Back to Living Better

Power foods to fight cancer

Shayna Komar, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares which foods help prevent cancer. Continue reading for a full transcript of Shayna’s presentation.

The benefits of healthy eating

Healthy eating:

  • Improves your alertness and energy

  • Improves your restorative sleep, allowing your body time to heal

  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight and lean body mass

  • Helps you avoid the “hangry” time of day by keeping blood sugar stable

  • Promotes heart healthy

  • Strengthens the bones

  • Helps prevent cancer and cancer recurrence

No such thing as a “perfect” eating plan

There’s no perfect eating plan or one perfect food. It is about moderation and variety.

Instead, think about your body like your car: How are you fueling it? What you put in your body is going to keep your immune system strong.

I also recommend the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your food is going to be that healthy, building-your-immune system type food, and then 20 percent is your birthday cake or your treat when your child is graduating from high school.

Nobody eats perfectly, and we're always trying to build a better food plan. When you see me [for nutrition counseling], we will establish small, attainable goals each time you come because I know that everybody's food and nutrition changes depending on their lifestyle and what they're doing in that season.

Where to find good nutrition research

The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) is a great resource. You can get some crazy information out there. But AICR is a very good one. They are one of the world-leading authorities in diet and nutrition.

I specialize in oncology nutrition. A lot of us [oncology dietitians] go there for up-to-date information. And their bottom line with their nutrition message is: surround your nutrition plan around a Mediterranean plant-based diet. Fill your house, your refrigerator, with Mediterranean-style plant-based foods.

What to eat to prevent breast cancer

Let's talk about some particular eating tips to help prevent breast cancer.

  • Eat whole foods. When food is in its whole state, and it hasn't been processed and put in a bag, smushed up and dried up, you're going to get more nutrition out of it.

  • Think low-fat. You absolutely want to decrease your animal fat because that fat and hormones, they go hand in hand.

  • Keep your blood sugars within a normal limit. That is very important, particularly in breast cancer prevention.

Does short-term fasting decrease inflammation?

There's a lot of new information coming out about night fasting and short-term fasting. What it's dealing with is decreasing inflammation, which is a big deal when we're talking about preventing cancer, following that anti-inflammatory diet.

But the other thing is that it helps control blood sugar, insulin levels, and something called IGF, insulin growth factor. So, stay tuned on that. There's a lot of information about the short-term fasting coming out. These fasts look very different than what you might think of. It’s not, “Oh, I don't eat for three weeks and then I drink water."

Eat multiple times per day

Don't eat one big meal. Make sure you're eating multiple times a day. That doesn't mean you have to be eating all day long, but it's really not good for your body to eat just one meal.

I'm a huge educator with gut health because a lot of your immune system begins in the gut and sometimes if you haven't eaten anything and then you overeat in one meal, that's not good for your gut.

Eat colorful foods

Another tip for prevention is to eat colorful food. Eat from the rainbow.

A good cancer prevention tip is seven to nine fruits and vegetables a day. The old recommendation was five a day, the new recommendation for prevention is seven to nine veggies and fruits a day. The serving size is half a cup. And I say veggies first because we're heavy on the veggies for cancer prevention, more so than the fruit because the fruit can raise our blood sugars.

Read your food labels

Another thing to do for prevention is to read your food labels of all those packaged foods and those packaged meals because sugar is hidden. Dyes, high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil, those are your inflammatory processed foods and additives.

Create a healthy food zone

This way you're not tempted all the time by the cookies that are sitting there or the sweet treats. Wherever you frequent, try to think about creating a healthy food zone for that environment.

Take small steps

I would never make somebody U-Haul their entire nutrition plan. In fact, I don't even like the word “diet.” It's lifestyle changes. It's over time.

And that's what we do at Cancer Wellness. Whether you're meeting with me or one of our other facilitators, we're teaching wellness habits. How do you build your immune system? How do you decrease stress? How do you exercise safely?

So, creating those small, obtainable steps, especially with your nutrition, is a big deal. Small steps can include:

Limit alcoholic beverages

There is a lot of research out there on alcohol and breast cancer. In 2014, the World Health Organization said, "Regarding breast cancer, no alcohol is safe."

Now, since then a lot of studies have been done and what they have found is you can have one glass of wine or one cocktail a couple of times a week safely, but you do need to know that it can potentially raise your risk. If you're drinking more than that, then you absolutely are raising your risk more.

Alcohol increases estrogen, so that can be one of the factors for increased cancer risk. However, the other factor is that usually, alcohol makes you eat the wrong foods. So, whereas you might have had a little more willpower or felt more comfortable with the meal, now all of a sudden you might have some extra treats, so then that could be an issue.

And then you don't sleep well and sleeping is really important for keeping your body healthy.

Eat slow-release carbohydrates

These carbohydrates have a lower glycemic index. They’re the brown ones. The brown grains are much better for you than the white ones. Those white, starchy foods immediately turn to sugar in the body, which is going to cause a lot of inflammation. So, we really encourage brown grains.

You don’t have to stick to bread and rice – there’s quinoa, oats, barley, etc. You get B vitamins from ancient grains, which gives you energy.

Check your vitamin D

There's a lot of research on vitamin D and cancer prevention, so make sure that you talk to your doctor about getting that blood test. That is a big deal.

Does soy increase the risk of breast cancer?

Research is always changing in nutrition. I mean, I go to sleep and I wake up and it has changed.

The latest with soy is it's a gray area. You absolutely do need to be careful with it because there's a lot of fake soy out there. That soy protein, that fake stuff that's in lots of your powdery drinks, and your granola bars, and your cereals and all those processed foods, that is causing problems because we don't know what kind of lecithin is in it, and what kind of plant estrogen is in it.

Now, your whole soy food like organic tofu or organic edamame you can eat it in small amounts. Where the research gets gray is that it shows a lot of benefits to prevent breast cancer when you are eating soy pre-puberty.

So, if we have children and they're eating a little edamame here or a little bit of tofu there, that is showing prevention. Later in life, it's not showing as many of the benefits.

Whole food soy can be a healthy alternative to a high-fat animal product, absolutely, but I don't want you switching everything to a soy food. But it’s okay to enjoy some edamame with your family.

We get a lot of that research from China’s SETI Institute. They studied the Asian population and they didn't have as much breast cancer. But when you really looked into the study, they have been eating whole food soy all their life, before puberty.

They also drink a ton of green tea, the Matcha green tea, which has more EGCG. That's the plant chemical that helps prevent cancer. They also eat a lot of mushrooms.

So, it wasn't just, "Hey, let's put a little soy protein powder in my smoothie." It was their lifestyle. So, that's why I really encourage lifestyle changes and setting small, obtainable goals.

Think GBOMBS

GBOMBS are your healthy breast cancer prevention foods. A lot of my ladies already know these because we go over these in my office.

Check out additional health and wellness tips from Living Better experts.