The relationship between diet and breast cancer

When it comes to an anti-cancer diet, most doctors recommend eating more plant-based protein and eating less animal-based protein. Photo: Pexels

(Tina Dawn/ VM Med) –– While diet alone can’t prevent breast cancer, there are numerous scientific studies pointing to the importance of good nutrition in both reducing the likelihood of a cancer diagnosis and your long-term health.

We’re not talking about counting calories or watching your figure, but more about lifelong eating habits that can make a difference in how your body processes nutrients and gets the nourishment it needs to give you the best ammunition against disease that it can.

More vegetables, less meat

When it comes to an anti-cancer diet, most doctors recommend eating more plant-based protein and eating less animal-based protein. Eating a low-fat diet that includes whole grains, leafy vegetables, more beans and fruits, limiting processed foods, cured foods with nitrates, and all additives as much as possible, are all good steps in the right direction. Added sugar should also be avoided.

Studies have found that young women who ate higher amounts of red meat had a higher risk of breast cancer. Of course, one doesn’t need to become vegetarian if they don’t want to but reducing the amount of red meat that they eat will decrease their risk of developing breast cancer. For those worried about sufficient protein intake, there are plenty of readily available sources of protein, such as poultry, legumes, nuts, or fish. Studies have shown that the switch from red meat to other protein sources earlier in life rather than later benefits women the most.

Another important factor to keep in mind: A healthy diet can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight. Obesity can increase the risk for getting breast cancer.

Reduced alcohol consumption always best

Alcohol should also be consumed with moderation. Numerous case-control studies have shown that alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. Alcohol users are also more likely to have increased amounts of folic acid in their systems, which can lead to an approximative 30-50 per cent increased cancer risk.

While no concrete studies show that alcohol consumption makes a significant difference after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, alcohol has no redemptive qualities in this respect. In fact, it can have negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health while they tackle chemotherapy or surgery and need to be at their absolute best.

Healthier habits make a difference

Of course, there are many risk factors for developing breast cancer and not all of them are controllable, unfortunately. But much is still within our hands and doing what we can to adopt and practice a healthy lifestyle can certainly place the odds in our favour.

Limiting your caffeine intake to no more than 2-3 cups of coffee a day is recommended. Your water intake should be generous. A goal of 8-9 glasses per day is not unrealistic and should always be aimed for.

And while “you are what you eat,” it’s also important to remember that you are what you do. Practicing healthy habits extends to not smoking and exercising as often as you can. Meditating and self care are also right there on that list.

Nutrition and a breast cancer diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your diet is as equally important as your medical appointments. What you feed your body at this important stage matters more than ever. What you eliminate from your diet is equally important. You should avoid caffeine, alcohol, overly processed food, unpasteurized dairy products, raw or undercooked meats or fish. It’s important to remember that alcohol can interfere with the cancer drugs you’re taking.

While the research is inconclusive about whether diet plays a significant role in breast cancer survivors developing another breast cancer, studies conducted in recent years have hinted that a healthy diet can improve survival. The latest studies by the Institute for Cancer Research found that overall, breast cancer survivors who eat a diet high in vegetables and low in fruit juice and carbohydrate-packed diets have a lower risk of dying during an average of almost a dozen years after their treatment ended.

Nutrition matters

Overall, a healthy diet is your best defence before, during, and after a breast cancer diagnosis. It can help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancer types. While there are no clear-cut answers about what kind of diet can prevent or reduce breast cancer risk, many studies have found that breast cancer is less common in countries where the typical diet is low in total fat, low in polyunsaturated fat, and low in saturated fat.

Keeping that in mind, it’s only logical that we control what we can control when it comes to risk factors and aim to eat a cleaner, healthier diet. No single food can prevent or cause breast cancer, but the combination of our daily eating habits can make a significant difference. The goal is to aim for that difference to be in our favour.