Breast cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed cancer among women and the second most common cancer overall with over two million new cases in 2018. While there are many hereditary and genetic factors thought to contribute to developing breast cancer, strong evidence exists the risk of many different types of cancer can be greatly reduced through an active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy body weight and adopting a diet that limits sugar, fast foods, processed foods and favors a plant-based approach, according to researchers from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Research Institute.
“Our evidence shows that fruit and vegetables, as well as wholegrains and fibre, play a crucial role in protecting us against certain cancers, as well as weight gain, overweight and obesity,” Dr Giota Mitrou, World Cancer Research Fund International’s Director of Research wrote in a 2018 report entitled “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective”.
The 2018 report detailed evidence that a diet that includes many non-starchy vegetables is believed to decrease the risk of oestrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer. Medical experts now recommend adopting a diet that includes mostly plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans as a goal toward a healthy lifestyle as plant-based foods are high in the types of fiber, nutrients, and phytochemicals (natural substances) thought to prevent cancer. Researchers say foods rich in fiber, vitamins, and other natural substances called phytochemicals are known to help protect against cancer.
What types of food should be avoided?
Researchers recommend avoiding processed foods high in fat and refined starches such as white bread or pasta, biscuits, cakes and pastries. A diet that includes large amounts of processed foods and “fast foods” high in fat, starches or sugars also often causes weight gain and obesity, which is known to cause cancer. While most foods undergo some form of processing before consumption, “fast food” and highly processed foods have generally undergone industrial processing and are often higher in energy and lower in micronutrients. In general, researchers say it is best to avoid potato products such as chips and crisps, products made from white flour such as bread, pasta and pizza, cakes, pastries, biscuits and cookies. Strong evidence also exists that the consumption of either red or processed meat also increases the risk of cancer. Although medical experts don’t recommend avoiding red meat completely as it can be a valuable source of protein, iron and other micronutrients, in particular protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12, but avoiding processed meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation is advised. Processed meat can include ham, salami, bacon and some sausages such as frankfurters and chorizo. Minced meats such as fresh sausages may sometimes, though not always, count as processed meat. But, a healthy diet doesn’t necessarily include meat and those who choose to meat-free diets can adapt their protein selections to include fish or chicken and obtain nutrients through careful food selection.
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Medical experts also recommend avoiding sweetened drinks and fruit juices. As for artificially sweetened drinks, researchers say there is no strong evidence in humans to suggest that artificially sweetened drinks, such as diet sodas, are a cause of cancer and the evidence that artificially sweetened drinks help prevent weight gain, overweight and obesity is not consistent. Ultimately, researchers maintain that the available evidence is insufficient to make a recommendation regarding artificially sweetened drinks.
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“One of the major problems with sugar sweetened drinks is that they provide energy but do not fill you up. This can promote overconsumption of energy and thus weight gain. This effect is compounded when there are low levels of physical activity,” Professor Martin Wiseman, World Cancer Research Fund International’s Medical and Scientific Adviser wrote in the 2018 report.
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Basic research findings
Exercise and physical activity are key to a healthy lifestyle and researchers recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week. A healthy diet and a healthy body weight are key to reducing the risk of all types of cancer. In terms of a healthy diet, doctors recommend eliminating fast foods, processed foods and sugary drinks as much as possible and advise concentrating on a diet that includes plenty of vegetables whole grain foods.
Link between breast cancer and a healthy heart
The risk of postmenopausal breast cancer is greatly reduced by being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle and premenopausal obesity not only increase the risk of breast cancer, both are known to contribute significantly to heart disease, according researchers from the American Heart Association (AHA).
Dr. Cindy M. John, a cardiology specialist at he Richmond Medical Center, advises her patients transitioning to a healthier lifestyle to make gradual changes.
“You don’t have to start by running a marathon every year,” John said in an interview Monday (Sept. 21). “You can start out by walking 20 minutes five times a week. I also tell my patients that dietary changes don’t have start out as extreme changes. For example, instead of having dessert with every meal, start by limiting yourself to dessert once a week.”
In addition to healthy lifestyle choices, John says it’s also crucial to schedule a yearly mammogram and visit a health care provider for regular medical screenings.
“Women are often the caregivers in a family, which means we focus on caring for others and often forget to take care of ourselves. But, it’s just as important to slow down and remember to care for your own health and your own body.”
Dr. Cindy M. John is a Board Certified Cardiologist who specializes in preventive medicine and risk factor modification. For appointments, call the OakBend Medical Group Cardiology office at 281-622-4925.