Eat to Live: Breast Cancer and Diet

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Is it possible to lower your risk of breast cancer (or stop it from coming back) simply by watching what you eat? Well, it’s more complicated than that; but there are certain foods to add to your diet – and others to avoid – that can make a difference in your risk for breast cancer. 


    Breast cancer: not a good thing.


    Diet: also not a good thing, if you think of it as something negative – which is how we usually hear the word, right? Cutting calories. Forgoing our favorite foods. “Going on a diet.” Not fun.


    But diet, in the nutritional sense of the word, simply means the food you put into your body each day. That food can be good for you, or not so good; high-calorie or low, highly processed or fresh, high-sodium, low-fat… so many things to consider, aren’t there?

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    If you’re a woman, your lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is 1 in 8. That doesn’t mean your risk right now is 1 in 8; for instance, if you’re 30 years old, your risk of developing breast cancer before your 40th birthday is 1 in 232. So it’s not like we’re all walking time bombs for breast cancer, with 1 out of every 8 of our friends about to find that scary lump tomorrow.  


    Still, if you’re actively concerned about breast cancer – concerned enough to potentially make some real changes in your lifestyle – there are changes you can implement to lower your risk. Let’s examine them.


    The basics: a healthy diet

    There’s nothing surprising about the types of foods you should eat to lower your risk of breast cancer. A breast-cancer prevention diet is basically the same as a heart-healthy diet – higher in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat protein; lower in fat, sodium, cholesterol, and calories. Read our post on specific foods that will help you lower your breast cancer risk.


    A Mediterranean twist

    A new variation on the well-known Mediterranean diet is not only directed specifically at breast cancer patients, it’s just plain tasty. So if you’re someone who hates sacrificing the pleasures of food on the altar of health, you’ll want to check out the Plant-Based Olive Oil (PBOO) diet.  


    Soy: yes or no? 

    After years of confusion around soy products, the current information is that soy – tofu, soy milk, soy yogurt, etc. – doesn’t raise your risk of breast cancer. However, researchers caution you should still avoid soy isolates – i.e., genistein – found in some supplements and over-the-counter sleep and mood aids. 



    The latest studies show that alcohol is a greater risk factor in breast cancer death than researchers previous believed; consuming any amount of alcohol raises your risk. Which doesn’t mean you can never again enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, or a cold beer on a hot day; simply that you should be aware of the possible long-term consequences, and balance the pleasure you take in any kind of alcoholic drink with your increased risk of breast cancer.


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    While smoking hasn’t been directly and irrefutably linked to breast cancer as it’s been linked to lung cancer, there’s some evidence that smokers are at higher risk for breast cancer. If you’re a smoker, this is even more reason to try to quit. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire… and perhaps breast cancer as well.



    Regular exercise has been positively linked to a reduction in breast cancer risk. It’s true, most of us don’t love to exercise; it’s more chore than “give me more!” But ladies, even small amounts of exercise can reduce your cancer risk; so it’s another more reason to listen and absorb the message you probably hear every day: exercise is good for you. Do it.


    Weight maintenance

    Research has shown a direct link between gaining significant weight after the age of 20, and an increased risk for postmenopausal breast cancer – both new cancer, or a recurrence. A healthy diet (see above) combined with regular exercise is the best way to keep those pounds off. 


    Your goal: Gain no more than 1 pound a year, total, between age 20 and menopause. Translation: To avoid a measurable increase in your breast cancer risk, you should be no more than 30 pounds heavier at age 50 than you were at age 20. (Kotz, 2010)


    A healthy diet. Exercise. Avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, and weight gain. Easier said than done; but why not at least try, right? The life you save may be your own. 




    Kotz, D. (2010, April 21). Weight gain ups breast cancer risk: 7 ways to avoid the bulge . Retrieved from

Published On: February 28, 2013