Weekly challenge: think orange and red vegetables to reduce breast cancer risk

World’s biggest salad made September in Romania. Missed it? Make a smaller one at home. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel
World’s biggest salad made September in Romania. Missed it? Make a smaller one at home. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

While pink is usually the color most associated with breast cancer advocacy, women may want to think red and orange if they’re looking to lower their own breast cancer risk. Tomatoes, carrots, and butternut squash are chock full of plant chemicals called carotenoids, and Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that eating plentiful amounts was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of breast cancer, according to a study published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers pooled together findings from eight previous studies and found that women who ate the most carotenoids in their diet had a lower risk of a less common form of breast cancer (called estrogen receptor negative or ER-) that has a poorer prognosis.

“The inverse associations we observed among ER− tumors highlight carotenoids as one of the first modifiable risk factors for this poor prognosis tumor type,” the authors wrote. Still, the researchers concluded that, “A diet high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables offers many health benefits, including a possible reduced risk of breast cancer.”

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Here’s a list of carotenoid-rich foods to rotate into your diet, and remember variety is key. Try to get foods from all the carotenoid groups. Check out this list of 16 superstar foods recommended by the National Cancer Institute. Cooking the vegetables will help release the carotenoids to enable your body to use more of them.

1. Lycopene. Top sources include tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit.

2. Alpha-carotene. Top sources include pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, thyme, green beans, Swiss chard, and apples.

3. Beta-carotene. Top sources include sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, turnip greens, mustard greens, and spinach.

4. Lutein+zeaxanthin. Top sources include eggs, kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, corn, garden peas and Brussels sprouts.