Be Wise Be Healthy: Eating habits help prevent cancer


My mother died of breast cancer. I have had many violent deaths in my family and each one has been gut wrenching. Nothing is as bad as watching a beloved parent die by degrees.

My mother loved food. She loved milk, butter, paneer, fatty foods, maida, parathas, samosa, puddings. She never exercised, using the excuse that she had asthma.

Many of us will get cancer. Some of it seems to be genetic. But our diet is thought to be partly responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers. No food can prevent you from getting breast cancer. But some foods can boost your immune system, and help keep your risk for breast cancer low.

Breast cancer is less common in countries where the typical diet is plant-based and low in total fat.  Studies suggests that girls who eat a high-fat diet during puberty, even if they don’t become overweight, may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer later in life. It is clear that calories do count — and fat is a major source of calories. Overweight women are thought to be at higher risk for breast cancer because the extra fat cells make oestrogen, which can cause extra breast cell growth which increases the risk of breast cancer.

When researchers looked at breast cancer by subtype, they found a connection between dietary fat intake and ER+ / progesterone-receptor-positive (PR+) breast cancer, the most common type. The clearest culprit was saturated fat, found in meat and dairy products. Women, in the study, who consumed the most had a 28% higher risk of ER+/PR+ cancer than those who ate the least.

You can lower your risk for breast cancer with the right foods and weight management. Even a woman who carries the BRCA1 or 2 gene [two genetic mutations that up the risk] can reduce her risk. Two studies released by the University of California, San Diego, and the Genesis Prevention Centre at University Hospital in England, show that a meal plan rich in fruits and veggies and low in starchy carbohydrates may help prevent breast cancer and its recurrence.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rather than animal products (milk, butter, cheese, paneer). Fruits and vegetables have lower fat and higher fibre than animal products. Eat whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juice. Make your fat intake less than 20% of your total calories per day (the average person’s fat intake is about 35%). Eliminate foods with high fat content (fried foods, margarine). Avoid processed meats and cold cuts. They’re high in fat, salt, and other preservatives. All meats have extra hormones and antibiotics so they should be avoided as studies suggest that they increase the risk. In a study of 35,372 British women, eating as little as 2 ounces of red meat or 1 ounce of meats per day was associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when meat is cooked at high heat. HCAs can act like oestrogen, which may spur the growth of tumours. HCAs are produced when poultry is cooked, too. Red meat is also high in heme iron, which scientists think interacts with oestrogen to promote tumour development. Dieticians who recommend to meat eaters say they should switch to 3 ounces a day of lean meat/ fish/poultry and skimmed milk. I suggest that you give it up altogether. After all, how big is a medicine tablet? How much meat does it take to kill you? Tablet sized?

Avoid salt-cured, pickled, and smoked foods. They have a lot of salt and nitrates. Bake or broil food rather than frying. Eat more fibre like oats and unprocessed wheat bran. Use whole-grain flour instead of white flour. According to a report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, upping your fibre intake may help lower your risk of breast cancer. Researchers found that for every 10 grams of fibre a woman ate daily, her risk of breast cancer decreased by 7 percent. That’s about a 1/2 to one cup of beans, barley, bulgur, lentils, peas, artichokes, dates and raspberries.

“Overweight women who exercise 150 minutes a week and eat lots of fruits and veggies have a lower risk of breast cancer than normal-weight women who have a low intake of fruits and veggies” say research specialists at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.

Here are the foods you need to eat:

Green Tea: contains flavonoids, known for their antioxidant effects. One flavonoid, kaempferol, has shown protective effects against breast cancer. The study, analysing the lifestyle habits of nearly 3,000 people, showed that postmenopausal women who got the most flavonoids were 46% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who got the least.

Tomatoes: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism explains that as a woman ages, her body mass index tends to climb, a clear breast cancer risk factor. Researchers from Rutgers University found that eating a diet high in tomatoes helped promote better fat regulation and sugar metabolism, keeping women’s body mass index out of the danger zone. The study found that those who ate at least 25 milligrams of lycopene, found in tomatoes, daily for 10 weeks saw a 9% increase in adiponectin, a hormone involved with regulating blood sugar and fat levels.

Curcumin:  Experts credit curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects for its ability to fight cancer. “Most diseases are caused by chronic inflammation that persists over long periods of time,” says the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Recent studies have shown curcumin to interfere with cell-signalling pathways, thereby suppressing the transformation, proliferation, and invasion of cancerous cells.

