Are you, or someone you love, at risk for or receiving treatment for breast cancer? Reduce risk & improve outcomes with these breast cancer diet and lifestyle tips for prevention and management.
EA’s NOTE: Thanks so much to my intern Carly for putting together this informative post on breast cancer diet and lifestyle tips! Having had family and close friends develop breast cancer (including several friends who were diagnosed under 50) this topic is near and dear to my heart. Fortunately, there are diet and lifestyle tips we can incorporate into our lives to not only reduce our risk of breast cancer, but also to help improve outcomes after diagnosis.
Breast Cancer Awareness
Besides the month of October, breast cancer awareness should always be highlighted and discussed. 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. There are also over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Breast cancer treatments can be extremely daunting and have negative side effects. That’s why it’s essential to follow a healthy lifestyle, not only to manage symptoms, but, hopefully to avoid a diagnosis of breast cancer altogether. This includes…
- Eating for immunity.
- Getting quality sleep.
- Practicing stress management.
- Moving daily & getting regular exercise.
Fuel Your Immune System
Your immune system protects you around the clock. Its main purpose is to fight off bacteria, viruses, and foreign invaders. Fueling our immune systems with nourishing foods and practicing healthy lifestyle habits helps keep our bodies strong.
Improving immune health not only may lessen the chance of developing breast cancer, it can also help minimize side effects of breast cancer treatments.
A way to boost your immune system is to consume fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, and have chemopreventive properties that may help prevent cancer.
Antioxidant & Phytochemical Rich Foods Include
- Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, etc.
- Carotenoid rich foods. Carotenoids are found in orange, yellow, and dark green fruits and vegetables & have been linked to lower breast cancer risk. (1)
- Additional antioxidant rich foods. This includes berries, artichokes, beans, spinach, kale, and many more according to The Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Besides eating antioxidant-rich foods, you can boost your immune system by…
- Including foods rich in vitamin C & D, zinc, omega-3 fats, probiotics, and prebiotics.
- Exercising regularly.
- Managing stress.
- Getting good sleep.
If you have more interest in boosting your immune system, not only for breast cancer prevention, but also for general health, be sure to check out EA’s e-book with meal plans, Your Ultimate Guide to Nutrition for Optimal Immunity!
What To Include in a Breast Cancer Diet
No one food can prevent a breast cancer diagnosis. But your dietary choices can make a difference, especially over time, in decreasing your risk of developing breast cancer. In addition, eating a high quality diet can help minimize side effects and maximize muscle strength and energy during breast cancer treatments. Be sure to include these nourishing foods in your diet…
Eat Your Greens!
As previously mentioned, it’s important to consume leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and arugula since they contain anticancer properties such as carotenoids. This Re-Boot Green Juice is a delicious way to get your greens in!
Citrus fruit contains vitamin C, folate, and carotenoids. These nutrients offer significant amounts of antioxidants and may have anti-inflammatory effects. Citrus fruits to include in your diet are: grapefruit (check with your physician or dietitian before eating, as grapefruit may interfere with some medications), lemon, oranges, and tangerines.
Berries, including strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries contain flavonoids that are known to prevent cellular damage and the spread of cancer cells (2).
Most fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals that contain anticancer properties so try to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruit each day!
Choose Whole Grains
Besides fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and pseudograins are rich in phytochemicals. Oats, quinoa, sorghum, teff, brown rice, and other whole grains provide nutrients that can fight against cancer, as well as protect you from cardiovascular disease.
This is important since postmenopausal breast cancer survivors are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease due to breast cancer treatments.
Fiber is another benefit of eating whole grains and other fiber rich foods. Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels, protects the heart, and minimizes constipation caused by some breast cancer medications.
In addition, a recent meta analysis identified a high fiber diet with a reduced risk of breast cancer (3).
FIBER GOAL: Try to get 25-30 grams of fiber daily from fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. This Chia Oatmeal Maple Peanut Butter Pumpkin Breakfast Bowl is a delicious way to help reach your daily dose of fiber!
Power Your Day with Protein
Research suggests that better breast cancer survival rates are associated with greater protein intake (4). In addition, protein helps keep your muscles, bone, and body strong while fighting breast cancer.
It’s essential to know the right types of protein to consume and incorporate into your diet, whether you follow a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore diet. Good plant-based protein options are legumes (beans), tofu, nuts, and seeds. Quality animal-based proteins include eggs, yogurt, chicken, turkey, and fatty fish (salmon and tuna). Try to choose organic, antibiotic free if possible.
PROTEIN GOAL: Although individual needs will vary, aim for ~ 1.2 grams protein per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 150 pound woman, this is ~80 grams per day Spread your protein intake throughout the day to help stabilize blood sugar and keep your energy level up.
Foods to Minimize on a Breast Cancer Diet
Limit or avoid alcohol during breast cancer treatment, as it may interact with drugs and medications prescribed. In addition, alcohol consumption-even at less than 10 grams per day (1 standard drink)-has been linked with an increased the risk of breast cancer (5). Cutting back on consumption or avoiding alcohol altogether may lower one’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Cut Back on Sugar
Not only can a high sugar diet lead to being overweight or obese (a risk factor for breast cancer), sugar also increases the risk of inflammation. You can still enjoy some sweets on a breast cancer diet, but be sure to keep moderation in mind! These Vegan Caramel Date Energy Balls are a yummy sweet treat, with only 3 grams of sugar per serving.
