by: Laura S. Garrett, RD
Cancer is the number 2 killer in the United States. Is there something you can do to help prevent cancer? You bet there is. It is estimated that 1/3 of cancers are linked to diet. In addition, 3 to 4 MILLION cancer cases could be prevented EACH YEAR simply by making dietary changes!! Now that is wonderful news. The choices you make today can affect your quality of living tomorrow.
It is a known fact that populations with higher rates of cancer have different dietary habits than those with lower rates. This article will cover several different nutrition issues related to breast cancer. For the most part, the same dietary recommendations that help reduce the risk of other cancers, heart disease, and osteoporosis apply to breast cancer risk reduction.
Research has shown that women who eat their fair share of fruits and vegetables have much lower rates of breast cancer. The minimum recommendation is to eat 5 servings per day, aiming for 10 servings. If you need help determining exactly what a serving is, here is a link to NutrActive's free Serving Size Guide, Click Here.
Specific nutrients naturally found in fruits and vegetables seem to play a role in reducing risk. Some of these nutrients include vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals such as pycnogenols and carotenoids. The most popular carotenoid is beta carotene. Word of caution: If you desire to boost your intake of specific nutrients by taking supplements, beta carotene is not one that has not shown favorable results in studies. Taking an isolated amount of any one carotenoid can throw the natural balance that you obtain through your diet out of whack. It is far better to eat a handful of baby carrots to get a boost of carotenoids the way mother nature intended. As far as vitamins C and E, if you wish to supplement your diet, these are both relatively safe and effective supplements. My recommendation for vitamin C is do not take more than 500 mg per day in supplement form. For vitamin E, do not exceed 400 IU per day.
Another nutritional element that may help reduce breast cancer risk is fiber. Some of the fiber in your diet binds to estrogen. High exposure to estrogen throughout one's life is one of the high risk factors for breast cancer. Fiber intake can be increased by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Carrying around extra baggage is a strong risk factor for developing breast cancer, especially if it is added during your adult years. Some health experts used to think there was no harm in packing on a few extra pounds with each passing year. It is now believed that even a 10 to 20 pound increase in weight over an adult's life span can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Why? Possibly because increased body weight seems to result in increased circulating estrogen levels. For weight loss services and products, Click Here.
Effects of Fat:
Unfortunately, research on the role of total fat consumption is inconsistent. There has not been a lot of good research due to the fact that people who eat high-fat diets are typically overweight. Even if future research were not able to find an association between total fat intake and breast cancer risk, consuming a diet low in fat makes it much easier to maintain a lean body weight.
The standard advice is to consume no more than 30% of your calories from fat. Some health professionals say it is better to limit fat calories to 20% of your food intake. Here is an example to show you how to calculate how many grams of fat you can eat and be following the above guidelines. Let's say you typically eat 1800 calories a day. Multiply 1800 times 30% (or .30). You get 540 which is the total fat calories you can have that day. To calculate grams of fat, divide 540 by 9. You can have 60 grams of fat per day. The number 9 is used because there are 9 calories per every 1 gram of fat. If you are not a math wizard or you have no clue as to how many calories you eat each day, you might like to have your nutritional intake analyzed. This will clue you into just how many calories you consume each day plus how many calories are from fat, Click Here.
There is evidence that saturated fats may increase breast cancer risk. Sources include foods from animal origin, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter. Monounsaturated fats may actually help decrease breast cancer risk. Sources include olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.
Of particular interest is olive oil. Aside from being a monounsaturated fat, olive oil contains important phytochemicals and a significant amount of vitamin E. Phytochemicals and vitamin E possess antioxidant activity meaning they help protect against oxidation, a process by which cancer can develop. Greek women typically consume 42% of their calories from fat versus 35% consumed by American women. Yet, Greek women have substantially lower rates of mortality due to breast cancer when compared to American women. How can that be? Unlike the typical American diet, most all of the fat in the Greek diet comes from olive oil or fish. Fish has promising benefits, too. Studies involving the use of fish oils seem to indicate that fish oils can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
Keep in mind that the speculations associated with olive oil are fairly new. There is no reason to start taking olive oil by the spoonfuls. Because it is a beneficial fat, there is absolutely no harm to included it in your diet. Just keep in mind that it is a fat and fats provide a significant amount of calories. The biggest key is to keep your weight under control.
Effects of Alcohol:
Alcohol consumption: Three out of four Americans say there is too much conflicting information when it comes to eating a healthy diet. This can be particularly true when it comes to alcohol. Some say a drink a day can provide health benefits, some say not so. So what are the facts?
