Foods to Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk

Plant-based foods and fish are in; meat, sweets, and spirits are out

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Vegetables
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Here is a tool you can add to your cancer-fighting arsenal: a balanced diet. Research is confirming what our grandparents already knew: fresh fruits and vegetables are good for health, meat is for special occasions, and herbs and spices are medicinal. While no diet can promise to eliminate your risk of cancer or recurrence, it's one of the risk factors that you can control.

Plant-Based Diet

A plant-based diet is believed to help lower your cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day. If that sounds like a lot to you, try spreading it out through multiple meals and snacks.

A good guideline for helping you choose the best fruits and veggies is color. Look for red, yellow, orange, and dark green. The more intense the color, the more nutrients they tend to have.

Part of why plant-based foods so beneficial is that many of them contain phenols, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, which can fight cancer and the effects of aging and offer protection against myriad health problems. A 2019 study suggested that a diet high in polyphenols led to a big reduction of inflammation in people with breast cancer.

In addition, they're suitable for a low-calorie, low-fat, or (with some exceptions) low-carb diet. Maintaining a healthy weight over the course of your life is believed to be important for cutting cancer risk.

Vegetables

Not all vegetables are created equal. Some are considered especially beneficial for cancer prevention or overall health.

Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur compounds tend to be smelly, but research suggests that they actually fight cancer. According to research, a phytochemical called sulforaphane appears to target breast cancer stem cells and can be effective complements to standard therapy for preventing a recurrence.

Sulforaphane-containing vegetables include:

  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bok choy
  • Watercress

Some plant-based are even high in protein, which makes them filling and can help you avoid meat.

Soybeans and soy products are not only good sources of protein, but they also contain the isoflavone genistein, which may help prevent breast cancer if it's introduced just before puberty.

Other beans and members of the legume family are nutritious, low in fat, high in protein, and rich in antioxidants and saponins. While they're not believed to prevent breast cancer specifically, they can be helpful for those trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight or improve their health in general.

Good choices include:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts

A fair amount of research suggests that fragrant alliums such as garlic and onions can help fight multiple types of cancer, especially those of the intestinal tract, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and possibly lung cancer. A 2019 study out of Iran is one of several to suggest that it may be effective against breast cancer as well. Researchers theorize that it disrupts an important cellular process and prevents cancerous cells from spreading.

Low-Calorie Fruits and Berries

Many fruits, especially berries and citrus, have multiple anti-cancer properties including:

  • Phenols, which may help prevent and treat cancer through direct effects on cellular processes
  • Antioxidants, which can reduce oxidative-stress damage to cells and thereby prevent cancer

Some of the fruits believed to be the best additions to a cancer-prevention diet are:

  • Cranberries
  • Apples
  • Lemon
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches
  • Grapefruit

Herbs and Spices

You might be surprised how powerful spices are—not just for zing, but also for your anti-cancer diet. Several herbs and spices have even been compared to effective cancer-fighting drugs.

Beneficial herbs and spices include:

  • Cinnamon: Phytochemicals in extracts of cinnamon appear to promote the death of cancer cells, according to several studies, including one published in 2018.
  • Curcumin: A substance found in the curry spice turmeric, this polyphenol has long been considered effective at preventing the growth of tumors. According to a 2016 review of literature, it does so through a complicated molecular process, by encouraging the death of cancer cells, and altering the activity of genes in breast cancer cells.
  • Black pepper: Phytochemicals isolated from black pepper have anti-cancer effects and are being investigated for use alongside other cancer treatments, according to 2019 research.
  • Ginger: Antioxidants in ginger appear to inhibit tumor formation and breast cancer cell proliferation, according to a 2017 review.

Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are established cancer fighters, but 2018 research suggests that the omega-3 derived from fish oil is better at preventing breast tumors than plant-derived forms.

Since meat is on the "foods to avoid list" (below), you may want to consider replacing a few servings of meat with fatty fish, such as:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines

Experts recommend getting at least two or three servings of these kinds of fish every week.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

Some foods have a direct impact on your cancer risk while others are linked to weight gain, which in turn raises your risk of cancer. Foods you should limit or avoid include:

  • Red Meat: Daily servings of red and processed meats can result in too many calories, extra weight, and various diseases. Have meats only on special occasions—especially if it is fried, broiled or grilled.
  • Potatoes: Even though potatoes are a nice way to fill out a supper plate, they aren't that healthy for you. Potatoes are high on the glycemic index, so they can raise your blood sugar levels, which is not good.
  • Sweets and sodas: Excess weight raises your risk of developing breast cancer and of having a recurrence, and refined sugars are linked to weight gain. While artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Aspartame, and Saccharin) don't seem to increase cancer risk in humans, the diet sodas in which they're used seem to be linked with weight gain, as well.
  • Salt: Consuming high levels of salt, or eating foods that have been preserved by pickling, or brining may lead to increased risk of stomach, nasopharyngeal, and throat cancer. The moderate use of salt with food has not been shown to cause cancer.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol intake should be modest or eliminated to keep your risk of cancer low. Any kind of alcohol that you consume may change your levels of female hormones, and thus increase your risk of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.

Caffeine

Breast cancer's relationship with caffeinated beverages and with caffeine itself is complicated. If you're a regular drinker of coffee, tea, hot cocoa, or caffeinated soda, you should read more about this relationship and what research says about it.

A Word From Verywell

It pays to build some good habits that can reduce your risk of cancer or its recurrence. It's not always easy to control your diet, but it's an effort that can make a big difference in not only cancer risk but overall health. Be sure to talk to your doctor about dietary changes and, if you're having trouble managing an anti-cancer diet, ask about seeing a nutritionist who might be able to help.

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