Can Teens Reduce Future Breast Cancer Risk? Yes - and Here's How.

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A new study points to the fact that moms and dads can actually influence their teenage daughters’ future breast cancer risk by offering them lots of fiber-rich foods. Which foods are particularly fiber-rich – and how can you get your teens to eat them?

Moms, how can you help protect your adolescent daughters from breast cancer in the future?

The answer may be in what you feed them.

Fiber consumption can decrease breast cancer risk

A new study posted Feb. 1 in the online journal Pediatricsgives evidence that the more fiber young women consume during adolescence and young adulthood, the lower their breast cancer risk is later on.

How much lower? For those eating the highest amount of fiber, 16 percent lower over the course of a lifetime – and 24 percent lower prior to menopause.

The study shows that for each additional 10g fiber a young adult woman eats daily, breast cancer risk drops by 13 percent.

These are significant numbers, aren’t they? And the study, conducted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was both long-term (25 years) and fairly large, involving 90,000+ participants.

What’s going on here, specifically?

How can fiber intake during adolescence decrease breast cancer risk later on?

During childhood and puberty, girls’ breasts are particularly sensitive to both carcinogens and anti-carcinogens. Higher levels of circulating estrogen in the blood can increase breast cancer risk; and it’s been shown that fiber can reduce those levels of circulating estrogen.

How to change your teen’s diet – painlessly.

We all know kids, including teenagers, can be picky eaters. Teenage girls especially, with their focus on body image, often limit themselves to very specific dishes.

So how do you get an unwilling daughter to eat more fiber?

Make sure she’s eating the highest-fiber versions of foods she already likes.

Breakfast

One of the recent breakfast crazes among millennials is mashed avocado and a fried egg on toast with hot sauce. Half an avocado has about 6g dietary fiber, nearly a quarter of your daughter’s daily requirement (25g). If you can sneak a slice of whole-wheat toast under the egg, so much the better.

Does she like Greek yogurt? Make a parfait with fruit, yogurt, and Fiber One bran cereal (14g fiber per 1/2 cup). Blackberries and raspberries pack 8g fiber per cup.

Too busy for breakfast? Send her out the door with a high-fiber granola bar and a piece of fresh fruit; pears are particularly high in fiber (6g), while an apple or banana offer 4g each.

Snacks

Studies show that teens still eat breakfast cereal, but not at breakfast – rather as a later-day or evening snack. Don’t try to foist 100 percent bran cereal on your daughter—that’s not her idea of a snack. But there are plenty of tasty fiber-rich cereals out there—one of my favorites is Cracklin’ Oat Bran, with 6g fiber per 3/4 cup.

While you’re reading cereal box labels, check out those on tortilla chips and crackers, too. Choose higher-fiber chips/crackers, and pair them with salsa or, even better, black bean dip. Beans are naturally high in fiber.

Popcorn checks in at about 1g fiber per cup. Which doesn’t sound like much: but 1 cup is only a couple of handfuls, and most kids will sit down with a whole bowl of popcorn, typically about 8 cups.

Hummus’ main ingredient is mashed chickpeas, which include 7g fiber per 1/2 cup. Serve garlicky hummus with fresh vegetable dippers to increase the fiber of this dish even more.

Almonds are a great snack for all kinds of reasons – including their fiber quotient (4g/ounce, about 1/4 cup). With all the flavors on the market today, ranging from classic smoky to Sriracha to toasted coconut, there’s sure to be a few that will resonate with your child.

Main meal

Pasta is often seen as an “empty” carb, yet what teen doesn’t love macaroni and cheese or spaghetti? Whole wheat pasta may be a hard sell, but Ronzoni’s Smart Taste pasta packs 5g fiber per serving – and your daughter will never know she’s not eating her favorite “regular” noodles.

How about baked potato skins? A whole baked potato, with skin, offers 4g of fiber, with most of that coming in the skin.

Chili – especially bean-based chili – is a great source of fiber. Served over brown rice (about 4g fiber/cup), you can both bulk up her meal, in a healthier way ­– and hide the fact that the rice isn’t white!

Be careful –

Increasing fiber intake quickly can lead to gastrointestinal issues. When making changes in your family’s diet, do it gradually—the last thing you want is everyone equating fiber with suffering!

According to the Pediatrics study, some doctors have raised questions about the fiber/breast cancer connection, pointing out that those eating a nutritious diet, including higher levels of fiber, probably also pursue a healthy lifestyle: no smoking, less alcohol, more exercise. They also note that other elements associated with fiber – e.g., flavonoids – may be responsible for lowering cancer risk, as well.

Still, since fiber is good for you in so many other ways – and since most of us don’t get nearly enough fiber in our daily diet – why not just take the reduction in breast cancer risk on faith, and go ahead and increase your fiber? Clearly, there are plenty of flavorful ways to do so!

See more helpful articles:

Spring Stir Fry

Fruit & Greens Super Salad

Top 10 Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Risks and Benefits: Understanding the Statistics That Affect You

Stay Healthy – Keep Moving!

Sources

Aubrey, Allison. "A Diet High In Fiber May Help Protect Against Breast Cancer." NPR. February 1, 2016. Accessed March 18, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/01/464854395/a-diet-high-in-fiber-may-help-protect-against-breast-cancer.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Higher dietary fiber intake in young women may reduce breast cancer risk." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160201084354.htm (accessed March 18, 2016).

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed March 18, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2016-02-02-young-women-with-high-fibre-diet-may-have-lower-breast-cancer-risk/.


Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.

Updated: June 28, 2016