Eat to beat cancer

We speak to nutritionists to find out the top foods to eat and avoid, to lower the risk of getting breast cancer. The incidence of breast cancer is a growing health concern for women around the world. Nowhere is the problem more pressing than in the UAE, where it is one of the most common …

Eat to beat cancer

We speak to nutritionists to find out the top foods to eat and avoid, to lower the risk of getting breast cancer.

The incidence of breast cancer is a growing health concern for women around the world. Nowhere is the problem more pressing than in the UAE, where it is one of the most common forms of cancer. Statistics have shown that over 30 per cent of women suffering from breast cancer in the UAE are in the third stage, which means that early detection is key. But even more important is protecting yourself against cancer, and what you eat can play an important role in this. According to Deepa Almeida, nutritionist at Cedars-Jebel Ali International Hospital, a survey conducted by World Health organisation in 2009 reported that there would be an increase in the incidence of breast cancer by 100 to 180 per cent over ten years, in the Eastern Mediterranean region (including UAE). Here, Deepa and Andrew Picken, founder and nutritionist of Bespoke-wellness, fitness and nutrition centre, tell us what to eat and what not to eat, to help in the battle against breast cancer.



Just about any kind of mushroom is good for the immune system as they contain a phytochemical, conjugated lenoleic acid, which binds to the excess aromatase enzymes – an enzyme in the body required for the production of estrogen – to reduce the risk of contracting breast cancer. The combination of copper, zinc, selenium and other phytochemicals in mushrooms help protect against breast cancer as well.

Recommended dose: Eat one cup servings of mushrooms, twice or thrice a week.


This bright-yellow powder contains curcumin, a phenloc compound, which neutralises the free radicals in the body and fights against cancer-causing cells.

Recommended dose: Add a pinch of turmeric daily when cooking curries and stir-fries, to add a distinct flavour and taste.


These antioxidant-packed fruits have polyphenol resveratrols, a compound which has anti-inflamatory and chemo-protective effects on cancer cells and assists in general wellbeing. Make sure to eat the fresh, organic variety to reap the most benefits. Drinking wine does not count, as the alcohol content in wine decreases any chemo-protective effects on the cancerous cells.

Recommended dose: Eat servings of 17 small seedless grapes, twice or thrice a week.

Dairy products

Milk and its by-products such as yoghurt can help reduce the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women, as milk is rich in Vitamin D and moderates calcium metabolism, decreases the cell proliferation and induces programmed cell death. This means that if there is a defective cell in the regulatory system in our body, the Vitamin D destroys that particular cell. Low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium and vitamins as they are low in sodium content and fat.

Recommended dose: Two to three servings daily.


These sweet but tart berries are low in sugar and contain anthocyanins – a phytochemical, mainly a pigment which gives cranberries its colour – that cause cancer cells to self-destruct, before formation. Cranberries also contain phytochemicals such as proanthocyanidins and ursolic acid which act in the same manner as anthocyanins – by self-destructing cancer cells – and decreases the chances of new cell formation.

Recommended dose: Eat servings of one cup of cranberries, earound two to three times a week.

Whole grains

Rich in fibre, wholegrains such as dark seed-breads, oats, bulgur and couscous lower the risk of breast cancer and decrease the estrogen levels in the body due to the combination of nutrients. The cereals contains vitamin E, phenolic compounds, selenium and phytic acid, all of which are essential for the maintenance of cell health and the combination of all these minerals is effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer. And since most nutrients are concentrated just under the skin of the cereals, eating whole grain cereals is the most beneficial for health. High-fibre consumption has been shown to lower the levels of estrogen in the blood of pre-menopausal women.

Recommended dose: This changes according to a person’s lifestyle, physical condition and activity. A woman of average height and weight should have 1 slice of bread, 1/3rd cup brown rice, spaghetti or couscous, and 1/4th cup of dry oats per serving, around eight times per week.


This strong-smelling and pungent flavoured bulb contains a compound called allium which protects against the growth of cancer cells. It also has selenium, a mineral which stimulates the production of glutathione (a natural antioxidant in the body). Eat it to give your immune system a boost, as it enhances a type of cell in the system called Natural killers, which kill cancer cells and viruses in the body.

Recommended dose: One or two cloves daily.


This nutritious green vegetable may not be everyone’s favourite but it is one of the richest sources of antioxidants and counts as a superfood. Broccoli lowers cholesterol, helps with Vitamin D deficiency, and contains sulforaphane and indoles which kill cancer stem cells and prevent new tumours from growing.

Recommended dose: Eat one cup serving, two to three times a week.


We all know the importance of eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which this oily fish is rich in. Salmon is full of antioxidants which find and destroy free radicals, as they cause tumorous cells and damage the cellular structure in the body.

Recommended dose: Three portions a week.

Organic produce

Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have high amounts of pesticides. The residue left over from these pesticides, even after they are washed, can cause gene mutation, which has been linked to breast cancer. Some of the highly contaminated fruits and vegetables, otherwise known as the Dirty Dozen, include peaches, apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, spinach, potatoes, nectarines, hot peppers, grapes and sweet bell peppers.If you do choose to buy non-organic fruits and veg, choose from the Clean Fifteen list, which are less vulnerable to pesticide contamination; these include onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruits and mushrooms.



Experimental and observational studies published by The journal of American Medical association show that estrogen levels increase when alcohol is consumed on a daily basis. These studies have also shown that alcohol hinders the mechanism of DNA repair. Alcohol tends to have a lot of sugar which spikes insulin levels that can cause growth of tumorous cells in the breast.

Excess red meat and processed meats

These contain saturated fat content and heterocyclic amines (HCA) – a compound that promotes cells to mutate and cause cancer – which are formed during the processing of meat. HCAs are transported to mammary glands and a diet high in fat increases estrogen production in the body – this increases the susceptibility to breast cancer. Eat animal fat only in small quantities, as diets high in saturated fats increase estrogen levels which promote hormone-dependant cancers such as breast cancer.

Foods grilled at high temperatures

Chicken, pork, salmon and steak can cause the formation of Heterocylcic amines (HCAs), a cancer-causing compound that promotes cells to mutate and form in them, when grilled on high heat. To prevent these cells from mutating, grill foods on low heat or opt to poach proteins like chicken and salmon instead. These proteins can be eaten on a daily basis just as long as it’s cooked on low heat.

Sugar and refined foods

Refined flour and sugar consist mainly of carbohydrates and are low in nutritional value and high in calories, and the consumption of refined cereals can contribute to deficiency of essential nutrients and even obesity. All of these become factors which could lead to breast cancer. A lot of refined products have E numbers – codes for chemical food additives – which, while approved by most health authorities, are still unnatural ingredients.

Hydrogenated fats

Hydrogenation is a process which converts liquid fats into solid fats. For example, margarine has a bad reputation as the hydrogenated fats in it are a source of trans fatty-acids which act as free radicals in the body and damage the DNA of cells. Trans-fats increase LDL or bad cholesterol, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.