There are more than three million Americans with a history of breast cancer. While there isn’t a single strategy to prevent the disease, there are dietary changes you can make to reduce your risk.
Stefani Pappas, MS, RDN, CDN, CPT, is a clinical dietitian at The Cancer Institute at St. Francis Hospital. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she has five simple steps you can take to make your body the healthiest it can be, while potentially reducing your risk for developing breast cancer.
Follow a Plant-Based Diet. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds and whole grains. Aim for 8 to 10 colorful fruit and vegetable servings daily; this will also help you meet your daily fiber goals and keep your body in a peak nutritional state. A study of approximately 3,000 postmenopausal women found those who consumed 25 or more servings of vegetables weekly had a 37% lower risk of breast cancer compared with women who consumed fewer than 9 vegetable servings a week.
Avoid Processed and Refined Carbohydrates. High sugar foods tend to be very processed and low in nutritional value. These foods appear to increase serum insulin, an insulin-like growth factor that can stimulate cancer cell growth. Try to limit white bread, pasta and rice. Be careful with white sugar and items such as cakes and cookies. Opt for whole grains when possible, and indulge in moderation when it comes to sweets.
Focus on Healthy Fats. Research has revealed a protective relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and breast cancer. Some studies even show that omega-3 can inhibit breast cancer tumor growth and metastasis. Strive to include healthy fats such as salmon, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, olive oil and avocados in your diet.
Check Your Vitamin D. Some studies have found an inverse relationship between breast cancer risk and serum 25 (OH) vitamin D levels. Ask your doctor about having a vitamin D blood test. Maintain your level above 40 ng/mL through diet and, if needed, supplements.
Stay Hydrated. Water is essential for carrying nutrients throughout the body. Don’t neglect the simple task of meeting your hydration needs. Increased fluid intake is needed for the proper digestion of a high fiber diet.
Research on diet and breast cancer is ongoing. In the meantime, focus on maintaining healthy body weight and choosing a primarily plant-based diet. Stay as active as possible, and don’t neglect important strategies such as adequate hydration.