Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women in the United States. Although there is no specific cause of this disease, there are many scientific associations: Epidemiological evidence links smoking, inactivity and poor nutritional status to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. It is well accepted that a Westernized diet with high meat intake and limited fruits and vegetables is linked to the development of this disease. It is now known that returning to a traditional eating pattern high in fiber and antioxidants, and low in fat, sugar and alcohol, is beneficial to protect the body from breast cancer.
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Saturated and Trans-Fats
There is strong evidence that saturated fats and trans-fats are related to the increased incidence of breast cancer. Examples of foods high in saturated fat include butter, red meat, milk chocolate and coconut oil. Trans-fats can be found in many foods, but especially in fried foods like doughnuts, French fries, baked goods, stick margarines and shortenings. The American Dietetic Association recommends that only 20 percent of your daily caloric intake be from fats, with less than 10 percent of that being saturated fats.
Sugar and Refined Grains
A diet high in sugar consumption increases caloric intake while providing no nutritional value. High sugar intake may indirectly increase breast cancer risk by promoting obesity and elevating blood insulin levels. Foods high in sugar include candy, soda, baked goods and sweetened cereals. White sugar (refined) is also detrimental to health. White bread, pasta, rice and flour are considered simple carbohydrates and should be limited.
Excessive alcohol consumption is known to increase breast cancer risk. When alcohol is metabolized in the body, it forms a compound called acetaldehyde, which is known to promote tumor formation. Poor diet along with alcohol abuse leads to malabsorption of certain nutrients, including riboflavin, zinc and folate, which in turn promotes a higher risk of breast cancer. In women with a strong familial history of breast cancer, it is advised that they avoid alcohol completely. For most women, alcohol should be used in moderation.