Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer with a Healthy Diet

By: Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for American women, and will impact about 1 in 8 women. While some breast cancers are genetic, it is estimated that 1 in 3 cases in the U.S. could be prevented with diet, exercise, and weight management. Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer significantly by not drinking alcohol, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet.
Making a few small but important lifestyle changes, like eating less red meat each week and adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, will help you reduce your risk. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are rich sources of dietary antioxidants, which is why most of the dietary guidelines for breast cancer prevention recommend adhering to a plant-based diet such as the Mediterranean diet.

Recent studies have shown a relationship between high intake of fruits and non-starchy vegetables and decreased risk of breast cancer. In particular, you should look for fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, calcium and beta-carotenes. This is due to their cancer-preventing vitamins and phytonutrients.
Although more studies are needed to determine the amount or type of plant-based foods required to reduce cancer risk, studies have shown that women who eat more foods containing fiber (both before and after diagnosis) have a lower risk of dying from breast cancer.

Beta-carotene contains carotenoids, the natural orange-red pigment found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers. Carotenoids have antioxidant properties that are converted into vitamin A in the body, and have been linked to reduced risk of certain breast cancers. They also increase heart health. Women whose diet include fruits and vegetables containing the full range of carotenoids (not just beta-carotene) have shown reduced recurrence of breast cancer.

Women should consider a plant-based diet like the Mediterranean diet, vegetarian or vegan diet, or the New American Plate from the American Institute for Cancer Research. These diets are all rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and are low in red and processed meats, carbohydrates (especially simple sugars), alcohol, and sweetened beverages.

Plant-based foods should make up two thirds of your plate, which is about five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. While this may seem like a lot, but it is only 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruit per day. This is easy to get from a salad, smoothie, or vegetable stir-fry.

In addition to making healthy changes to your diet, it is important to include physical activity in your daily routine to reduce your risk of breast cancer. You should try to participate in moderate physical activity for 3 to 5 hours per week, such as walking, to help you stay energized and maintain a healthy weight.

Red Pepper and Carrot Soup
2 large red bell peppers (roasted and peeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, sliced (2 cups)
2 large carrots, sliced (1/2 lb)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
Salt to taste
3 cups of vegetable broth
Dash of curry powder

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the curry powder and bay leaf.
2. Add onion and carrots. Cover and let cook for 5-8 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Stir frequently.
3. Add the garlic and stir for another 3 more minutes.
4. Transfer to a blender, add vegetable broth, bell peppers and puree the mixture. Return to the saucepan, add salt and simmer heat to medium-low, covered, for about 25 minutes.
5. Garnish with croutons or diced bell peppers.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition content per serving: kcal 74, protein 2 g, carbohydrates 7.5g, fats 4 g, potassium 178 mg, carotenoids 272 ug, vitamin C 90 mg.