I’ve always had a pretty healthy lifestyle, but when I discovered a strong history of breast cancer in my immediate and extended family — two of my sisters, an aunt, and a grandmother have had the disease — I doubled down to reduce my risk. And what does that look like? Well, I rarely drink alcohol, I exercise 5-6 days per week, I’m striving to lose those extra pesky pounds that have stuck around for the past few years (thanks, perimenopause!), and I eat a varied diet brimming with healthy, plant-based foods.
I take comfort in knowing that all of these factors have been shown to reduce my risk,1-6 but still, I’ve wondered, since maintaining a healthy weight with a healthy diet and plenty of physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of several different types of cancer, are there any specific foods I should be eating that may help reduce my risk of breast cancer? Turns out there may be.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s a look at 10 foods that may hold promise for potentially helping to prevent breast cancer. Just remember: While no single food can prevent breast cancer, eating a healthy, varied diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce the risk of developing it.7
Why a healthy diet is important
Eating a healthy diet is important for so many reasons, from potentially reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis, to possibly improving your overall health.8 Research is increasingly showing that adopting a healthy diet, especially one that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, helps to maintain a healthy weight and therefore may help to prevent various types of cancer, including breast cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reports.9,2
According to the AICR,10 plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, which may prevent damage to cells that may ultimately trigger cancer. They also are brimming with phytochemicals, or plant-based chemicals, that may help prevent and fight cancer with their potential to boost the immune system, block substances we’re exposed to from becoming carcinogenic, reduce inflammation in our bodies and other actions.11 Check out our list of our favorite foods that boost your immune system.
To reduce your risk of breast cancer, the experts at breastcancer.org recommend that you:12
- Eat at least five cups of vegetables and fruit a day. (If your goals include weight loss, just keep an eye on how much fruit you’re eating — eat as many non-starchy vegetables as you’d like!)
- Avoid trans fats, processed meats, and charred or smoked foods.
- Eat foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as seafood, nuts and seeds, and some plant oils.
Foods that may help prevent breast cancer
Since no single food can prevent cancer, it’s best to focus on eating a well-rounded diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.13 Combined with maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise, research has shown that certain foods with plenty of these nutrients may help reduce your chances of developing breast cancer. Here’s a look at 10.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
Loaded with vitamin C, fiber and phytochemicals, blueberries and black raspberries have been shown in animal studies to have significant positive effects on certain breast tumors, the AICR14 reports. Experts at the AICR suggest eating 4-5 servings of berries per week; fresh, unsweetened frozen or canned berries are all good choices, they say.
Experts13 believe that berries are a good choice because they contain a wealth of antioxidants which have been shown to help protect the body from the type of cell damage that could cause breast and other cancers to develop.
How to eat it: Top your next cup of nonfat plain yogurt with berries for a delicious breakfast!
Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash
Boasting the antioxidant resveratrol, grapes have demonstrated potential anti-cancer effects, studies show.15 According to experts at MD Anderson,13 resveratrol has “the potential to possibly stop” cancer from developing in the breast, as well as in the liver, stomach and lymphatic system. They note that grape skin contains the most resveratrol and that red and purple grapes have more than green grapes.
How to eat it: Grapes make the perfect in-between-meal snack. Eat them fresh or freeze them for an after-dinner treat!
Photo by Reinaldo Kevin on Unsplash
The Breast Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine16 reports that compounds in broccoli produce a substance that may prevent cancer cells from dividing and multiplying, thus inhibiting breast cancer growth. Broccoli is part of the cruciferous vegetable family — along with Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and arugula — which tend to be filled with nutrients that can help reduce inflammation.17
How to eat it: Use these 4 healthy tips to make broccoli taste amazing. Mix broccoli into your next salad or steam it and pair it with your next entrée. Fresh or frozen broccoli are both great choices!
4. Raw carrots
Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash
While consuming large amounts of raw vegetables of all types has been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer, raw carrots seem to confer the most protection, researchers have found.17
But raw carrots may be even more powerful. The same study,17 found that people who ate four servings of raw carrots per week were approximately 20% less likely to develop breast cancer, compared with those who ate half a serving per week. The researchers say that carrots are rich in carotenoids and add that eating a diet high in carotenoids may be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. It’s thought that carotenoids can act as antioxidants and may help reduce the risk of breast cancer by neutralizing free radicals, inhibiting cancer cell growth and other actions.19
How to eat it: Snack on raw carrots with your lunch, or for a healthy snack, pair raw carrots with a tablespoon of hummus.
Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash
Numerous studies20 have suggested that pomegranate products, including the whole fruit, juice and oil, might have significant positive effects on several types of cancer, including of the breast, lung and skin. While researchers say more research is needed to validate the usefulness of pomegranate in the prevention and treatment of cancer, the City of Hope21 reports that researchers there have identified six chemicals in the fruit that suppress aromatase, a substance involved in the production of estrogen. Citing that approximately 70% of breast cancers require estrogen to grow, they say that pomegranate could prove to be a “breast-cancer-blocking super food.”
How to eat it: Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on your next salad for a fruity and flavorful addition!
6. Green tea
While green tea has long been hailed for its role in cancer prevention, the National Cancer Institute (NCI)22 reports that only some research has linked green tea to a reduced risk of breast and other cancers. Among the more than 50 studies that have looked at the association between green tea consumption and cancer risk since 2006, the results have been inconsistent, the NCI reports.
Although it says the specific mechanism by which green tea might help prevent cancer has not been established, the NCI adds that polyphenols in green tea do have antioxidant activity and may help protect cells from DNA damage.
How to drink it: Steep green tea and drink it alongside your morning breakfast or with a snack in the afternoon for a midday pick-me-up.
Bursting with lycopene (a naturally occurring chemical that helps to give fruits and vegetables their red color), tomatoes may be helpful in preventing breast cancer because of their antioxidant properties.23 And a 2018 review24 cites tomatoes as being a rich source of resveratrol. The researchers note that resveratrol is “the most promising candidate” for preventing breast and other cancers.
How to eat it: Slice a tomato up and put some on your next sandwich or dice one up and mix it into a pasta dish.
Photo by Remi Yuan on Unsplash
The Moffitt Cancer Center25 reports that a 2019 study26 found that breast cancer patients who ate 2 ounces of walnuts per day for two weeks slowed the growth of breast cancer or reduced the risk of developing it. Experts at Moffitt say that nuts can help reduce inflammation in the body, particularly if eaten instead of less healthy foods. High amounts of inflammation have been associated with breast and other cancers, they add.
Another small study also found that almonds, walnuts and peanuts may help to reduce the risk of breast cancer.27 (Since nuts are typically high in calories, make sure to watch your portion sizes if you’re trying to lose weight.)
How to eat it: Sliced almonds make the perfect salad topping! Sprinkle one tablespoon on your next bowl for an added crunch.
9. Whole grains
Photo by Miguel Maldonado on Unsplash
Several studies have concluded that whole grains may help protect against breast cancer. For instance, a 2016 study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment28 found that high intakes of whole-grain foods may be associated with a lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer. The researchers suggest that the fiber in whole grains may help explain the association.
Meantime, a 2018 analysis published in BMC Nutrition Journal29 found that the consumption of whole grains could be inversely associated with the risk of breast cancer, although they note more research is needed to confirm the link. The researchers speculate that there are several mechanisms that might help explain the protective effects of whole grains: They may help mediate insulin responses and ensure better glycemic control (and higher insulin levels have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer); whole grains may help reduce inflammatory markers; and they are rich in dietary fiber, which research has shown to be inversely associated with the risk of breast cancer.29
How to eat it: Swap refined grains (think: white bread, pasta, white rice), for whole-grain alternatives instead.
10. Dairy products
According to the National Cancer Institute,30 research has shown that a higher intake of calcium-rich dairy products is associated with a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer. In an analysis of more than 3,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, for instance, researchers found that those who got more than 800 milligrams of calcium per day from dairy products, especially low- or nonfat milk, cheese and yogurt, were at reduced risk, compared with women who got 200 milligrams or less.
How to eat it: Splash nonfat milk in your morning cup of coffee or enjoy a cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt for a mid-morning snack.
As we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we hope you’ll consider adding these delicious, healthy foods for breast health to your breast cancer prevention plan. As for me? I’m happy to report that most of these foods are already in my refrigerator and cupboards, and that I’ll be heading to my local farm stand soon to add the others to my household bounty.
Did you know that all of these foods can play a part in the Jenny Craig plan — and help you lose weight at the same time? Contact us today to find out how!
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig