Nutrition to Help Prevent Breast Cancer
By Orville Bigelow, MS, RD
Nutrition and physical activity can play an important role in the prevention of breast cancer. Eating diet that is rich in plant based foods, choosing healthier fats, and eliminating alcohol from the diet can be important preventative steps to take. Ensuring that you are at a healthy body weight and engaging in regular physical activity also play an important role.
Plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds not only can provide essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals but they also contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals) which can have a protective effect in the body. They can act as ‘antioxidants’ and can help prevent oxidative damage inside the body’s cells. Oxidative damage from free radicals can trigger or promote the development of cancer.
As an example, cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cabbage and broccoli contain phytochemicals like indole-3-carbinol, glucosinolates and isothiocynates that can help fight breast cancer by changing the activity of estrogen, detoxifying carcinogens and halting the growth of tumor cells. Richly colored foods like blueberries and raspberries are high on the ‘Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity’ scale (ORAC), meaning they have high cancer fighting activity.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of phytochemicals in plant foods that scientists have yet to discover, but one thing is certain; when one is discovered it is usually found to have some form of protective effect in the body. So it is very important to include a variety of different types of plant foods in our diets to ensure we are getting all of these ‘discovered’ and ‘undiscovered’ treasures! Note that supplements are not a good replacement for plant foods and they may contain dangerously high levels of some nutrients.
Choosing healthier fats in our diet means limiting the amount of saturated and trans fats we consume. Saturated fats (like butter or lard) and trans fat (found in margarine, shortening and baked goods) can contribute to poor health when consumed over long periods of time including the development and promotion of hormone based cancers and the development of cardiovascular disease.
Steps we can take in eliminating unhealthy fats from our diets is to cut down on fried foods, baked goods and by choosing low fat or non fat dairy and other animal based foods. In addition, we need to change the way we cook to include more baking, broiling, and boiling and limiting the amount of frying that we do.
Fats in our diet should mostly come from foods like avocados, olives, nuts and seeds and not added to our diet in the form of cooking oils. It is easy to over consume fat in our diets when we add it during the cooking process. Remember that fats in general should not make up more than 30% of our total daily calorie intake.
Limiting or eliminating alcohol from the diet is an important step in the prevention of breast cancer. Many studies have suggested that alcohol consumption can contribute to increased breast cancer risk. It is believed that alcohol can boost the amount of estrogen in the blood which could possibly lead to an amplified risk for estrogen positive breast cancer. Therefore it is best if alcohol is avoided completely if possible or if consumed, consumed only in moderation (for men no more than 2 drinks a day; for women no more than 1 drink per day).
Being at a healthy body weight is important for several health related reasons including breast cancer. Research has shown that women who have had breast cancer and have maintained a healthy body weight have a better survival rate. Achieving a healthy body weight is done by eating sensibly (not succumbing to the latest fad diet) and including regular physical activity. If you are not sure what your healthy body weight would be or if you are looking to loose weight it is best to consult your registered dietitian or medical doctor.
Changes to your diet and physical activity level (lifestyle habits) should be done in steps. Changing habits takes time and if rushed, can fail. But changing your diet and physical activity level are very important steps to take in the prevention of breast cancer and creating a healthier you.
Orville Bigelow, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and the Manager of Nutrition Services for Project Angel Food. The mission of Project Angel Food is to nourish the body and spirit of men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life threatening illness.
Information contained in this article is not to be construed as a replacement for advice from your medical doctor and is meant for general information purposes only. Information is provided by the booklet “Every Bite Counts” published by God’s Love We Deliver in New York City, NY.