Preventing Breast Cancer Through Diet
About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime — but eating the right foods is one way to help prevent it.
by Anna Fiddler
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths for women in the United States, and many women wonder what they can do to prevent it. Regular screenings can help save lives by catching cancer at an early stage, but what steps can women take to stop the disease from happening in the first place?
Anzonette Pittet, registered dietitian and oncology nutrition specialist, works closely with the Radiation Oncology Department at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center, helping newly diagnosed cancer patients with their nutrition needs. Look insideKP Northern California sat down with her to learn more about the connection between diet and breast cancer.
What is the correlation between a certain diet and breast cancer prevention or recurrence?
According to The American Institute for Cancer Research, if women in the United States followed its cancer prevention guidelines to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, eat a mostly plant-based diet, and limit alcohol consumption, breast cancer rates could drop by 33 percent. Cancer survivors should follow these same recommendations.
Is there a so-called “super food” to protect against breast cancer?
I consider a whole foods, plant-based diet as the “super food.” A diet filled with a variety of colorful vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans can help lower risk. Plant-based foods are made up of a large variety of bioactive nutrients (phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals) and fiber that synergistically work to prevent cancer.
I recommend patients to include cruciferous vegetables (anything in the cabbage family and dark green, leafy vegetables) in their diets as often as possible. Also, I recommended flavoring foods with herbs and spices, including garlic, onion, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and cilantro, which are anti-inflammatory and cut down on one’s sugar and salt intake.
Describe your ideal anti-cancer daily menu?
Most Americans do not eat enough vegetables. Adding vegetables at breakfast is a good start to the day. Try eating a variety of roasted vegetables along with tofu or an egg. Substitute processed cereals with steel cut oatmeal, quinoa, or millet, cooked with unsweetened nut milk and flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Add some crunch from dried unsweetened coconut or nuts, and sweeten it with fresh, seasonal fruit.
For lunch, make a salad with a variety of colorful vegetables and fruit. Add beans, nuts or salmon for protein, and an oil-based salad dressing seasoned with dried herbs for flavor. In winter months, try hearty soups with plenty of vegetables and beans or lentils.
At dinner, try a quick and easy one pot meal and cook extras for lunch; quinoa or other whole grains provide a good base for other recipes later in the week. Also, prepping more vegetables over the weekend makes it easy to toss them into stir frys, stews, or have as a side later.
Also, taking a vitamin D supplement and sticking to non-fat or low-fat dairy is a good idea.
Are there foods to avoid?
Avoid processed food — especially processed meats, such as bacon or hot dogs. These tend to be high in added refined sugars, salt, unhealthy fats, preservatives, and additives, which can trigger cancer.
Tell us more about the risks of alcohol.
In recent years research has indicated that consuming as little as 3 alcoholic beverages per week can increase breast cancer risk by 15 percent. Women who have 2 to 3 alcoholic drinks per day have a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol increases blood estrogen levels which can increase a risk of breast cancer. It is also associated with DNA damage that may initiate cancer development.
Any last thoughts?
Prevention is never just about diet alone. Exercise, breast cancer screening based on your personal health risk, and healthy eating are a powerful combination that can positively affect health outcomes and longevity.