Food is Medicine Too

By Beth Ricanati, MD

October brings a lot of Jewish holidays, changing of the seasons, and national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Most of us know someone with breast cancer, or who had the disease, or maybe who even beat the disease. It’s relentless…and seemingly everywhere. With breast cancer rates at roughly 1 in 8 by the time we’re 80, that’s a lot of breast cancer.

And as overwhelming as that may seem, I am still encouraged. Yes, encouraged: after all, scientific research has demonstrated that about one-third of the expected cancer deaths this year will be lifestyle related, meaning that they are related to a lack of physical activity, obesity and poor nutrition.

Bingo. Sometimes it’s as simple as opting for a different choice and you can perhaps affect the outcome of this devastating diagnosis. What is it about food and breast cancer? Certain foods actually can turn on or off different genes in our body, genes that may either increase our cancer risk or genes that can fight cancer. What you eat can affect your genes. This field of research is called epigenetics.

So whether you steam it (so easy, currently a favorite at our house) or roast it (especially good with a little olive oil and sea salt), or puree it for soup (use broth if you want a vegan option, or try with yogurt), try to add broccoli into your diet once a week…you might just be decreasing your risk of cancer while you eat something delicious! In addition, be sure to include a variety of foods that reduce inflammation to further reduce your risk. In addition to broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (i.e. brussel sprouts and cauliflower), include antioxidant, gene-changing and cancer-fighting foods such as oranges and other citrus fruits high in vitamin C, omega-rich foods such as salmon, antioxidant-rich berries and herbs and spices such as curry, ginger and garlic.

For more information on healthy living and support before, during and after a breast cancer diagnosis, I want to introduce you to Sharsheret, the national Jewish breast and ovarian cancer organization. Check out their website for great information and to order a free survivorship kit that includes an amazing healthy living cookbook and other resources.

Enjoy this broccoli recipe featured in Sharsheret’s survivorship kit from One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and Their Friends, by Rebecca Katz.

Szechwan Broccoli

While not as healthy as broccoli, Sharsheret’s annual Thanksgiving Pies for Prevention Bake Sale is looking for bakers! By baking and selling baked goods this Thanksgiving, you are joining volunteers nationwide raising critical ovarian cancer awareness and funds to support Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program. You can register to become a Pies for Prevention baker here.

Beth Ricanati, MD, has built her career bringing wellness into everyday life. She trained and worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.  She now resides in Santa Monica, California. Follow her on Instagram at @housecallsforwellness, and on her website at

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