October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The disease affects 1 in 8 women in her lifetime, and nutrition recommendations related to cancer often focus on foods to limit or eliminate. If taken to extremes, these messages can cause harm by increasing the risk of long-term medical complications such as inadequate energy intake, anemia, vitamin deficiencies, and eating disorders.

No single food or food component can cause or prevent cancer, so when it comes to nutrition and cancer prevention, the best plan of action is to focus on cultivating a peaceful relationship with food that strengthens your immune system and overall health.

Aim for 2 to 3 colors on your plate per meal.

The more color you eat, the more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (like phytochemicals) your body receives. Phytochemicals are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. Phytochemicals help the body prevent or fight cancer by:

  • Supporting and strengthening the immune system
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Assisting with DNA repair and preventing damage
  • Regulating hormones • Inhibiting the activity of carcinogens
  • Preventing damaged cells from reproducing

Take your pick from seasonal fruits and veggies like broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apples, cabbage, kale, and grapes during your next grocery trip!

Incorporate whole grains.

Whole grain foods have fiber, vitamin E, selenium, and phenols which may help prevent
cell damage and DNA mutation.

  • Boost whole grains when baking, using ½ whole wheat flour and ½ all purpose flour when making muffins.
  • Make your own trail mix using popcorn, pretzels, walnuts, and dried mango.
  • Serve quinoa as a side dish, mix it into a salad, or add it to your chili.

Pick all kinds of proteins.

Each protein source has a unique nutrient profile. Animal proteins like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs provide vitamin D, B12, DHA, zinc, and heme-iron. Plant-based proteins provide nutrients like fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, and copper. The wider the variety on your menu, the more diverse nutrients you’ll be eating.

Looking to incorporate more plant-based proteins?

  • Try a Spanish rice, black bean, and cheese burrito topped off with sliced avocado and salsa for extra spice.
  • Boost the protein in your favorite vegetable soup by stirring in some lentils.

Be mindful of alcohol intake.

According to The American Cancer Society, individuals who choose to drink alcohol should limit their intake to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Remember: Daily alcohol recommendations do not have “rollover credits” for the weekend. Instead of an all-or-none
approach to alcohol, consider savoring a glass of wine with dinner during the week and sharing a drink with friends on the weekend.

Practical Tips for Caring for Loved Ones with Cancer

  • Ask them what they feel like eating on the day you plan to take them a meal. Food preferences can change frequently, and medications and treatments often alter taste.
  • Offer to make lunch for your friend and their caregiver once per week.
  • Help with making grocery lists and picking up items.
  • Care for their plants and lawn. • Pick up, wash, and return laundry.
  • Create a “tasks-and-meal train.” Organize friends, family and neighbors to hop on, sign up, and complete each task.

Alisha Parker, MS, RDN, LDN is a nutrition therapist at Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition and lifestyle counseling practice offering in-person and virtual nutrition therapy specializing in a non-diet, weight-neutral approach. Memphis Nutrition Group helps individuals reconnect with their bodies, find confidence and clarity in everyday choices, and create a peaceful, balanced approach to food that tastes good and feels even better. Contact Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit MemphisNutritionGroup.com for more information.