Breast Cancer Prevention Diet

The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet:
Start Now, Start for Your Daughters

Is this real? A breast cancer prevention diet? If this sounds too good to be true, let me tell you how one very skeptical doctor was convinced.

It was late 2005, and my family was reeling from the loss of my wife’s dear cousin, in her late 50’s, after a long struggle with breast cancer. I was also in the middle of an intense two year course of study in Integrative Medicine, and nutritional medicine was a very big part of that. That very coincidence pushed me to ask the question “Is there a diet pattern that could reduce the number of families who have to lose loved ones this way?” And after years in academic medical practice, I knew very well how to answer that question. And to the medical science journals I went. For months late at night I digested articles and book chapters, and was finally convinced I could in all honesty write a book on preventing breast cancer through diet. (By the way, the most pertinent of those scientific references are listed in the bibliography at the back of my book, check them out if you like).
You may be wondering “Is this breast cancer prevention diet iron clad? Is it a guarantee?” There are no such guarantees in nature, and sometimes bad things happen despite our best efforts. But it is clear that about 38% of breast cancers in American women are preventable, that’s over 73,000 cases every year. And here are the highlights of how to use diet to move yourself out of high risk into the low risk group more likely to never get that diagnosis.

Diet affects breast cancer risk in several different ways. Perhaps the single most important is that of body weight. Being overweight is a major risk factor for breast cancer, especially after menopause, so my first point is to eat in such a way as to stay as lean as possible without being underweight. Easy to say, sometimes hard to do, but I can provide guidance for that either individually in my office or in other pages on this website.

And my next point to emphasize in a breast cancer prevention diet is related to the first: keep sugar and refined carbohydrate intake low. Why? Both because they are associated with weight gain and because they tend to raise the blood insulin level, which can promote the growth of tumors.

Additionally, women need to know that excess alcohol intake is a breast cancer risk factor in the diet. For moderate intake, the added risk is low, but a habitual intake of 2 drinks a day raises breast cancer risk by fully 40%. I believe many women would cut back on alcohol use if they knew this.

Toxin avoidance in our foods also needs a brief mention before I go on to the “good foods” which reduce risk. Stay away from hormone treated milk products, PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) found in some farmed fish, pesticide residues on produce items which were farmed without organic farming principles, and even plastics which can leach chemicals with hormonal effects into foods stored or cooked in those plastic items.

Now, what about all the good foods you can eat which are not only delicious but also have specific properties that make them part of a breast cancer prevention diet? Those fall into several categories, let me give you just the summary version, for more detail in a very readable form, my book Breast Cancer: Reduce Your Risk With Foods You Love is available in print and electronic formats.

Whole soy foods: specifically organically grown, non-GMO soy foods. There are some well-respected individuals who are claiming in print and on websites that soy foods are not healthy. I believe the science says otherwise, and I am in good company. Starting young women around the time of puberty seems to have the best preventive effect, but now we have data that even says breast cancer survivors do better with moderate intake of whole soy foods. Examples: edamame, miso, tempe, tofu, and unsweetened soy milk.


Cruciferous vegetables: the data on this are so strong, that I think all women should make sure to include some vegetables in this family in the diet every day. Lightly cooked is probably better than raw. This includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, bok choy, collards, and more. They have specific properties which change estrogen metabolism in a favorable way to breast health, even in addition to their other general ant-cancer compounds.

Fish: specifically oily cold water fish like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, black cod (Sablefish), and Rainbow trout. These provide generous amounts of omega-3 oils which have widespread preventive health benefits in addition to being associated with preventing breast cancer.

Flax seeds: not just the best vegetarian source of omega 3 oils, but also an important source of lignans, compounds associated with lower risk of breast cancer both in studies. But the lignans are not usually present in the extracted oil, so I recommend eating the ground seeds daily mixed with some other food such as a salad, oatmeal, or yogurt.

Spices: turmeric and ginger both are potent anti-inflammatory spices which are safe and can be widely added to foods you already enjoy. They also have science which supports their role in reducing risk of breast cancer and even may have an anti-tumor effect.

Mushrooms: even the little white button mushrooms and portabellas (Agaricus bisporus) can reduce aromatase activity in the body, lowering breast cancer risk, but always cook these very well done to break down some potential toxins in the mushrooms themselves. In fact, always cook all mushrooms, never eat them raw. I’m even more excited about the cancer preventing qualities of two more exotic mushrooms which are also delicious: the Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) and the Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa).

Berries: red, purple, blue, and black, fresh berries are a wealth of phytochemicals with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer preventive effects. And what a delicious way to prevent disease! Just be careful of the pesticide residues on conventionally grown berries: at the time of this writing, strawberries top the list of the single most contaminated produce item in American markets. Go organic when possible. See the “Dirty Dozen” online for reference.

Dark green leafy vegetables: again being aware of potential pesticide contamination, choose some healthy greens every day. Spinach, chard, arugula, and kale are examples in this category that provide abundant folate and carotenoids, known to be associated with lower risk of breast cancer.

Tea: green tea is now famous for its role in disease prevention, and it deserves the fame. White tea may be as potent, and even black tea and oolong deserve a mention. Some daily intake of fresh brewed green or white tea gets a strong vote from me as part of a breast cancer prevention diet.

Now, doesn’t that sound good? I told you a breast cancer prevention diet is easier than you think. But please remember: things that are easy to do are also easy to not do. Start now while it is fresh on your mind, and make a shopping list, start looking up recipes, and get excited about your new breast cancer prevention diet!

To your health and wellness,

Robert Pendergrast, MD

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