Want to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk? Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables.

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • A recently published study reveals that women can reduce their risk of breast cancer – either new cancer, or a recurrence – by eating fruits and vegetables high in carotenoids. What’s more, the study indicates that the protective effects of a high-carotenoid diet are more pronounced in women with estrogen-negative cancer – which often appears as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), one of the most difficult types to treat.


    “Eat a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables…”


    Blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard that mantra before, right? Endlessly, in fact. EVERYONE must know by now that a diet based on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a boon to your health in every way.

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    If you’re a breast cancer survivor, you’ve probably heard the advice as part of a larger recurrence-prevention strategy. Diet. Exercise. Limit your drinking, and quite smoking. 


    Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? And if you’re a foodie or couch potato, it also sounds daunting. Give up your favorite foods? Put on a sweat suit and go jogging? Probably not going to happen.


    But a new study, published December 6 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, may give all of us new impetus for making at least one lifestyle change: adding certain fruits and vegetables to our diet.


    Notice I said ADDING, not subtracting. In my experience, it’s easier emotionally to add something to your diet, rather than eliminate something. And the nice thing is, if you succeed in adding enough of what you SHOULD eat to your diet, you find that you’re not as hungry for the junk food or rich desserts you used to fill up on.


    So, why is it suddenly news that eating fruits and veggies can reduce your breast cancer risk? Because this new study is what’s called a “pooled” study, where results of a number of other studies on the same topic, carried out over years, are brought together, analyzed, and summarized.


    Pooled studies can reveal trends and truths that the smaller studies from which they draw just don’t show. And that’s exactly what happened with this new study, carried out by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. 


    Using data from 80% of the research done worldwide on a high-carotenoid diet’s effect on breast cancer risk, the BW/Harvard authors write there’s a “statistically significant inverse association between breast cancer risk and circulating levels of total and individual carotenoids.” (Paddock, 2012).


    “Statistically significant” is the key phrase here. Those earlier studies showed mixed results; or indicated the link between carotenoids in the blood and breast cancer risk wasn’t strong enough to rule out simple random occurrence. 


    But putting all of the earlier studies together showed a clear link – and gave those of us mindful of reducing cancer risk something we can actually do: eat more high-carotenoid fruits and vegetables.


    Like what? Like just about any fruit or vegetable with brightly colored flesh. 


    Is an apple high in carotenoids? No, because while its skin may be bright red, its flesh is pale white. How about an orange? Now you’ve got it; orange through and through. 


    Here’s a handy list of fruits and vegetables to add to your regular diet:


    Vegetables: carrots; winter squash of all kinds (butternut, acorn, etc.), including pumpkin; sweet potatoes; tomatoes (fresh, juice, ketchup, and sauce); spinach; kale; dark lettuce (e.g., red-leaf and green-leaf); broccoli; brussels sprouts; peas; yellow corn; red bell peppers, and greens of all kinds (turnip, mustard, collard, etc.).

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    Fruits: Cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, papaya, guava, pink grapefruit, watermelon, tangerines, oranges (fresh and juice), nectarines, and peaches. Though not as carotenoid-rich as other fruits, certain berries are a fair source, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.


    Looking at the list, it’s clear that a salad – either vegetable-based, or fruit – is a fast, easy, and tasty way to increase your carotenoid intake. And understand this: your body will absorb carotenoids more fully if they’re consumed with some fat. Read: salad dressing. Or in the case of fruit salad, a little bit of ice cream or whipped cream. 


    This doesn’t mean pour on the rich, mayo-based salad dressings with impunity; it means don’t try to cut your fat intake down to nothing, because your body needs fat to function – with carotenoid absorption just one of the processes it fscilitates.


    You may have noticed kale taking a lead role in many food magazines and online recipe sites lately. Talk about a dark green, leafy vegetable, kale is it. And there are all kinds of REALLY tasty ways to eat it. Here are three: 


    •Kale salad: Substitute kale for lettuce in your salad. Hint: Dress the salad 30 minutes or so ahead, to “tame” kale’s wiry/crisp texture a bit. 


    •Kale chips – like potato chips, only green! Toss kale with olive oil and a touch of salt, and bake in a 250°F oven until crisp.


    •Kale shake. Yes, really. I’ve been drinking kale shakes for awhile now, and they’re super-delicious. Here’s how I make my kale shake: 


    Put in a blender, in this order: juice or zero-calorie flavored water (fill the blender about 1/3 full); a couple of scoops of yogurt, if desired; any or all of the following: about ½ cup frozen fruit (a bag of mixed frozen fruit from the supermarket is handy); an apple, cut in chunks; a peeled banana, cut in chunks; a peeled orange, pulled into sections. Blend until smooth. 


    Snip the tough ribs out of a head of kale (or buy it bagged and trimmed; much easier), and push the leaves down into the liquid in the blender jar. Blend again, adding more liquid if it’s too thick.


    I usually toss in a couple of .3-oz. packets of Emergen-C raspberry-flavored vitamin C, which adds nice flavor (and vitamin C, of course). 


    The result? A bright-green, absolutely delicious smoothie/shake, perfect as a morning pick-me-up or afternoon snack. 


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    Yes, it’s GREEN; but don’t be put off by the color. Once you taste this drink, you’ll find yourself keeping your blender on the counter full time.


    “Eat your veggies”? It’s not as tough as you thought. And as a cancer survivor mindful of recurrence, it’s even more critical that you may have believed.




    Paddock, C. (2012, December 08). Fruits and vegetables linked to lower breast cancer risk. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/253783.php

Published On: December 08, 2012