Broccoli: Research shows it blocks tumour growth, preventing the further spread of cancer if it does occur. Sulforaphane—a compound in broccoli—reduced the number of breast cancer stem cells in mice, according to research from the University of Michigan.  You can also get this anti-cancer benefit from other cruciferous veggies, including cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale which need to be eaten every day. Cruciferous vegetables contain unique phytochemicals called glucosinolates; when we chop, chew, or blend these vegetables, cell walls are broken, starting a chemical reaction that converts glucosinolates to isothiocyanates (ITCs). ITCs detoxify and remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumour growth. ITCs are also anti-angiogenic, which means that they prevent normal blood vessels from branching off to provide tumours with a blood supply.

Many ITCs are protective against hormone-associated cancers like breast cancer. Eating cruciferous vegetables regularly helps the body to reduce the cancer-promoting potency of estrogen and other hormones, and increase hormone excretion. In a recent study, women who ate one serving per day of cruciferous vegetables reduced their risk of breast cancer by over 50%.

Garlic: and onions have a component called allyl sulphide, specially garlic extract supplements, which seems to have an impact on cell cycling, the process by which a normal, healthy cell might become cancerous.

Apples: Lab studies show that apple skins are a rich source of antioxidants, fibre and can actually fight the spread of cancer cells.

Pomegranates: A cell culture study suggests that the fruit contains a compound that might help fight oestrogen-dependent cancers.

Walnuts: Research in the journal Nutrition and Cancer suggests walnuts may thwart the growth of breast cancer. In a study done by Marshall University School of Medicine in West Virginia, one group of mice were fed walnuts the other group was fed a walnut-free diet. After 34 days, the growth rate of tumours in the walnut eaters was half that of the mice who ate no walnuts..

Fish: Dieticians say fish is an omega-3 fatty acids and a lean protein source. I don’t agree with this because a fish has the same oil and calories as beef. The waters are now so polluted that almost every fish is full of pcb chemicals, faeces and plastic.

Mushrooms: Frequent consumption of mushrooms has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer by 60-70%. Mushrooms are thought to protect against breast cancer particularly because they inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which produces oestrogen.

Flaxseed: Lignans in flax, chia, and sesame seeds are phytochemicals that are structurally similar to oestrogen and can bind to oestrogen receptors — this allows lignans to have protective effects against hormone-related cancers. Like mushroom phytochemicals, lignans inhibit aromatase and oestrogen production in general. Women, with breast cancer, who began consuming flaxseed regularly showed significant tumour cell death after only one month. Women eating more flaxseeds, with higher levels of circulating lignans, were found to have a 42% reduced risk of death from postmenopausal breast cancer.

Oranges and Vegetables:  Carrots, cantaloupes, and sweet potatoes are foods rich in carotenoids – plant pigments that act as antioxidants and soak up dangerous free radicals that can lead to DNA damage and cancer. There are 600 different carotenoids so get lots of orange, red, yellow, and dark green food. Harvard Medical School researchers reported in 2012 that women with carotenoid levels in the top 20% of the measured range had a 15 to 20% reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who had the lowest levels.

Berries: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that aid in cancer prevention. Blueberries, in particular, play a role in breast cancer management by enhancing the effect of the drug tamoxifen. Researchers at Texas A&M recently found that plums and peaches are similar to blueberries—and that they contain two types of antioxidants that may help kill breast cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.

Extra virgin Olive Oil: researchers in Barcelona gave rats with breast cancer a diet in which fat came predominantly from extra-virgin olive oil (versus corn oil), they found that the olive oil’s antioxidants and oleic acid quelled growth of malignant cells.

Parsley: University of Missouri scientists found that this herb can actually inhibit cancer-cell growth through apigenin, a compound which boosts resistance to developing cancerous tumours.

University of Arizona researchers recently reported that postmenopausal women, who most closely adhered to the American Cancer Society’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention which include eating at least 2 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day (no matter what kind or colour), had a 22% lower risk of breast cancer than those who complied the least.


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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Maneka Gandhi is an Indian MP, animal rights activist, environmentalist and former model. Maneka Gandhi writes weekly column Heads & Tails for the Kashmir Observer. To join her animal rights movement contact [email protected]

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