Nutrition and Breast Cancer: Tips for Prevention and Survivorship

With breast cancer awareness month coming to a close, it’s important to keep in mind the nutrition and lifestyle factors that we can modify throughout the year to decrease our disease risk. Each one of the tips below – in addition to having individual cancer preventative properties of their own – can also aid in maintaining a healthy weight as defined by body mass index (BMI), a factor that has been researched as critical to breast cancer risk and recurrence prevention.

1) Eat the rainbow

Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is a key to cancer prevention. Each color contains powerful nutrients that aid our immune system, help to detoxify unwanted toxins from the environment, and fight inflammation. The high fiber content also serves to prevent blood sugar spikes and falls, feed the healthy bacteria in our bodies (pre-biotics), and keep us feeling satisfied for longer periods of time. In particular, green vegetables contain calcium d-glucarate and indole-3-carbinols, which can detoxify excess estrogen. Pectin, found in apples, lemons, and oranges, may help to prevent tumor growth.

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2) Move!

The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Exercise promotes healthy hormone balance, including estrogen and cortisol levels. Including a mix of cardio and weight-bearing activities will help you build strong bones and boost metabolism. Exercise also assists in detoxification by causing us to sweat and promoting regular bowel elimination.

3) Spice it up

Herbs and spices have a variety of cancer fighting properties and are low calorie ways to max out on flavor.

4) Know your numbers

Ensuring that you have adequate levels of key nutrients is essential. If you haven’t done so recently, speak with your doctor to test whether your vitamin D, iodine, and red blood cell (RBC) zinc and magnesium levels are within normal range.

 5) Environment matters

Minimize use of plastics as much as possible. Avoid chemicals, colors and parabens in products and cleaners, and buy hormone and antibiotic free meat, poultry, and dairy as often as possible. Drink from a safe, filtered water source. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s website for more information and find “make-it-yourself cleaner ‘recipes’”.

6) Think about what you drink

Research suggests that regular and excess alcohol consumption may be linked to breast cancer risk. It is important to speak with your healthcare team about how you should appropriately limit your alcohol consumption. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting alcohol to one serving or less per day (1 serving equals 12 oz beer, 1-1.5 oz hard liquor, 5 oz wine) for cancer prevention.

7) Oh boy—what about soy?

Soy contains phytochemicals called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens have a similar chemical structure as estrogen but are not estrogen. Fears about soy began when research conducted in rodents showed that soy consumption can increase circulating estrogen levels. However we now know that rodents metabolize soy and estrogen very differently from humans. 

In fact, more recent research suggests that whole soy food like tofu, edamame and miso, when eaten in moderation (1 to 2 standard servings per day), can be protective. At this time, it is  recommended to limit processed soy food intake including soy supplements, vegetarian soy-based meat alternatives, soy chips, and soy-fortified cereals but whole soy foods eaten in moderation (1-2 standard servings per day) are okay. 

Check out my next blog for breast cancer fighting recipes!