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Diet and Breast Cancer

Evidence-Based Recommendations For A Healthy Diet

Parents spend countless hours pleading, cajoling, and even bribing their children to eat their vegetables, and for a good reason. Science makes strong connections between a healthy diet (and veggies are packed with the good stuff) and good health and chronic disease prevention. A nutritional diet even plays a role in our mental and emotional well-being.

Research also tells us that individuals that follow five essential habits—eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking—live more than a decade longer than those who don’t. Maintaining these practices may help us live longer and potentially protect us from diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical diet that guarantees protection against breast cancer or any foods that can cure cancer. However, some foods can make your body as healthy as possible, boost your immune system, minimize your risk, and even some that may control the side effects of treatments.

That being said, no one’s perfect. Sticking to a healthy diet is sometimes easier said than done, so this isn’t meant to add guilt or judgment if you stray from a healthy diet. Hopefully, this information will provide tips to make diet choices to feel better.

Recommended Diet Choices

Good nutrition— ensuring that your body gets the nutrients it needs—is important for everyone. However, it may be even more essential when you’re facing a breast cancer diagnosis. A well-balanced diet before, during, and after cancer treatment can help you feel better, preserve your strength, and speed your recovery.

Choose protein-rich foods

Protein supports the body repair cells and tissue, supports your immune system, and supports recovery from illness. Good sources of lean protein include:

  • Lean meats such as chicken, fish, or turkey

  • Eggs

  • Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese or dairy substitutes

  • Nuts and nut butters

  • Beans

  • Soy foods

Include whole-grain foods

Whole-grain foods are a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, which contribute to energy levels. A diet high in fiber and antioxidants is the best way to reduce your risk of breast cancer. One study even showed that a low-fat diet reduces the risk of death from breast cancer by 21 percent. Good sources of whole grain foods include:

  • Oatmeal

  • Whole wheat breads

  • Brown rice

  • Whole grain pastas

Sources of fiber

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. They’re both parts of a healthy diet that can help lower your cancer risk. Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel during digestion, slowing the digestive process. A partial list of foods high in soluble fiber include:

  • Oats

  • Barley

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Peas

  • Avocado

  • Oranges

  • Brussels sprouts

Insoluble fiber helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. Examples of foods high in Insoluble fiber include:

  • Apples

  • Whole grains

  • Wheat bran

Eat a variety of foods that provide antioxidants

Good news for chocolate lovers! While fruits and vegetables are the stars of the antioxidant food list, dark chocolate is also a good source of antioxidants! Antioxidants contain nutrients that boost your immune system and protect against free radicals, the molecules that damage tissue and lead to cancer growth. They can also block the cancer-causing effects of carcinogens and lower blood sugar and estrogen levels, slowing or halting tumor growth.

For the most significant benefit, choose various colorful fruits and vegetables and strive to eat a minimum of five servings of whole fruits and vegetables daily—cook fresh fruits and vegetables for those in treatment with a weakened immune system.

  • Blueberries

  • Strawberries

  • Artichokes

  • Goji Berries

  • Raspberries

  • Kale

  • Red Cabbage

  • Beans

  • Beets

  • Spinach

Choose sources of healthy fat

Avoid fried, greasy, and fatty foods. Instead, choose baked, broiled, or grilled foods instead. Healthy fats include:

  • Olive oil

  • Avocados

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

Preventive Dietary Measures

On the flip side, some foods are best avoided for those living with breast cancer. One study found that nutrition impacts 35 percent of all breast cancer cases.

  • Meat and Dairy: Another study specifically linked meat and dairy to an elevated risk of breast cancer. It found that women who ate as little as one-quarter of a cup of full-fat milk or dairy a day had an increased risk of breast cancer.

  • Sugar: The link between sugar and breast cancer is inconclusive. While there is no definitive direct connection, there may be an indirect one, so it’s probably advisable to limit your sugar intake. Many foods may seem healthy but contain hidden sugar. For example, dried fruit contains much more sugar than fresh fruit. Alcoholic drinks and some diet foods may also have high amounts of sugar. It’s best to check the labels when considering your sugar intake.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption has been known to increase estrogen levels in women, and just three drinks a week is enough to increase your risk of breast cancer by 15 percent.

We understand that everyone’s cancer experience is unique. Side effects due to treatments may affect your ability to follow these recommendations. If you’re struggling with any side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or any other nutrition concerns, your needs may be different. A registered dietitian can suggest nutrition guidelines that will be appropriate for you and your situation.

We’ll keep you up-to-date as science uncovers information about the impact of nutrition on breast cancer. In the meantime, explore our guidelines for a healthy diet, and become part of our empowering community, including our Breast Cancer Survivor & Friends Meet and Greets.

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