By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that about one-third of the 1.4 million cancers that occur every year in the United States can be prevented, in part, by making healthier food choices, and that a variety of vegetables and fruits should be high on everybody’s prevention list. “No single food or food component can protect you against cancer by itself,” the institute says, pointing out that the evidence shows that it is the “synergy of compounds working together in the overall diet that offers the stronger cancer protection.”
Recent support for this understanding comes from a Harvard University study concluding that a high intake of carotenoids – compounds in fruits and vegetables – substantially reduces the risk of breast cancer, and particularly for more aggressive forms of the disease.
The findings emerged from an analysis in 2010 of blood samples taken from nearly 33,000 nurses enrolled in an ongoing health database. About 2000 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed among the women during a 20-year follow-up.
An earlier report by the same group of Harvard researchers focused on eight previous studies conducted around the world and reached a similar conclusion about the risk-reduction potential of carotenoids.
My Viewpoint: There are very good reasons why a variety of fruits and vegetables must be part of the regular diet. Carotenoids are natural red, green, and yellow pigments in plants. A number of these compounds, including carotene, lycopene, and lutein, have antitumor, antioxidant, and immune enhancing properties believed to inhibit tumor progression and malignant transformation.
What This Means to You: For women there is a clear message here: fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. According to research, the more you eat, the greater your degree of protection.
Recommendation: It’s a no-brainer. Make sure you regularly eat a variety of carotenoid-containing foods. Here’s a short list: sweet potatoes, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, squash, red peppers, carrots, watermelon, papayas, apricots, peas, guavas, just to name a few. Other breast cancer prevention tips: cut down on your red meat consumption, and eat organic produce to avoid pesticide exposure which could increase risk of cancer.
As the American Institute for Cancer Research also points out, excess body fat is associated with an increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Since a diet that is full of fresh veggies and fruits is also a great way to achieve a healthy weight, even more reason to double down on colorful produce!
- American Institute for Cancer Research. AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer. AICR.org, last accessed Oct. 23, 2018.
- American Institute for Cancer Research. Any Measure of Excess Body Fat Has the Same Effect on Increased Risk for Postmenopausal Breast Cancer. AICR.org, last accessed Oct. 23, 2018.
- Eliassen HA, et al. Plasma carotenoids and risk of breast cancer over 20 y of follow-up. Am J Clin Nutr. Apr 2015.
- Eliassen HA, et al. Circulating Carotenoids and Risk of Breast Cancer: Pooled Analysis of Eight Prospective Studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. Dec 2012;104(24): 1905–1916.
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