A healthy diet is only one of several factors that can affect the immune system. And according to Dr. William Li, the choices we make when it comes to food are incredibly important for preventing, treating, and even potentially reversing cancer.
The world renowned physician and scientist believes it is possible to starve cancer with the foods we put into our bodies. His work has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments and impacts care for more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease and obesity—with a huge focus on food. In his book, Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body can Heal Itself, Dr. Li shares the exact foods that we can eat for disease prevention.
“Each of us has an enormous opportunity to take charge of our lives using food to transform our health. More than one hundred foods can enhance your body’s ability to starve cancer and keep cancer tumors small and harmless,” Dr. Li explains. “Food is a powerful resource for cancer prevention.” His research found 40 percent of all cancer could be prevented with diet and lifestyle modifications.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women—affecting 1 in 8 women in America in their lifetime. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with Dr. Li to find out the best foods to eat to stave off the disease. Here’s his top 5:
Dr. Li’s 5 Foods To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
It’s time to put to bed the myth that soy is dangerous for breast cancer. Soy contains genistein which starves breast cancer cells by cutting off their blood supply. Women who eat 15 grams of soy protein per day (the amount found in 2 cups of soymilk), were found to have improved survival from breast cancer according to the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study. There is a caveat here, the benefits are for real, unprocessed soy. Stay away from processed soy products including meat alternatives and ingredients like soy protein isolate found in many foods. Also, soy is one of top GMO foods so go for organic when possible.
Pro-tip: Add some tofu to a veggie stir fry.
Oily Fish (such as salmon, hake, mackerel)
Marine omega-3 fatty acids support immunity to fight breast cancer. According to a recent study, women who ate one serving of fish per day had a 26 percent reduction in risk of breast cancer. For the people who don’t like salmon, the good news is that there are many fish that have even more omega-3’s. Higher levels are found in hake, yellowtail, sea bass—and for shellfish lovers, even Manila clams. Watch out for oily fish that are high up on the food chain, like swordfish and tuna, since they can contain high levels of toxic mercury.
Pro-tip: never deep fry–the healthy oil is already in the fish!
Beans and lentils contain bioactives such as quercetin, kaempferol, and myricetin that have cancer fighting effects. The Nurses Health Study II showed women who ate one cup of legumes per week had a 24 percent reduced risk of breast cancer.
Pro-tip: Soaking beans overnight can lower their gas producing effects.
Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world and contains the cancer fighting polyphenol, EGCG. The Shanghai Women’s Health Study followed 69,000 women and found that those who drank tea at least 3 times per week had a 37 percent reduction in the risk for colon cancer, compared to women who didn’t drink green tea. Another study from British cancer researchers showed that matcha green tea could kill breast cancer stem cells.
Pro-tip: If you use tea bags, make sure you dunk them up and down a few times to extract as much EGCG in the tea. Dunking helps squeeze the EGCG out of the leaves and into the drink, yielding a more potent healthy tea than having the bags sit on the bottom of the cup.
Coffee beans contain two bioactive compounds, chlorogenic and caffeic acid, which help your own DNA fight cancer. They unleash a tumor suppressor gene called RARB2 which, in the lab, thwarts the ability of breast cancer cells to grow.
Pro-tip: Don’t add artificial sweeteners to your coffee—they can harm your gut microbiome, which you want to keep healthy since it helps control your cancer fighting immune defenses.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)