How To Use Food As Preventive Medicine
By now, most of us know that October is a month to raise awareness about breast cancer.
Since only 10 percent of breast cancer cases are genetic, a huge part of this conversation revolves around cancer prevention through environment and lifestyle adjustments. We can't control everything, but we can take certain actions to lower our risk—and cleaning up our diet is one of them.
I founded the Keep A Breast Foundation in response to the growing need for breast cancer awareness programs that focus on educating young people. My friends were being diagnosed in their 20s, and at the time I had no idea how early in life breast cancer could strike. It flipped a switch in my brain and I realized that it was my purpose to start these kinds of dialogues about preventive measures.
By eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, you can reduce your risk of cancer while enjoying other benefits like a healthy weight, a lower risk of heart disease, and increased energy levels. Colleen Doyle, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society, explains, "Though there's no one food that will reduce your risk of this disease, it's the synergy between many nutrients—vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants—that's likely to give you the most protection."
Here are some easy swaps to make to eat with prevention in mind:
1. Protein bars
Sometimes it's more convenient to just grab a protein bar when you don't have time to cook a full meal. The problem is that a lot of these protein or meal replacer bars are full of added sugar. (Some have even more than the recommended daily intake of 25 grams!) Recent findings have suggested that sugar can directly affect tumor growth and spur the spreading of breast cancer.
Swap these with low-sugar bars.
When choosing a protein bar, read the label and look for ones with less than 10 grams of sugar. Be sure that you're eating bars made from whole foods and not hard-to-decipher additives. Right now, I'm obsessed with GoMacro, for example.
2. Refined carbohydrates
A lot of starches sold in stores, like white rice or instant mashed potatoes, have been stripped of their nutrients. These refined carbohydrates can also contain additives that negatively affect our health. Not to mention, they require less work to break down so we tend to overeat them, which can lead to issues with blood sugar and inflammation.
Swap these with cruciferous vegetables
A recent study found that healthy carbs like legumes and nonstarchy vegetables were collectively associated with a 67 percent lower risk of breast cancer. Consumption of cruciferous vegetables in particular is known to lower your risk, and you can use them in so many different ways. Cauliflower rice or mash is one of my favorites—and it's so easy to make or find in the store!
3. Sugary foods
We already mentioned sugar a bit, but it's so worth mentioning again. Added sugar often sneaks into all types of food—not just desserts. Skip the dairy, bleached flour, and artificially sweetened treats and look to natural sources of sweetness instead.
Swap these with fruit
Raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, fiber, anthocyanins, vitamins, and a ton of other phytonutrients. Antioxidants are key because they help rid the body of free radicals and help cells repair themselves, possibly reducing the risk of cancer. These berries also contain ellagic acid—a natural anti-carcinogen and strong cancer-fighting compound.
4. Processed baked goods
Many baked goods are made solely of sugar, processed flour, and dairy and are therefore pretty lacking from a nutritional standpoint. But sometimes you want a yummy, comforting snack with your tea or coffee, and that's totally OK! You can have baked treats that are delicious and healthier.
Swap these with baked goods made from chia seeds
Chia seeds have 30 percent more antioxidants than berries, eight times more omega-3s than salmon, six times more calcium than milk, and twice the potassium of bananas. Not to mention, they're packed with fiber, and young adult women who eat a fiber-rich diet are 24 percent less likely to get breast cancer. They are one of the original superfoods, and you can use them as egg or flour substitutes in all types of baking. Not to mention, they're super easy to find in stores or online (check out Mamma Chia!) these days. You can put them in basically anything—smoothies, salads, oatmeal, even water—and reap all the health benefits.