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.
Originally posted October 30, 2020. Updated October 6, 2022
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 reduce our risk of breast cancer and 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 to manage symptoms and, hopefully, 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 help keep our bodies strong.
Improving immune health not only may lessen the chance of developing breast cancer, but it can also help minimize the side effects of breast cancer treatments.
To optimize your immune system, consume fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are rich in antioxidants and 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 optimize your immune system by…
- Including foods rich in vitamins C & D, zinc, omega-3 fats, probiotics, and prebiotics.
- Exercising regularly.
- Managing stress.
- Getting good sleep.
If you are more interested in optimizing your immune system for breast cancer prevention and 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, consuming leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and arugula is important 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 pseudo-grains are rich in phytochemicals. Oats, quinoa, sorghum, teff, brown rice, and other whole grains provide nutrients that can fight against cancer and 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. Plant-based protein options include 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 of 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 any 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 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), but 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 and 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 extra virgin olive oil, avocado/avocado oil, expeller pressed high oleic sunflower oil, seeds, and nuts. In addition, if you enjoy fish, try adding some anti-inflammatory omega-3’s to your diet like this delicious Miso Maple Broiled Salmon Nicoise Salad. Yum!
DIETARY FAT GOAL: Aim for 20-35% of daily calories to come from good fats (above) with less than 10% of calories 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 a 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 it. And, if you choose organic produce, buy it in season and stock up on 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 want to grow your 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, and physical functioning and lessens fatigue. Getting at least thirty minutes of physical activity a day is recommended 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 that higher vitamin D levels may lower breast cancer risk, most studies have not shown this link. Still, it’s a good idea to optimize your vitamin D level. Food sources include salmon, yogurt, mushrooms, and fortified orange juice. However, getting adequate D from food alone can be difficult, 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 getting enough turmeric from diet alone is difficult, this Easy Golden Milk Coconut Chia Pudding is a delicious recipe!
- 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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