Healthy Diet Key to Decreasing Breast Cancer Risk

BIDMC Contributor

OCTOBER 01, 2016

The key to decreasing a woman's risk of breast cancer may lie in her diet.

Eating foods packed with powerful nutrients has been shown to lower a female's risk of developing the disease by up to 38 percent. Experts encourage women to pile their plate with fruits and vegetables, which are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, properties thought to fight off cancer cells.

"Make it very colorful with reds, greens, and yellows," says Marybeth Baxter, an oncology dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The American Cancer Society recommends consuming at least two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables each day. Among the most beneficial are berries, tomatoes, red grapes, and dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and cabbage. Whole grains, which are high in complex carbohydrates, as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, are also extremely beneficial. Studies have shown that breast cancer is less common in countries where a plant-based diet is the norm.

When it comes to soy, though, the data is mixed; there are a growing number of critics who believe soy can actually cause breast cancer.

"I would say moderate consumption of whole soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, soymilk and edamame is fine," says Baxter. "However, I would soy supplements and isoflavone-enriched powders."

Data has shown that maintaining a healthy weight also lowers a woman's risk of developing the breast cancer. In females who are overweight, the extra fat cells make estrogen that can cause extra breast cell growth, which increases the risk of breast cancer. That's why it's important to exercise, as well as avoid foods that are high in fat, sodium, and preservatives.

When it comes to breast cancer survivors, healthy choices are just as important, if not more so. A new study shows that women who are overweight or obese when they're diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to relapse after treatment.

"Sometimes survivors think they are out of the woods because the breast cancer has gone away," says Baxter. "In reality, it's very important for patients to maintain a healthy diet to reduce their risk of recurrence."

Baxter encourages women not to wait until they develop the disease to take action.

"In general, people are not aware of the link between food and cancer," she says. "Food is everywhere, it's a social part of our culture. But we need to be proactive and make healthy choices every day in order to live a healthy life."


Related Links
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
View All Articles