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Nutrition and Breast Cancer: Eat to Beat the Odds

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One out of every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. It's a disconcerting statistic, especially considering there are so many risk factors that are completely out of our control, such as age, genes, gender and family history. But we can shift the odds more in our favor by making lifestyle modifications, including these top strategies to help reduce our risk of breast cancer.

Alcohol: Limit or omit it

There's no way to sugarcoat it. Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, and the more you drink, the higher your risk. This is because alcohol raises estrogen levels (one of the risk factors for breast cancer), and byproducts of alcohol metabolism can alter DNA in ways that can lead to cancer.

Women who have three drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who don't drink at all. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.

One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. But the type of alcohol doesn't seem to matter; the risk is consistent regardless of the type of alcohol consumed.

Get moving and maintain a healthy weight

Being sedentary can raise your risk for breast cancer. Not only does exercise help with maintaining a healthy weight, it can also lower estrogen levels, which in turn can reduce the risk for breast cancer. And workouts don't have to be super intense; even five hours of brisk walking each week is linked to a reduction in risk.

Being overweight is directly linked to a greater risk of breast cancer. Gaining more than 20 pounds after age 18 can translate to nearly a 50% increase in risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer.

On the flip side, losing weight (particularly after menopause) may help to reduce your risk. One large study found that women who lost just four to 11 pounds had more than a 20% lower risk of breast cancer than women whose weight stayed the same.

Sugars and refined carbs: Limit as much as possible

Women with a high-glycemic diet (think white breads, rice, pasta, sugary sweets and soft drinks) have been shown to have an increased risk of breast cancer. All the more reason to nix the white stuff, not to mention the fact that cutting out these foods can make it easier to shed extra pounds.

Even foods perceived as “healthy”– maple syrup, raw coconut sugar and honey, for example – are considered added sugar. Top medical and wellness organizations recommend that women limit added sugars to not more than about four to five teaspoons daily.

Early detection can save your life. Get your cancer screenings on track.

Trade out red meat for plant-based protein

Exchanging one serving of red meat daily for a serving of plant-based protein (such as red beans, black beans, chickpeas and plant-based burgers), may help to reduce risk of breast cancer by 19%.

Drink tea several times daily

A regular intake of tea has been shown to reduce odds of breast cancer by 37%. In particular, green, black and white tea contain cancer-fighting antioxidant-rich polyphenols. These polyphenols only stay in our system for about eight hours, so aim for a cup of tea at each meal, if not more often. Consider switching to an herbal tea (peppermint, lemongrass, etc.) in the afternoon and evening if you’re sensitive to caffeine.

Produce, produce, produce

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits is linked to a lower risk of cancer, including breast cancer. When selecting produce, think in terms of color: reds, oranges, yellows and purples in addition to greens to enjoy the full spectrum of nutrients.

For more from Molly Kimball on nutrition for breast cancer prevention, check out her FUELED podcast, where she’s joined by Laura Kerns, RD, oncology dietitian with Ochsner Cancer Center.

Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared on WGNO's "Get FUELED with Molly" segment.