According to estimates by the American Cancer Society, in 2019, over 350,000 women and nearly 3,000 men were diagnosed with breast cancer. In the same year, approximately 41,000 women and 500 men died of the disease. That’s certainly a scary number of new breast cancer cases and deaths. Fortunately, research shows that there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of getting breast cancer and, in case you are diagnosed, improve your ability to recover and survive. For example, experts recommend building your front line defenses with plant-based meals that are packed with cancer-fighting and immune-boosting phytochemicals, while reducing your intake of animal products, sugar and alcohol. In this episode of YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen, we take a look at their recommendations while making a delicious, cancer-fighting meal.
Recipe: Walnut-Orange Quinoa with Warm Spices
Follow These General Diet Recommendations
The American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Health Organization agree that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of breast cancer for women and men. They recommend:
- Enjoying a plant-based diet that includes smaller portions of meat, poultry, and other animal products.
- Shooting for 5-7 servings of vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruit per day.
- Eating moderate amounts of high fiber whole grains and beans, or a portion that fills one-quarter of your plate at meals.
- Limiting alcohol to less than one drink per day or avoiding alcohol altogether.
- Reducing added sugars and other refined carbohydrates, including white flour products, refined grains and cereals, fast foods and highly processed snacks.
Enjoy an Abundance of Phytochemical-Rich Plants
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans contain nutrients called phytochemicals that have been shown to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation (which scientists link to increased cancer risk), and even trigger cancer cell death. Remember, when you fill your plate with smaller portions of animal products, there’s a lot more room for cancer-fighting plants!
Fill Up with Cancer-Fighting Fiber
Plant-based foods contain fiber, which may reduce breast cancer risk by binding to, and eliminating harmful forms of estrogen from the body. High fiber whole grains, vegetables, lentils, and beans also promote healthy blood sugar levels. Research suggests that individuals with higher than normal average blood sugars are at greater risk for breast and other types of cancers.
Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol
Alcohol is directly linked with breast cancer risk, as well as an increased chance of developing colorectal, esophageal, stomach and liver cancers. According to the AICR, when you drink alcohol, it turns to a chemical called acetaldehyde (ethanal). This chemical can damage cellular DNA and interfere with DNA repair, potentially triggering the growth and spread of cancer cells. Since alcohol also increases levels of harmful estrogens, some practitioners advise women who are at high risk of breast cancer to avoid alcohol altogether.
Think of Sweets as Occasional Treats
Sugar does not directly cause any type of cancer, and it’s okay to enjoy sweets now and then. However, diets that are high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates can trigger higher than normal levels of sugar in the blood, which might increase risk. Limiting your intake of these foods may also reduce body fat, which lowers your chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer after menopause.
Overall, research on breast cancer prevention and survival strongly supports a diet pattern that contains a healthy variety of fiber-, phytochemical-, and nutrient-packed plant foods, with limited alcohol, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. By simply filling one-half of your plate with brightly colored vegetables at meals, adding fruit or vegetables to your snacks, and choosing whole grains, lentils and beans as satisfying starches, you’ll meet many of the diet recommendations put forth by the world’s most prominent cancer research organizations.
You can read more about preventing breast cancer at aicr.org, cancer.org, or who.int. And don’t forget to check out all of our cancer-fighting recipes, including delicious Broccoli with Basil, plus lots of educational nutrition and cooking tutorials on YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen Blog at yrmchealthconnect.org.