Strong evidence suggests that consuming more than 3 to 4 drinks per week increases your risk of breast cancer. One drink is equal to 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, 1.5 oz liquor. If you have included red wine to your diet to help reduce heart disease risk, why not eat red grapes or drink purple, 100% natural grape juice. The protective phytochemicals are found in the grapes, not the alcohol. Tea and onions are another source of these protective phytochemicals.
However, there is no denying that alcohol in moderation is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. A large body of evidence supports this. But, there is convincing evidence that moderate alcohol consumption may lead to modest increases in breast cancer risk.
In 1994 experts reviewed 38 case-controlled studies involving alcohol and breast cancer. Their findings indicated that 1 drink per day resulted in a 10% increase in breast cancer. More recently, a pooled analysis of data published in 1998 showed that for every 10 grams per day of alcohol consumption, breast cancer risk increased 9%. Did it matter what type of alcoholic beverage was being consumed? No. In addition, this pooled analysis showed that women who drank 2 to 5 drinks per day had a 41% higher risk - OUCH!
What is my advice? If you are a woman who is at high risk for developing cancer, I would advise that you limit your consumption to less than one alcoholic drink per day.
Because heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women, I cannot advise you to eliminate alcohol altogether. There is a greater chance you will develop heart disease than breast cancer. A consistent finding in studies shows the lowest risk of death from heart disease is among moderate drinkers. Weigh your risks. Discuss them with your doctor. Then hopefully you can make an educated decision about whether or not you should include alcohol as part of your "healthy" diet regimen.
Effects of Meat Consumption:
Evidence that meat consumption increases breast cancer risk is growing. Two culprits are speculated to be the saturated fat and the type of animal protein in meat. Red meat consumption has conclusively been linked to colon cancer. The conclusive evidence is not as strong for breast cancer. Nonetheless, I would recommend limiting red meat to no more than two servings per week (2-3 ounces per serving or about the size of a deck of cards).
Third culprit: When meat (such as beef, poultry, or fish) is exposed to high temperatures, harmful substances called heterocyclic amines - HCAs - are formed. HCAs are known to be harmful to the pancreas, colon, and prostate. Recently the Iowa Women's Health Study published a report stating that women who consistently ate their red meat cooked well done had almost FIVE times the risk of breast cancer as those who ate their meats rare or medium. (Note: I am NOT recommending you eat your meat cooked rare. It is well known that undercooked meat carries its own health concerns, namely exposure to harmful bacteria.)
In addition to limiting the amount of red meat you consume,
I recommend the following:
- Trim fat from meat BEFORE grilling
- Avoid foods that have been charred (black)
- Before grilling, marinate meat AND microwave the meat for 3 to 5 minutes to cut down on carcinogens (substances that cause cancer). [This step is important because it limits the meat's exposure to high-temperatures.]
Effects of Soy:
You have probably heard a lot of recent news about soy. You have probably even heard that soy can help reduce your risk of
cancer. Interest in soy's role in preventing breast cancer developed after scientists observed that Asian women have
significantly lower rates of breast cancer than women in the U.S. Asian women typically consume a diet that is rich in soy products. Women in the U.S. typically do not.
Experts are not ready to make strong claims concerning soy and its ability to prevent cancer. However, there is substantial data that links soy to the prevention of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers. A recent study in England found a strong association between a high intake of soy phytoestrogens (to be discussed in a minute) and a lower risk of breast cancer. Even still, experts will not say with certainty that soy does reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Because there is a large amount of evidence suggesting that soy is beneficial, I recommend incorporating soy into your diet.
So, what are phytoestrogens? Phytoestrogens are plant hormones that are similar to human estrogens. Of importance is the fact that phytoestrogens are weaker than human estrogens. Phytoestrogens are believed to be among the key substances in soy that helps reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers. As weaker versions of estrogen, phytoestrogens seem to play a dual role. When there is too much estrogen, the phytoestrogens actually block estrogen's harmful effects. When there is not enough estrogen, phytoestrogens make up for the difference. In addition, phytoestrogens seem to act as antioxidants, thus further protecting cells.
Other foods besides soy products contain phytoestrogens. The best source without a doubt is soy. Flaxseed is a strong second. Studies are lacking in support for getting your phytoestrogens from a pill. Food sources are absolutely your best bet.
How can you start incorporating soy into your diet? Do not look to soy sauce or soybean oil for the benefits associated with breast cancer risk reduction. These products may be made from soy, but they contain none of the beneficial phytoestrogens and no soy protein. Below is a list of soy products and the amount in milligrams (mg) of the beneficial phytoestrogens contained per each serving size listed. To reap soy's benefits, I recommend that you try to include 30 to 60 mg per day.
