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Breast cancer and plant foods

Breast cancer affects one in eight women,1 so chances are high that you or someone you love has been impacted by the disease. Moreover, everyone you know is affected by nutrition. 

Did you know there are links between breast cancer risk and the foods you eat? Let’s look at what research has shown us:

  • A high-fat diet has been associated with developing breast cancer.2
  • Breast cancer survivors with the highest vegetable intake have significantly decreased rates of breast cancer recurrence.3
  • Women who eat more than 25g of fiber daily have a lower risk of breast cancer.4
  • An estimated 18% of cancer cases are chalked up to a culmination of the effects of excessive body weight, alcohol use, low physical activity and an unhealthy diet.5

As a result of this information, the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) recommends a diet rich in plant foods for cancer risk reduction.6 In fact, they created the “New American Plate,” a visual guide to help you balance the nutrients in your meals. They encourage filling two-thirds of your plate with plant foods to reduce cancer risk.

So what are plant foods and why are they important?

When the AICR mentions plant foods, they are typically referring to minimally processed plant choices. These include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Plant foods contain fiber, which is a part of the plant that our body does not digest. Fiber helps support bowel and gut health, keeps you full longer and, as we already mentioned, helps reduce cancer risk!

Plant foods also contain phytonutrients. These are compounds found in plants that provide their flavor, color and aroma. When we consume these phytonutrients they offer many health benefits to our body as well. Every plant food has its own makeup of phytonutrients, which then have unique benefits for our body. Fighting inflammation and maintaining healthy cell function are just two examples of the benefits of phytonutrients. 

Now that we’ve discussed some of the benefits of plant foods, let’s brainstorm some ways to include more plant foods in the diet:

  • Aim for a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Include at least one fruit or vegetable at each meal, and make the most of snack times!
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Swap white bread for whole grain bread, or choose quinoa instead of white rice. 
  • Use nuts and seeds to add crunch to your favorite dishes. Use them as a salad topper, in place of granola in your morning yogurt, or mix seeds into smoothies. 
  • Incorporate meatless meals a few times each week. Swap your meat with a nutrient-dense, plant-based source of protein such as beans, lentils or soy foods.
  • Instead of salting your food, experiment with spices and herbs for some bonus phytonutrients! 

These recommendations are beneficial for both breast cancer survivors and for those who are hoping to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer.

 

References:

  1. Key Statistics for Breast Cancer (2023). American Cancer Society. Retrieved August 3, 2023 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.
  2. Sieri, S.K., Krogh, V., Ferrari, P., et al. Dietary fat and breast cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr. 1304; 2008(88):5.
  3. McEligot, A., Largent, J., Ziggas, A., Peel, D., Anton-Culver, H. Dietary fat, fiber, vegetable, and micronutrients are associated with overall survival in post-menopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2006,55(2):132-140. 
  4. Aune, D., Chan, D., Greenwood, D., et al. Dietary fiber and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Ann Oncol. 2012;23(6):1394-1402. 
  5. Healthy Eating and Active Living Research Highlights. (n.d.). Retrieved August 3, 2023 from https://www.cancer.org/research/acs-research-highlights/nutrition-and-physical-activity-research-highlights.html.
  6. What is a plant-based diet? Here is AICR’s take. (2019). Retrieved August 3, 2023 from https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/what-is-a-plant-based-diet-aicrs-take/#:~:text=Think%20frozen%20fruit%2C%20vegetables%20or,foods%20%E2%80%93%20isn't%20healthy.   

 

 

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Featured Provider

Savannah Duffy, MS, RDN, LD picture

Savannah Duffy, MS, RDN, LD

Specialties: Nutrition Services

Savannah Duffy is a clinical oncology dietitian with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.

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