Breast Cancer Awareness: Eating for Prevention

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to bring that awareness, we will be writing articles on breast cancer all month long.

Chances are if you are reading this, you have experienced and/or have been impacted by breast cancer in one way or another. I think of many friends and loved ones who have walked this journey, but the one that stays most vividly in my mind is my Gran, Carol, who I am proud to say is a breast cancer SURVIVOR!

When facing a cancer diagnosis of any kind, we often go into “fix-it” or “control” mode. We often think we can use food as a cure, but Angela pointed out last week in her article, while it can compliment care and treatment, it is not a fix in itself.

This week I want to highlight preventative nutrition care related to breast cancer. While there is no guarantee you will never experience breast cancer or a different cancer journey, there is significant research and information regarding nutrition and the protective benefits it may offer against cancer and other diseases. Nutrition and lifestyle are modifiable risk factors! Here are a few action steps to fostering health and protection from increased cancer risk.

Start where you are, add more fruits and vegetables!

If you have followed Lemond Nutrition long, chances are you have heard us discuss the Flexitarian and/or Mediterranean diet approach. One phrase I love from the Flexitarian approach is, start where you are and add in more plants (fruits and veggies)! It takes what might be daunting for some and provides an actionable step. I know you are not surprised to hear a dietitian say add in more fruits and veggies, but I love to tell my clients… I don’t just say it for the sake of them being perceived as “healthy,” they truly are foods that are jampacked with the vitamins/minerals/antioxidants/fiber, etc. that we know to be protective and beneficial for the body.

Fruits and vegetables of all kinds are rich in vitamin C, folate, fiber, carotenoids, phytosterols, quercetin, amongst SO many other things that show to be effective in reducing oxidative stress and promote repair of the body. There are several studies (some older, some newer) showing increased levels of carotenoids in the blood showed to be especially protective against breast cancer. Green leafy veggies like spinach, arugula, mustard greens, etc., have concentrated levels of these nutrients. Fruits also pack a strong protective punch… Choices like berries of all kinds (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.), citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes and even others like peaches, grapes, pears and many more are all great additions into your day.

Let’s talk protein…

In Western diets, adequate protein intake is usually not a huge issue of concern as we typically have an abundance of meats available to us and is often a staple in the meals we consume. The Flexitarian and/or Mediterranean approach still includes adequate amounts of protein, however the sources of protein are varied, and more plant based. As a dietitian, I do not generally advise with phrases like “don’t eat,” “never have,” etc., surrounding food selections. Focusing on varying your sources is usually an easier place to start than beginning with an all or nothing mentality of plant-based protein vs. animal proteins. Beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, edamame, nut butters, eggs, flaxseed, cheese, yogurt, milk, wholegrain items, and many more are excellent, nutrient-dense sources of protein that provide a wide array of fiber, vitamins, minerals while still assisting with meeting our protein needs. While we are focusing on “what to add in” rather than “take away” … don’t forget that fish like salmon, tuna, etc. are great sources of protein and heart healthy fats as well as nuts and seeds like walnuts, pecans, etc. Omegas, B vitamins, phosphorus, vitamin E, etc. are all protective and helpful in our bodies.

Keep it movin’

Many don’t have to be convinced about the wide benefits of exercise including strength, improved mental health, better sleep, etc. However, did you know that exercise is linked to reduced breast cancer risk in both pre- and post-menopausal women? The National Cancer Institute reports that women who move regularly have a 12-21% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who a lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Related to breast cancer specifically, the why behind the reduction in risk is thought to be connected to the fact that exercise can reduce the level of estrogen in our bodies, it can reduce high levels on insulin, it reduces inflammation, and it can boost the immune system! The other good news… all exercise counts! Walking, jogging, swimming, tennis, pickleball, strength training, etc. Just like I mentioned with food… start where you are and start adding in a little more movement here and there. Find something that meets your physical abilities (doctor approved) and is enjoyable… and then take off!

Need help with more food and/or exercise ideas? We would love to help! Reach out to us today to make your appointment. Together we can help prevent and fight breast cancer!

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