It's October, which means that people ranging from NFL football players to soccer moms all look like they're headed to a Halloween party dressed as the Pink Panther. But in addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also Vegetarian Awareness Month, and if people really want to fight breast cancer, they'll combine the messages of both campaigns.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States can be attributed to dietary factors, yet many people don't seem to have gotten the message. Take, for example, KFC's and the Susan G. Komen Foundation's "Buckets for the Cure" boondoggle. KFC and Komen earned millions selling pink buckets of fried chicken despite the fact that numerous studies have consistently linked the intake of animal fat with an increased risk of breast cancer. Fried chicken "for the cure" is a slap in the face to the ACS, which urges everyone to "[c]hoose vegetables, whole fruit, and other low-calorie foods," "limit intake of high-calorie foods," and "[b]e as lean as possible" in order to reduce the risk of cancer.
Yoplait is another offender. For years, General Mills has churned out pink-lidded containers of yogurt aimed at women, even though, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the consumption of dairy products increases levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1) in the bloodstream. High IGF-1 levels have been linked to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers.
So while Boar's Head pink-wraps its chicken and Red Baron pizza could now more appropriately be called Pink Baron with its "Bright Pink" promotion, women could do more to combat breast cancer by convincing their friends and family members to say no to pink-beribboned animal products and yes to the produce aisle.
Studies have repeatedly shown that vegetarian and vegan diets not only are healthful and nutritionally complete but are also linked to a reduced risk of cancer. Major studies conducted in England and Germany found that vegetarians were around 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than their meat-eating counterparts. In a study of 90,655 women aged 26 to 46, Harvard researchers concluded that the intake of animal fat, especially from red meat and high-fat dairy products, increased the risk of breast cancer. A 2007 study of more than 35,000 women published in the British Journal of Cancer found that women who ate the most meat had the highest risk of breast cancer. And a just-released meta-analysis of 85 studies involving more than 165,000 women around the world led researchers to conclude that women should strive to eat a "plant-based diet" in order to boost their odds of surviving breast cancer. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps Dr. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University and one of the world's foremost experts on nutrition, summed it up best when he wrote that "no chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein."
By contrast, the nutrients in plant foods have been found to be potent cancer fighters. Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower contain the cancer-fighting antioxidant sulforaphane. Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, which has been shown to slow or stop cancer cell growth, and blueberries and blackberries contain anthocyanins, which help starve cancer cells. Phytosterols in walnuts block estrogen receptors in breast-cancer cells. Beans, lentils, and whole grains are rich in antioxidants as well as fiber, which helps rid the body of excess hormones that can contribute to reproductive cancer growth. Eating orange vegetables such as carrots and pumpkin, which are high in beta carotene, can reduce women's breast-cancer risk by 19 percent, and recent studies have shown that the isoflavones and other phytochemicals in soybeans can help prevent it.
According to Dr. Jane Plant, a British scientist, breast-cancer survivor, and author of The No-Dairy Breast Cancer Prevention Program, "Undoubtedly, the best anti-cancer diet would be to go completely vegan." I know several women who have followed her advice and beaten the odds after switching to plant-based foods.
A vegan lifestyle eliminates the foods that promote cancer and maximizes intake of the foods that protect against it. So this October, instead of buying pink tchotchkes to show that we're "aware" of breast cancer, let's think green and buy healthy, cancer-fighting plant-based foods.