Women in the U.S. have approximately a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer—about 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will get diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. While some lifestyle choices, like drinking alcohol, increase your risk of the disease, other everyday choices may lower your chances of the condition. One important health decision is what you put on your plate. “Your diet may not be able to cure breast cancer, but it plays a role in prevention,” says Dipali Sharma, PhD, professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. To help you stay healthy, TheHealthy sifted through the science and got the scoop from doctors about the best diet for breast cancer. Fill up on certain foods (and skip a few others) to reduce your risk. And be sure to avoid these 10 things that can increase your risk of cancer.
Cut back on fat
According to research published in the Journal of Nutrition involving more than 48,000 postmenopausal women, reducing dietary fat and increasing veggie, fruit, and grain intake to about five servings a day is associated with a lower risk of dying from breast cancer. Participants didn’t necessarily swap saturated fat for unsaturated, but rather cut back on overall fat consumption, dropping their intake from 35 percent of daily calories to 20 percent while also eating more fruits, veggies, and grains. Try working in produce from this list of the healthiest vegetables.
Swap out some animal protein
While dropping some fat from your diet could help reduce your risk, it’s also smart to swap red meat, like beef, for something leaner, such as poultry, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer. The large analysis found that women who ate the most red meat had a higher risk of invasive breast cancer; those who ate the most chicken had a lower risk. Sharma suggests limiting red meat to about a pound per week (at most) and making sure to avoid charred beef, which boosts the presence of cancer-causing agents.
Fruits, veggies, and whole grains have a common theme in the best diet for breast cancer—they’re also crucial to the Mediterranean diet, another eating plan that boasts benefits for reducing the risk of breast cancer, according to another International Journal of Cancer (IJC) study. The approach favors fish over red meat, and it recommends filling up on plant-based protein sources, like beans and legumes, says Sharma. Here’s how to start a plant-based diet.
Pack in lots of leafy greens
As you work on adding more veggies to your diet, be sure to give prominence to leafy greens like spinach, watercress, and kale, suggests Sharma. The dusky green carotenoids in these greens provide antioxidants, which fight carcinogenic free radicals, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research.
Sip some green tea
The compounds in green tea that are known as catechins offer powerful antioxidants that could cut cancer risk, particularly of the breast, according to research published in the journal Nutrients. (Keep in mind most studies have been conducted in vitro or in animals, and that researchers point to the need for more studies on humans to back up this benefit.) Sharma suggests adding a cup of green tea to your regular routine since it could offer protection and there’s little downside; just check out these other benefits of green tea.
Put a pause on alcohol
According to the IJC Mediterranean diet study, when you cut back on alcohol, your risk reduction becomes even greater. Aim for no more than three glasses of wine a week to help lower your breast cancer risk. “Alcohol is essentially a toxin, meaning it stresses the body as it works to get rid of it,” explains Beth Freedman, MD, a breast surgeon at CareMount Medical. This can wreak havoc on your system and increase the risk of cancer.
Avoid overly processed foods
To sidestep disease risk and improve overall health, always turn to whole foods and cut back on high salt and sugar content. “There are foods that we know are carcinogenic [cancer-causing], and that includes pickled foods and charred meats,” says Dr. Freedman. “Those should be eaten at a minimum, if at all.” Check out what happens when you stop eating processed foods.
Make generally healthy choices to keep your weight in check
There’s a clear link between obesity and an increased risk of some cancers. By eating a healthy diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and other plants, you can not only shed pounds but also potentially lower your breast cancer risk. Both Sharma and Dr. Freedman underscore the findings that women who eat healthfully tend to have more energy and less negative side effects of breast cancer and treatments like chemotherapy. Dr. Freedman says they also tend to recover more quickly from surgery.