What you eat can have a real affect on your risk of getting breast cancer. As part of our Female Cancers special we caught up with Dr. Mary Flynn, research dietian and co-author of the Pink Ribbon Diet - Lower your breast cancer risk, to find out what food can protect your boobs.
How does diet affect the risk of getting breast cancer?
Diet can affect some of the steps in the cancer process as well as sometimes increase the risk of breast cancer: initiation of cancer, progression, and tumor development. Studies have shown that some foods will increase the risk factors and some decrease them.
Other studies indicate that some foods can actually contribute to cancer starting and spreading. While there are certainly risk factors for breast cancer that we can not control, such as our genes or our past environment, we all have the option of deciding what we eat. By eating a diet that maximizes beneficial foods we can make a choice to decrease the risk of breast cancer.
Are there such things as super foods and if so what are they?
Yes, there are foods I would call ‘super foods”. I classify a food as a ‘super food” if studies have shown it is related to decreasing the disease. Things like extra virgin olive oil, dark and cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens would all fit my definition of a super food. These are foods we should eat more of to protect against breast cancer.
(Cruciferous vegetables include kale, brocolli, watercress, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.)
How do certain foods help to defend against breast cancer?
I don’t expect we will ever get to the day when we say ‘eat these foods and you will not get breast cancer” but we can say ‘eat these foods, avoid these foods and you will lower your risk by changing risk factors”.
What foods should we avoid eating if we want to reduce our risk of breast cancer?
The two foods I recommend women eat less of to decrease their risk of breast cancer are red meat, especially when it is grilled, and vegetable oils. While not all studies show red meat increasing breast cancer risk, I think enough do show a relationship to increasing breast cancer risk that I recommend limiting and preferably eliminating, red meat.
Vegetable oils, soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn oil, contain high amounts of polyunsaturated fats etc. I also recommend all my patients limit or eliminate vegetable oils and their products – that means things like margarine, most mayonnaises, some salad dressings, etc.
Other than diet, which other lifestyle factors can reduce your risk of breast cancer?
Move more!! Physical activity is essential to weight control. Women who are physically active in their daily life are less likely to gain weight as they get older compared to people who are sedentary. Most people, however, need a physical activity program - at least 4 times a week for at least 45 minutes and preferably an hour.
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