What to Eat When You Have Breast Cancer

Dietary Recommendations for Better Management

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The premise of a breast cancer diet is to prevent the occurrence and recurrence of breast cancer. This diet is ideal for individuals who are at risk of developing breast cancer due to a genetic predisposition and a personal history of breast cancer or other types of cancers. Diet, among other lifestyle choices, has a large influence on a person’s risk for developing breast cancer. While there are no specific foods or supplements that will cure or entirely prevent cancer, there are general guidelines that are effective at decreasing the risk of some breast cancers. These guidelines include eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and abstaining from alcohol to decrease the risk of some breast cancers.

Benefits

Research has shown that individuals with a personal history of breast cancer have consumed insufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables along with an excess of dietary fat. This shows a strong connection between these food groups and the development of breast cancer. Additional studies show the benefits of a Mediterranean diet in reducing the occurrence of breast cancer in premenopausal women. The Mediterranean diet generally consists of vegetables, fruits, plant-based products, and food high in antioxidants.

The consumption of dietary fat has presented itself as a relatively controversial topic. Some researchers and medical professionals support omega-3 fatty acid intake to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer while other doctors support a decrease in general dietary fat intake for the same purposes. One study suggests that a healthy diet is more effective in improving the survival rate of individuals with breast cancer rather than improving the overall prognosis for the condition. This same study posits that a low-fat diet is associated with increased survival rates from breast cancer. 

The majority of research done on diet and breast cancer focuses on the prevention of the condition rather than the relief or elimination of symptoms. It can be surmised that these diet recommendations are most effective for premenopausal women who are attempting to decrease their risk of breast cancer.

How It Works

There are no special requirements or guidelines for this breast cancer diet, and this diet consists of general dietary habits and not specific considerations that will prevent breast cancer. For example, there is little mention of meat or other protein-based foods in this diet, as these food products have not been connected to the presence of breast cancer. In accordance with this diet, it is best to limit red meat consumption due to high levels of dietary fat. Other forms of meat, such as poultry and seafood are encouraged, especially as per the Mediterranean diet.

The breast cancer diet adopts a heavy focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and other plant-based food products from the Mediterranean diet. This breast cancer diet also places a focus on low dietary fat from products such as dairy and meat. Research has shown that daily intake of dietary fat should be less than 30 percent of daily calories consumed.

Due to its emphasis on low dietary fat intake, the breast cancer diet is not in alignment with all principles of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

Duration

This diet provides an adequate amount of nutrients and can be used to structure dietary habits for most meals. This breast cancer diet can be followed short-term or long-term, as this diet will not cause harm if it is followed for long periods of time. In order for your body to reap the maximal benefits of this diet, it is often suggested this diet is followed for longer periods of time. However, specific durations may be indicated by your primary care physician or other medical professional.

What to Eat

When following a typical breast cancer diet, you’ll focus on eating more fruits and vegetables with each meal.

Compliant Foods

  • Vegetables

  • Fruits

  • Whole grains

  • Beans

  • Eggs

  • Poultry

  • Seafood

  • Herbs

  • Nuts

  • Spices

  • Foods that are high in fiber, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens

  • Foods that are low in fat

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Alcohol

  • Baked goods

  • Cured, pickled and smoked foods

  • Red meat (in excess)

Foods such as beans, nuts, and eggs are viewed as healthy sources of protein, which the body needs for energy. Many of the compliant foods are also high in vitamin D, which is meant to assist in reducing the risk of breast cancer.

Alcohol intake can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones, which has the ability to increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Additionally, baked goods and foods that are cured, pickled, and smoked contain many preservatives and substances that have the potential to damage DNA in the body. Cellular damage can contribute to an increased risk for the development of cancer and other chronic conditions.

Foods that are high in fiber and antioxidants are helpful in providing the body with adequate energy while eliminating waste products efficiently. This assists in clearing the body of any substances that may be considered harmful and contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Inflammation also contributes to the development of breast cancer and foods such as nuts and vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties.

The use of herbs and spices is encouraged for most meals in the breast cancer diet. These products often have anti-inflammatory properties and are good ways to add more flavor to meals without using salt, sugar, or other unhealthy seasonings.

Recommended Timing

There is no specific timing for meals in accordance with this diet, so it is recommended that this diet be followed when consuming three meals along with snacks each day.

Modifications

The breast cancer diet should be relatively accommodating to a vegetarian diet, as it emphasizes plant-based products along with fruits and vegetables. For convenience purposes, it is possible to buy frozen or freeze-dried fruits and vegetables for easy meal preparation and the purpose of easy snacking. Frozen vegetables are also often cheaper than fresh vegetables and most often do not contain any additives or seasonings.

It is important to always read packaging and nutrition labels, as this will prevent you from consuming packaged vegetables with added sugar or salt. This is especially common in canned fruits and vegetables, and these preparations are not recommended for this purpose.

Considerations

The breast cancer diet is relatively easy to follow, as it focuses on the plentiful consumption of fruits and vegetables that are available at any grocery store. More sustainable snacks according to this diet are mixed nuts, dried beans, and applesauce packets for snacks, since these foods can be easily transported and are non-perishable.

There are no known negative side effects for the breast cancer diet. This diet will likely cause an increase in energy due to the type of foods it consists of, especially if you are consuming fruit in larger quantities than you would usually consume.

This diet will likely have an impact on other health issues you may be experiencing. For example, eating foods that are high in fiber will assist your digestive system and the associated processes. Additionally, consuming foods that are anti-inflammatory will serve to decrease general inflammation in the body over time.

A Word From Verywell

The breast cancer diet is relatively simple to follow, once you become aware of what fruit and vegetable options are available to you. The foods in this diet can be combined in creative ways to produce a variety of delicious meals and snacks. If you are questioning some of the foods included in this diet, it is best to stick to the large general categories of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. As a general rule, anything that is lower in dietary fat will be preferable when compared to foods that are high in fat.

As this diet is recommended to decrease the risk of breast cancer, it is important to note that one diet will not be the solution to your increased risk for breast cancer. It is important to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle, with a healthy diet, an adequate amount of exercise, sufficient sleep schedule, and appropriate stress management tools. Each of these factors plays a large role in the prevention of breast cancer.

Ultimately, it is very possible to eat delicious and nutritious foods in accordance with this diet, which will only serve to decrease your risk of developing breast cancer while also benefiting your body as a whole.

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Article Sources

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  2. Maumy L, Harrissart G, Dewaele P, Aljaber A, Bonneau C, Rouzier R, Elies A. Impact of nutrition on breast cancer mortality and risk of recurrence, a review of the evidence. Bull Cancer. 2019; S0007-4551(19)30306-6. doi:10.1016/j.bulcan.2019.08.009

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nutrition for breast cancer patients and survivors. Published in 2019.

  4. Susan G. Komen Foundation. Diet and breast cancer. Published December 12, 2018.

  5. Cao Y, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci EL. Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns, and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies. BMJ. 2015;351:h4238. Published 2015 Aug 18. doi:10.1136/bmj.h4238

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