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Breast Cancer Risk and the Foods You Eat

Breast Cancer Risk and the Foods You Eat

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It's a time to educate people about the risks and raise money to help find a cure. It's also an opportunity for all of us to take a look at our lifestyle choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 30% of all cancers in developed countries are the result of diet and nutrition.

It's an incredibly high number. Based on the CDC information, 523,612 people got cancer in 2007, simply because of what and how much they ate. It's time to fight back. Don't wait until you have a diagnosis to do something. Here are three things you can do today, to reduce your risk.

1. Reduce the saturated fat in your diet, to no more than 7% of your total calories. This provides both a protective measure AND increases survival if you've already been diagnosed with, or treated for, breast cancer.

Women who took in an average of 13% of their calories from saturated fat, were 41% more likely to die, than women who kept their saturated fat intake to around 7% of their calories. This information came from a 2011 study titled "Post-diagnosis dietary factors and survival after invasive breast cancer."

According to the National Cancer Institute, the top 10 sources of saturated fat are:

  1. regular cheese
  2. pizza (primarily a cheese delivery system)
  3. grain-based desserts (donuts, cupcakes, cookies and cake)
  4. dairy desserts (ice cream)
  5. chicken and chicken mixed dishes (chicken with skin still on or chicken breaded and fried)
  6. sausage, franks, bacon and ribs
  7. burgers
  8. Mexican mixed dishes
  9. beef and beef mixed dishes
  10. reduced-fat milk (2% milk gets 36% of its calories from fat.)

2. Eat a tablespoon of ground or powdered flaxseed a day, along with your healthier diet.

In nutritional studies of women who have breast cancer, it's been found that those with diets higher in "lignans" lived longer. Plant lignans are available from a variety of sources, but flaxseed is the worlds most concentrated source of lignans. When subjects were given a 25-gram flaxseed containing muffin or a non-flaxseed muffin; in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, the results were clear. Researchers concluded, "Dietary flaxseed has the potential to reduce tumor growth in patients with breast cancer." 

3. Eat more soluble fiber. Women should take in at least 10 grams and men need at least 15 grams of soluble fiber a day. Sources of soluble fiber can be found in apples, barley, beans, carrots, citrus fruits, lentils, nuts, oats and oatmeal, peas, psyllium and seeds.

According to a 2013 study, "...while insoluble fiber intake was not associated with breast cancer risk, soluble fiber intake, ...was associated with a 17% significantly reduced risk of breast cancer; when the highest [fiber intake group] was compared with the lowest." The name of the study was, "Dietary fiber intake and risk of breast cancer by menopausal and estrogen receptor status."

After looking at several studies, researchers found that every 10 grams a day increase people had of dietary fiber, was associated with a 7% reduction in breast cancer risk.

I went to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine to get the following dietary recommendations for daily TOTAL fiber intake.

Age 18 - 50
51 and Over
Men   38 grams   30 grams
Women   25 grams   21 grams

Under the age of 18, use the "age plus five" rule for fiber intake. A 6-year-old would need 11 grams daily (6+5=11) and a 12-year-old would need 17 grams (12+5=17).

Soluble fiber works by slowing digestion and absorption of glucose (sugar), keeping blood sugar levels more even. It can also minimally help reduce blood cholesterol levels.

What we're learning from science is simple. The way we treat our bodies has consequences. Small increases in fiber, flaxseed and a decrease in saturated fat can significantly reduce breast cancer risk and contribute to longer and healthier lives. Start making those changes today.

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beginning any diet or exercise program.