Moderate Your Intake of Red Meat
Although controversial, a few studies have found a link between total red meat consumption and a higher risk of breast cancer. This may be related to the higher saturated fat content of red meat, as well as the release of potential carcinogens when cooked at higher temperatures (i.e. grilled meats).
In addition, processed meats have been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer(6). Keep in mind that the majority of studies, to date, haven’t found a significant risk of breast cancer linked to red meat intake.
Go Easy on Fat, Especially Saturated
Although, to date, a high fat diet hasn’t been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, it’s still a good idea to moderate fat intake. High fat diets are calorically dense which may promote undesirable weight gain-a risk factor for breast cancer.
In addition, saturated and trans fats may promote inflammation, so choose mostly monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats including of extra virgin olive oil, avocado/avocado oil, expeller pressed high oleic sunflower oil, seeds, and nuts. In addition, if you enjoy fish, try to add some anti-inflammatory omega-s’s to your diet-like in this delicious Miso Maple Broiled Salmon Nicoise Salad. Yum!
DIETARY FAT GOAL: Aim for 20-35% of daily calories coming from good fats (above) with less than 10% of calorie from saturated and trans fats.
Breast Cancer Diet FAQ
Can breast cancer patients eat soy?
The topic of soy and breast cancer has long been a controversial one. Soy-based foods, including tofu, edamame, and soymilk, contain phytoestrogen-a hormone that’s structurally different and significantly weaker than estrogen.
It’s important to note that recent studies suggest that soy does not raise cancer risk and, in some studies, has been shown to lower risk (7) In addition, soy is high in plant based protein, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are good for fighting breast cancer.
Still, with all the controversy around soy and breast cancer, it’s understandable you may be wondering if you should eat soy. If this is the case, be sure to discuss your concerns with your physician and/or dietitian.
Is organic food better for cancer prevention?
Another frequent question people ask: is organic food better? There is an ongoing argument on whether or not conventional pesticides increase the risk of cancer. To date, there is no hard evidence that organic food helps prevent cancer.
To be on the safe side, be sure to clean produce properly before consuming. And, if you choose organic produce, buy it in season and stock up frozen produce when it’s on sale to save money. Keep in mind, regular consumption of conventional produce is much better than no produce at all!
EA’s Note: If you are interested in growing your own organic produce, the Lettuce Grow Farmstand vertical garden is an easy way to start. It’s so fun to pick fresh herbs, lettuce, and other leafy greens for my daily meals!
Breast Cancer Prevention & Lifestyle
The Importance of Exercise & Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese, especially after menopause, has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and may also lead to an increased risk of complications associated with breast cancer surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (8, 9).
Besides eating a minimally processed whole foods based diet, physical activity is an important tool in helping to achieve a healthy weight. In addition, studies have found a link between physical activity and a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Additionally, regular physical activity assists in quality of life, physical functioning, and lessens fatigue. It is recommended to get at least thirty minutes of physical activity a day to lower your chances of breast cancer.
If you’re not already exercising, be sure to get approval from your physician before starting. And, if need some inspiration to get fit, be sure to check out this post: This Home Exercise Program Will Keep You Happy, Healthy, and Fit.
Additional Breast Cancer Diet Tips
Before wrapping up, there are some additional foods and supplements you may want to incorporate into your breast cancer diet.
- Double Down on D. Studies on vitamin D and breast cancer are underway. While a few studies have suggested higher levels of vitamin D may lower breast cancer risk, to date, most studies have not shown this link. Still, it’s a good ideas to optimize your vitamin D level. Food sources include salmon, yogurt, mushrooms, and fortified orange juice. However, it can be difficult getting adequate D from food alone, so check with your doctor or dietitian about supplementation if needed. You can also make vitamin D in the sun, but be sure to practice safe sun exposure.
- Spice It Up. Adding spices to your diet may also be beneficial. Turmeric, in particular, has anti-inflammatory properties that may limit the growth of breast cancer cells (10). Although most studies suggest it’s difficult to get enough turmeric from diet alone, this Easy Golden Milk Coconut Chia Pudding is a delicious recipe to try!
- Go Green. Most studies have not found a link between green tea consumption and breast cancer risk reduction. However, in some people with early stage breast cancer, green tea consumption may help prevent breast cancer recurrence (11). More research is needed, however, in the meantime, if you enjoy it, continue to include green tea in your diet.
Breast Cancer Diet & Lifestyle Recap
- Enjoy vegetables & fruit in your diet every day.
- Consume lean proteins (emphasizing plant based proteins) and whole grains.
- Avoid processed foods, sugar, and fatty foods (especially saturated fats).
- Limit (or avoid) alcohol consumption.
- Enjoy a nourishing diet that promotes a healthy weight.
- Incorporate anti-inflammatory rich herbs and spices in your diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Find ways to manage stress & sleep.
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Let’s Chat! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post on breast cancer diet and lifestyle. Please let us know if you have any questions that weren’t addressed in this post. And, if you enjoyed the article, please consider sharing it with your family and friends.
Carly Waldman is a graduate student at West Virginia University getting her Masters in Nutrition & Food Science. Carly is passionate about treating food as medicine. She strives to assist individuals to find the right food to boost their mood. She plans on becoming a Registered Dietitian who will counsel patients to reach their health goals and use holistic medicine to treat mental health disorders.