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What to eat right now for better breast health

By Brierley Wright, September 28, 2009 - 11:37am

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What to eat right now for better breast health

At a few years shy of 30, I’m far from the age when the majority of breast cancer cases occur (50+). And then there are the factors that increase my risk of breast cancer that I can’t control, like family history, getting older and, um, the obvious…being a woman.

So why bother trying to prevent breast cancer? For one, second to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer women face. Fortunately, there are lifestyle changes I can make now, including making better choices about what I eat and drink, to tip the odds in my favor in the years ahead.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

1. Stay lean, move more
One of the most important ways to reduce risk of breast cancer is to avoid gaining weight, suggests a recent review article in the journal Cancer. That means balancing a healthy diet with plenty of exercise. And a study of over 100,000 women reported that those who got regular, strenuous exercise had a lower risk of developing breast cancer than others who didn’t. Exercise may help lower levels of hormones that are involved in breast cancer. Commit to regular exercise, if you haven’t already.
Here are 6 ways to sneak in your exercise.

2. Enjoy fats in moderation
The Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study (WINS), a major clinical trial of postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer, found that those who followed a low-fat diet significantly reduced their risk of cancer coming back. They also lost an average of 4.6 pounds after the first year of the trial, while those in the control group gained a half pound. Because weight gain is linked with breast-cancer recurrence and lower survival rates, perhaps the key benefit of a lower-fat diet is the weight loss it encourages. Watching your fat intake can help prevent you from gaining weight and may thus be a cancer-fighting strategy.
Find 24 healthy low-fat recipes here.

3. Eat soyfoods, not supplements
In countries like China and Japan where soyfoods are commonly eaten, breast-cancer rates are among the lowest in the world—and one analysis of 18 studies found that eating soyfoods, such as tofu and soy nuts, slightly lowered breast-cancer risk. But don’t be tempted to pop a soy supplement, warns Laurence Kolonel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the epidemiology program at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii: the high doses of soy phytoestrogens found in supplements can behave like estrogen in the body, causing breast-cell changes that could potentially lead to cancer. Breast-cancer survivors and women at high risk for the disease should avoid soy supplements.
Get 10 recipes using tofu, edamame and other soy ingredients here. Plus find shopping and storage tips.

4. Boost vegetables and fruits?
Research to assess whether fruits and vegetables can fight breast cancer has been disappointing, but “a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables tends to be lower in calories,” says Kolonel, “and that can help you maintain a [cancer-fighting] healthy weight.” Cheryl Rock, Ph.D., R.D., who coordinates the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study (WHEL) at the University of California, San Diego, found that women who ate at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day (along with taking a brisk 30-minute daily walk) cut their risk of dying from breast cancer by half. “A healthy weight is what matters most,” she says, “but if women aren’t able to lose weight yet eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercise, they can still lower their risk of cancer recurrence.” Eating more fruits and vegetables certainly couldn’t hurt and may help.
Find healthy and delicious recipes packed with fall produce here.

5. Drink moderately, if at all
“Even as little as one drink a day increases breast-cancer risk,” says Kolonel. While we know consuming alcohol in moderation has benefits for the heart—and heart disease kills far more women than cancer does—you’ll need to weigh your decisions about drinking if you have other risk factors for breast cancer. Consider limiting yourself to one drink a day; more won’t provide additional heart benefits. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may want to avoid alcohol altogether.
Get 7 delicious recipes for alcohol-free mocktails.

What are you doing to reduce your risk of breast cancer? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Brierley Wright, Health Blog, Nutrition, Wellness

Brierley Wright
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.

Brierley asks: What are you doing to reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Tell us what you think:

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