1/2 cup fresh or frozen soybeans 70 mg
1 cup soy milk 20 mg
1/4 cup soy nuts, roasted 84 mg
4 ounces tofu 38 mg
1/4 cup soy powder 60 mg
Fresh or frozen soybeans, sometimes called edamame, are mild, sweet-tasting green beans. Boil them for 15 to 20 minutes and get ready for a real treat!
Soy nuts are dried soybeans that have been roasted and usually salted. They make a good alternative to peanuts with half the fat and a lower price tag.
Don't like soy milk straight?
In a blender, place 1 ripe banana,
1/2 cup frozen strawberries,
1 cup soy milk,
1/3 cup soy protein powder,
and 1 TBSP honey.
Blend until thick and creamy.
[100 mg phytoestrogens]
Let's put everything into perspective:
Here is a list identifying "cancer protectors":
- Fruits and Vegetables, especially those dark in color, aim for 5-9 servings/day
- Fiber, especially for colon cancer, aim for 25-35 grams per day
- Antioxidants, such as carotenes and vitamins C & E (get carotenes through your diet, not a pill !!)
- Selenium, especially for prostate cancer, do not take more than 800 mcg/day as a supplement
- Calcium, aim for 1200-1500 mg per day
- Omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil), try to include fish in your diet at least 1 to 2 times per week
- Soy, aim for 1 to 2 servings of soy products per day
- Tea (black or green), aim for 3 to 5 servings per day
- Exercise, aim for 30 minutes most days of the week
Here is a list identifying cancer promoters:
- Overweight, limit weight gain in adulthood to 10 pounds or less
- Dietary fat, try to use canola and olive oil in cooking
- Red meat, especially colon cancer, limit to 1-2 times per week - 3 oz. serving size
- Burned food, avoid charred foods when possible
- Nitrates and nitrites, avoid cured meats when possible
- Alcohol, MEN: Limit to 2 drinks or less/day, WOMEN: Limit to 1 drink or less/day
"The Best Overall Anticancer Diet"
(Source: Environmental Nutrition/vol.22/no.10):
- Eat a diet that is largely vegetarian (certainly low in red meats), centering on legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Eat fish once or twice a week.
- Eat five to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Include citrus fruits or other foods rich in vitamin C, dark leafy greens, high-fiber produce and cruciferous vegetables.
- Limit fat intake to mostly monounsaturated and omega-3 fats (from olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and seeds).
- Choose whole grains (whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice) over refined grains.
- Include a source of calcium (from diet or supplement).
- Include soy and flaxseed in your diet.
- Relax with a few cups of tea a day.
- Exercise regularly.
What role does exercise play in fighting cancer?
Regular exercise (30 minutes or more on most days of the week) helps protect against colon cancer and possibly breast and lung cancers. In addition, exercise helps reduce the cancer risk associated with obesity by helping you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
Below is an easy solution for those of you who are too busy to fit in a good workout on most days.
Squeezing in what has been coined as "fit bits" of physical activity (activity for short as a minute or two spread throughout the day) can keep you healthy and fit. The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas demonstrated that subjects who performed lifestyle fitness lost as much weight as a group doing a 20 to 60 minute aerobic session 3 to 5 times per week. They also increased their aerobic endurance, although not as much as the control group.
So, what does that mean? Got a minute, do something physical. Below is a list for you to gauge calories burned per activity. The amount you burn will vary, but this serves as a guide. The calories shown are based on a 140 pound woman.
- Sweep for 5 minutes = 20 calories
- Push a stroller a half-mile in 10 minutes = 50 calories
- Garden for 15 minutes = 55 calories
- Play ACTIVELY with the children for 15 minutes = 60 calories
- Park in far corner of parking lot at work.
- Walk 5 minutes briskly to desk = 25 calories
- Walk briskly back to car, when leaving work, 5 min. = 25 calories
- Four flight of stairs both ways = 40 calories
- Walk briskly to store and then back in 8 minutes = 35 calories
- Here is a quick way to rack up calories burned:
Jump rope for 15 minutes = 150 calories!
Written by Laura S. Garrett, RD, LD, Fitness Trainer,
& Owner of www.NutrActive.com - Nutrition & Active Lifestyle Center
**Weight Loss, Fitness, and Diabetes Programs**
Contact via e-mail: Laura.RD@NutrActive.com
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