal discovered that these legumes can prevent breast cancer thanks to their anti-cancer agents called protease inhibitor concentrates.
Blueberries are one of the most widely-consumed berries in the U.S., and it makes sense—they are delicious and easy to add to everything from Greek yogurt to fruit salad. Another perk of these sweet berries is they are rich in antioxidants. A review published in the journal Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry found that blueberries “show promise as effective anti-cancer agents” due to their ability to prevent pro-inflammatory molecules from being formed. They have been shown to prevent the beginning of cancer formation, and increase healthy cells’ ability to kill off dangerous cells. Add a serving of blueberries to your smoothies, parfaits, or sprinkle in a spinach salad.
Another reason to pick up that bag of baby carrots: According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, out of 33,000 women, those who had the highest amount of carotenoids in their blood had 18 to 28 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Carrots are jam-packed with these cancer-fighting antioxidants, which is why you should chop some up and add them to these 26 Flat Belly Soups.
Not only do they make the perfect dessert and sweet snack, strawberries can also help fight cancer, according to a study in Scientific Reports. “We have shown for the first time that strawberry extract, rich in phenolic compounds, inhibits the proliferation of breast cancer cells in in vitro and in vivo models,” Maurizio Battino, co-author of the paper, said in a press release.
Sure, oranges provide us with some of our favorite cocktail mixers, but did you know they’re also packed with chemopreventive properties? A study published in Journal of Breast Cancer found that a high intake of citrus fruits can potentially decrease your risk for breast cancer.
22. Goji Berries
Like blueberries and strawberries, goji berries are chock-full of antioxidants. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory food that can also help fight cancer. Research published in the journal Natural Product Research found that goji berry extract prevented the increase of breast cancer cells. It’s another reason why goji berries are one of the 50 Best Foods for Women.
Pecans aren’t just for pies and cookies; these potent nuts can help ward off cancer, too. They’re packed with ellagic acid, a polyphenol which can help inhibit tumor growth and fighting carcinogens. A review published in the journal Cancer Biology & Medicine found that ellagic acid has “anti-carcinogenic actions.” Eat raw or roasted pecans for a snack, or make your own nut mix with pecans, walnuts, and almonds for a triple dose of antioxidants.
When cauliflowers’ cells are damaged (when you chop, chew, and digest the veggie), a compound called glucosinolates break down and form biologically active compounds like indoles and isothiocyanates. According to the National Cancer Institute, indoles and isothiocyanates can prevent development of breast cancer, along with other cancers like lung, colon, liver, and stomach.
Cherries, one of the best foods to eat for sleep, are also one of the best fruits to eat to prevent breast cancer. According to a study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, these sweet red orbs may have the ability to decrease the risk of cancer as well as chronic diseases. Next time you’re in need of a snack, pop a few cherries into Greek yogurt or blend them into a Zero Belly Smoothie!
Just like cauliflower, this cruciferous veggie is brimming with cancer-fighting indoles and isothiocyanates. Next time you’re wondering what to whip up for dinner, try stuffing the leaves with lean ground turkey or pickling it in advance, as sauerkraut is one of our 14 Fermented Foods To Fit Into Your Diet.
27. Bok Choy
Another cruciferous veggie, bok choy is an underrated type of Chinese cabbage that can help prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Not sure how to use this leafy green? Try sauteeing it with garlic and olive oil for a savory side. Not only will you reap its anti-cancer benefits, you’ll also prevent hair loss due to this veggie’s solid iron content.
Flaxseed has all kinds of amazing health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Flaxseed is the richest source of lignans, a type of antioxidant. Although previous research found that flaxseed was shown to reduce the growth of tumors in rats, a 2005 study in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found that “dietary flaxseed as the potential to reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer.” Add flaxseeds to your smoothies, yogurt parfaits, or mix in your morning oatmeal.
These savory spears are more than just your average fiber-filled dinner side. A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that asparagus induced antioxidant activity, which can possibly prevent cancer. As if you needed another reason to roast and pop them onto your salad!
We’re debunking the long-standing food myth that soy foods cause breast cancer. It stemmed from the fact that soy contains phytoestrogens, naturally occurring hormone-like compounds with weak estrogenic effects. Under lab settings, these compounds sometimes fuel cancers; however, human studies have not proved high-soy diets increase breast cancer risk. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, and experts speculate it has to do with the fact that soy isoflavones can actually block more potent natural estrogens in the blood.
A longitudinal study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that followed nearly 10,000 breast cancer survivors found that women who ate the most soy had 15 percent lower rate of cancer recurrence and 15 percent decrease in mortality. The American Cancer Society’s dietary guidelines note that consumption of soy foods is not only safe but “may even lower breast cancer risk.” Other studies in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and American Journal of Epidemiology have also shown that increased soy consumption correlates to improved survival rates and decreased risk of lung cancer as well as a reduced risk of prostate cancer for men. Reap the benefits with fermented foods: miso paste, tempeh, natto, soy sauces, and fermented tofu.