In my discussion of fruits and vegetables, I told you that green vegetables high in beta-carotene are thought to be more protective than other vegetables. Toronto scientists estimated that women who get the most beta-carotene in their diet reduce their risk of breast cancer by 15 percent.16 Researchers have also learned that a diet rich in beta-carotene fruits and vegetables may improve breast cancer survival.
Beta-carotene has two roles in the body. It has an antioxidant effect, which can help protect our genes from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. But beta-carotene is also converted to vitamin A inside the body. Vitamin A is essential for proper cell growth and development, and it also enhances our body’s immune system. Both roles may help keep breast cancer at bay.
More than 600 different carotenoid compounds exist in plants. While beta-carotene is the most plentiful, other important carotenoids include lutein and lycopene. Researchers are investigating the link between these carotenoids and breast cancer risk. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard University found that premenopausal women who ate five or more servings of high-carotenoid fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate less than two servings a day.17
Dietary carotenoids aren’t that well absorbed. But you’ll absorb more of them if you eat these foods with a little fat. Try a yogurt dip with carrot sticks, a little olive oil in lycopene-rich pasta sauce or a splash of salad dressing on your roasted red pepper.
Use my list below to increase your intake of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables. Every day, aim for five servings of 1/2 cup (125 ml) each.
BETA-CAROTENE LYCOPENE LUTEIN
Carrots Tomatoes Beet greens
Squash Tomato sauce Collards
Sweet potato Tomato juice Corn
Red pepper Guava Kale
Cantaloupe Grapefruit, red and pink Okra
Peach Watermelon Red pepper
Nectarine Romaine lettuce