While the role of diet in cancer prevention is still a little murky, there is some promising news on the food front when it comes to these two killers.
So far, the most convincing evidence for reducing your risk of breast cancer has less to do with what you eat, and more to do with how much you eat. Studies have shown that postmenopausal women who are obese or overweight are more likely to develop breast cancer than their lean counterparts and that their survival rate may also be poorer. A few ways to cut down on your calories would be to avoid certain items that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, like alcohol, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates.
Foods that may help prevent breast cancer include fruits and vegetables (because they're packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals), monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fats, and soy products. Soy is probably the most studied of all foods when it comes to breast cancer. That's because it has long been known that countries where soy is a staple have much lower rates of breast cancer than the United States. Recent studies suggest that only whole soy foods are cancer-busters, however, and that highly processed soy foods and supplements may actually promote the growth of preexisting tumors. So—get rid of all those pills and powders and check out the real thing: tempeh, tofu, miso, and the incredibly yummy edamame (boiled green soy beans in the pod).
Remember—if you are at high risk for breast cancer, ONLY include soy foods in your diet if your doctor gives you the okay. If you already have breast cancer, try to avoid soy altogether (unless your doctor advises otherwise).
Weight also plays a role in prostate cancer, although in a different way than for breast cancer. A study in the March 2005 issue of the journal CANCER revealed that obese men often have lower prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels than normal-weight men, making this screening test unreliable for heavy men.
Foods and nutrients to choose when it comes to prostate cancer prevention include fish, green tea, soy foods, and foods rich in the antioxidant lycopene. The mineral selenium is also associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer (just keep your intake to no more than 200 mcg per day).
Foods and nutrients to lose include red meat and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—the kind of fat found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. You should also avoid taking in more than 1,000 mg calcium and 15 mg zinc per day.
Foods rich in selenium include Brazil nuts (eat no more than two per day), fish, sunflower seeds, and whole-wheat products.
Foods rich in lycopene include tomatoes, apricots, guava, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. Remember, cooking foods makes it easier to absorb lycopene, so your best bet is tomato sauce and other cooked tomato products.