12 Cancer-Fighting Foods for the Women in Your Life

Cancer fighting products. Food for healthy living

Written by cookandculture | Edited By: Carol Coutinho

November 5, 2020

While October may officially be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, any month is a great time to promote women’s health and share dietary tips for cancer prevention. As the most common cancer in women worldwide (1), breast cancer is estimated to affect 1 in every 8 women in the United States alone (2). Other cancers that commonly afflict women include cervical and ovarian cancer, for both of which there are no known cures. However, by living a healthy lifestyle and incorporating cancer-fighting foods into their diet, women can significantly decrease their risk of developing cancer. The power of food can also have positive effects on women who are already battling these cancers, as well as support the immune system of those in recovery and remission. Though we’ll be focusing primarily on foods preventing the most common cancers in women in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you will find that a number of these foods have the power to potentially prevent other forms of cancer and general illness as well. For your benefit, we’ll also be linking some of our favorite recipes throughout the list below that you can make right at home with these wholesome ingredients. 

1. Garlic

Fresh garlic on wooden table

Vampires aren’t the only thing that this Italian staple wards off. Until recently, the benefits of garlic consumption were only linked to prostate, lung, and gastric cancers. Just last year, however, a study from the Nutrition and Cancer Journal reached the conclusion that “high onion and garlic consumption is protective against breast cancer” (3). This is likely due to the flavanols and organosulfur compounds within garlic that possess cancer-preventing properties (4). One of the healthiest varieties of garlic is Hardneck garlic. You’ll be happy to hear it has large, easy-to-peel cloves, can be found in most grocery stores, and will add the finest flavors to your Sunday sauce. 

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

Garlic’s use as a health aid actually dates back to ancient times, when Egyptian pharaohs fed it to their pyramid-builders to increase their strength (5). 

2. Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds

Seeds in a colander, pumpkin for making pumpkin soup

What a wonderful coincidence that Breast Cancer Awareness Month happens to be the same month that one cancer-fighting food in particular is most abundant: pumpkins! What gives pumpkin its cancer-fighting property is a plant compound called phytoestrogen. This compound, which mimics the human hormone estrogen, is specifically found in the seeds of the pumpkin (6). In addition to this, pumpkin’s low caloric content reduces the risk of obesity, a significant factor in breast cancer development (7). If you’re interested in hearing what else this seasonal gourd can do for your health, check out our blog post about the health benefits of pumpkins here.

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

Pumpkin seeds are an environmentally friendly protein!

3. Blueberries

 

Blueberry

Don’t be fooled by their size – these little guys are loaded with antioxidants, including Vitamins A and C, plus flavonoids (8). As a matter of fact, they are one of the first foods people think of when they hear the word “antioxidants.” According to animal studies published by the American Institute for Cancer Research, blueberries have been found to decrease estrogen-induced mammary cancer and DNA damage (9). Their small size is a bonus, making them super easy to snack on, toss into smoothies, or incorporate into a variety of baked goods. 

Recipes to try… 

Did you know…

Just a single cup of blueberries supplies your body with 14% of the daily recommended fiber intake (10)!

4. Nuts

Different type of nuts in bowl

Almond addicts and cashew cravers rejoice! Nuts are yet another easy-to-snack-on food that can reduce cancer risks and potentially even slow cancer growth. Though most nuts are similar in their nutrient profile, walnuts are the real superstar when it comes to breast cancer-fighting nuts. A Marshall University study revealed that eating just two ounces of walnuts a day for roughly two weeks slowed breast cancer growth in patients who already had the disease, and reduced the risk of developing it in others (11). Nuts are a valuable source of vegetable protein, monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, folic acid, phytoestrogens, and fiber (12). This being said, it’s probably not a bad idea to incorporate them into your diet no matter what your risk of developing breast cancer may be. 

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

A nut is technically a fruit! Now that’s nutty. 

 

5. Sweet Potatoes

Cutting Fresh Organic Sweet Potato, superfood rich in tryptophan, potassium, vitamin C, phytonutrients and dietary fibers

The micronutrients within sweet potatoes, specifically Vitamin A, lutein, and beta-carotene, all have cancer-fighting properties, making sweet potatoes another great breast cancer buster (13). The beta-carotene is what gives the flesh of sweet potatoes its bright orange color. As a matter of fact, plenty of other foods rich in carotenoids, such as carrots, squash, oranges, and apricot, share very similar cancer-fighting properties. Looks like orange is the new pink!

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

America has been growing sweet potatoes since World War II (14). 

6. Salmon

salmon

This tasty protein from the sea has also proven effective at preventing breast cancer. Just two years ago, salmon made headlines when one study revealed that this fish is even more effective at preventing breast cancer than flaxseeds, a well-known cancer preventative in the health foods world. The study found that due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can reduce tumor size by 60-70% and numbers by nearly 30% (15). For those who aren’t big seafood eaters, taking specialized omega-3 vitamins daily can yield similar effects. However, don’t knock it ‘till you try it – Salmon is one of the least fishy-tasting seafoods in the market when prepared right. We’ve got three of the tastiest recipes to get you started!

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

Salmon is among the most popular fish used in Japanese sushi-making. 

7. Peaches

Fresh peaches and leaves on dark countertop

You might not have expected to see peaches on this list of cancer-fighting foods, but think again! Eating two or three of these juicy summertime fruits can inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells, according to Washington State University and Texas A&M. There are compounds within peaches that act as antioxidants and prevent cancer-producing DNA damage (16). 

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

July and August are the best months for fresh peach picking. To find a farm near you, visit http://pickyourown.org/

8. Broccoli

Fresh broccoli on black plate

If you’re a fan of leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, you’ll be happy to hear that many of them, including broccoli, can lower the risk of breast cancer. This is mainly thanks to the sulforaphane within these vegetables. One study from the Cancer Prevention Research Journal explains that this sulfur-rich compound slows the growth of invasive cells (17). Other veggies high in sulforaphane include kale, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts if you’re not a fan of broccoli…but you’ll likely become one after trying out these ingenious recipes.

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

Nearly all of the broccoli sold throughout the United States is grown in California (18).

9. Small Grains

Assortment of grains on a gray background

Another tiny-but-mighty food to add to your preventative diet is anything in the small grains category. This typically includes varieties of wheat, oat, rye, and barley. By increasing your consumption of whole grains, you are also increasing your fiber intake. Subsequently, high fiber intake can alter negative hormonal actions of breast cancer cells (19). In addition to this, whole grains, along with most fruits and vegetables, contain “phytochemicals with antioxidant, antiestrogen and other properties that may prevent cancer” (20). 

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

October 29th is National Oatmeal Day!

10. Strawberries

Strawberries in grey bowl. Fresh strawberries. Beautiful strawberries.

European and Latin American researchers have found that strawberries, a long-time favorite fruit of many, may inhibit the spread and growth of breast cancer cells (21). Through research, scientists noticed significant decreases in weight and volume of cancerous breast tumors in mice after supplementing their diet with a strawberry extract. This outcome can likely be attributed to the nutritional content of strawberries, which includes Vitamin C, flavonoids, and especially folate – an important vitamin that supports healthy cell growth and function.

Recipes to try…

Did you know… 

The average strawberry contains 200 seeds!

11. Tomatoes

Fresh cherry tomatoes on a black counter with salt

Tomatoes are bursting with flavor, color…and lycopene! A plant nutrient with powerful antioxidant properties, lycopene can prevent damage to healthy cells in our bodies. Because cell degeneration associated with aging can contribute to breast cancer development, lycopene has had positive effects on the cells of post-menopausal women, in particular, preventing abnormal cell activity. Regardless of your age though, anyone can benefit from the powerful antioxidants, Vitamin C, and potassium within this juicy fruit. Those cancer-fighting properties are a definite bonus!

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

The world’s largest tomato on record was grown in Oklahoma in 1986 and weighed over seven pounds, meaning that single tomato could have been used to make over a quart of pasta sauce (22)!

 

12. Green Tea

Matcha green tea in pot and cup

We may have cheated a little on this one…we know green tea is technically more of a drink than it is a food. Needless to say, we feel it still deserves a spot on this list. This common beverage originated in China and has been used throughout Asia for centuries as a healing aid for a number of ailments, as well as the prevention of certain cancers in women. Green tea catechins, especially one called EGCG, inhibit tumor growth, proliferation, migration, and overall development of breast cancer (23). In addition to this, the Susan G. Komen website states that women who regularly consume tea lower their risk of developing ovarian cancer, while green tea in particular prevents it from recurring in those who have already had it (24). Craving a cup of something hot? Ditch the coffee and reach for a cup of green tea with honey, instead! Your body will thank you for it. 

Recipes to try…

Did you know…

Matcha is made by taking the youngest green tea leaves and grinding them into a bright green powder, then whisking the powder with boiling water (25). 

So there you have it – 12 cancer-fighting foods to add to your diet today, or to simply share with the important women in your life. Aside from maintaining a balanced, preventative diet, you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer and other variations of the disease by scheduling annual exams, having blood work drawn regularly, avoiding drugs, alcohol, and harmful toxins, and being active. Remember, the key to prevention of any cancer is not solely a healthy diet, but also a healthy lifestyle – though developing a healthy diet is a great start! For more detailed information on reducing your own risk of breast cancer, check out preventcancer.org as well as CDC and World Health Organization guidelines for expert advice. 

Join our Instagram community (@cookandculture) and share with us your favorite tips for cancer prevention and how you practice living a healthy lifestyle. 

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