23 May, 2024

The words “breast cancer prevention” can sound daunting. But embarking on a journey to reduce your risk can be one of the most life-enriching things you can do! This is especially true when it comes to improving your diet.

Research has shown that the type of food we eat and the quantity we consume can have a bearing on our breast cancer risk. It will probably come as little surprise to hear that ultra-processed meats and refined sugars have been linked with possibly increasing breast cancer risk. A balanced diet containing fruits and vegetables can be effective in reducing your risk. However, ‘this does not mean you have to choose between tasty food and reducing your breast cancer risk’.

The Mediterranean diet is a prime example of this. Even though its origins date back thousands of years, the diet is still very popular today. There is a good reason for that! Its rich combination of healthy fats, fresh vegetables, and nutritious grains has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and various forms of cancer.

In this insightful conversation with Turkish culinary expert Özlem Warren, we found out more about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and the important role it can play in a fulfilling breast cancer prevention journey.

We made our food from scratch

“The older I get, the more conscious I become of how the food I eat impacts my overall health. Having had countless conversations with people in their 60s and upwards, I know this concern is shared by many.

I consider myself fortunate enough to have had a head start in this regard. I grew up in Antakya, southern Turkey. It was a simple upbringing, and that simplicity extended to the food we ate and our relationship with it. All our food was made from scratch using fresh seasonal produce, such as figs, tomatoes, olive oil, and aubergines.

We then come together as a family and use these ingredients to make traditional Turkish dishes. Some of my favourites were Gözleme (stuffed flatbreads), Çilbir (Turkish-style poached eggs with garlicky yoghurt), and beetroot with walnuts and pomegranate.

Turkish food is more than kebabs

“It wasn’t until I moved to the United States of America and later the U.K. that I became aware of the outside perception of Turkish food. Many people have only been exposed to Turkish food in the form of fatty kebabs. Turkish food is so much more than that.

The traditional Turkish diet is a beautiful balance of herbs, grains, fruits, and vegetables. In addition to exercise and managing stress, eating well is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

Of course, there are unfortunate cases where these illnesses emerge for other reasons (e.g. genetics). But maintaining a healthy diet can help futureproof your body so that you’re better prepared for any illness.

Healthy food can taste good too

But this isn’t the reason why the traditional Turkish diet has withstood the test of time. The reason that people still eat these dishes is because they’re delicious. it just so happens that they’re healthy too. That’s the main things that I try to emphasise in my recipes.

People have associated healthy food with being bland and tasteless in many parts of the Western world. Meanwhile, processed foods have been packaged as tasty.

With my cookbooks and online resources, I’m trying to use Turkish food as a vehicle to educate people on the connection between healthy food and vibrant flavours. I love teaching classes and sharing everything I know about traditional Turkish cooking. Many people may not have considered traditional Turkish food as part of their breast cancer prevention journey. But I’m hoping to change this.”

If you enjoyed reading about Özlem Warren’s amazing dishes, follow her on Instagram and check out her new book Sebze: Vegetarian Recipes from My Turkish Kitchen.

Read our key facts sheet on diet and breast cancer here.

Take our prevention quiz to find out where you are in your journey and receive handy tips to help you get to the next level.

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