The best way to reduce one’s risk of breast cancer is to maintain an appropriate weight. This is especially true for women who gain weight later in life, particularly after menopause.
There is no magic pill or potion to manage weight control. It starts with a decision to make one healthy change today. That change might be to give up sodas, a source of calories with no healthy nutrients. To replace dessert with fresh fruit, a choice that yields more fiber, more cancer fighting antioxidants, and a lot fewer calories.
Once you have internalized a good habit, add another positive change. A decision to choose low fat dairy products can deliver all of the same healthy nutrients in milk, yogurt or cheese with less than half of the calories of the whole dairy food. Choosing to eat vegetables every day brings cancer fighting phytonutrients like beta carotene, lutein, and vitamins in a low calorie food, packaged in fiber that increases satiety and helps manage appetite.
As you continue to make changes, you may begin to see some weight loss. Set your desired weight goal. Add activity to the mix to increase your progress. Walking 30 minutes a day 5 days a week will help you reach your weight goal, lower stress levels and improve sleep. Inactivity increases our risk of cancer as well as diabetes and heart disease.
As you reach your first weight goal, make another decision for life. Adding whole grains like brown rice or whole grain cereals add fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium. A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to support weight loss. This is why successful programs like Weight Watchers encourage fiber intake.
Consuming fruits and vegetables daily lowers our risk for cancer. Greens such as collards, turnips, mustards, spinach and cabbage; carrots, broccoli, brown rice, all beans, pintos, red, black or white; sweet potatoes; all fruits; all berries, blue, black, raspberries, grapes. Nuts and seeds in small amounts also pack a powerful punch as concentrated sources of micro nutrients.
These foods prevent and repair cell damage. Whether in a blood vessel cell wall where a clogging plaque might form or a breast cell where a tumor wants to form, phytonutrients from plants provide the basic pieces that our bodies use to keep us healthy.
The American Cancer Society recommends a plant based diet, meaning that most of our food choices are plant foods with modest meat choices like fish, poultry and lean red meats. ACS also recommends that we limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.
There are thousands of healthy choices to lower our risk of breast cancer. Improving our health through lifestyle choices is a series of decisions that builds one on another over a lifetime. Start a good habit today and teach your children as you learn.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. He provides nutrition counseling to patients at the Arthur Temple Sr. Regional Cancer Center.
By Tim Scallon, M.S. R.D. L.D., Director of the Horace C. Polk Jr. Regional Diabetes Center and Department of Clinical Nutrition at Memorial Health System of East Texas