Food for thought: Nutrition, breast cancer and misconceptions

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer for US women, and it is estimated that 1 in 5 women will be impacted. 

To recognize October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and provide understanding for yearlong prevention, registered dietitian from Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed), Christy Goff, answers common questions related to nutrition and breast cancer.

What dietary suggestion do you have to prevent breast cancer?

Nutrition suggestions for the prevention of breast cancer are similar to overall recommendations for health. There is evidence that a diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower amounts of animal protein contain protective factors against cancer in general.

Are there specific diets to lower the risk of breast cancer progressing or coming back?

There is no specific diet that lowers the risk for breast cancer progression or recurrence, although a generally healthy diet continues to be recommended. Other lifestyle factors like reducing or removing alcohol altogether and exercising regularly have beneficial research around preventing recurrence. And of course, continue to work with your providers for the proper screenings, treatments and testing.

Do you have any fun recipes that you recommend?

I visit the American Institute for Cancer Research for recipes and well-researched information related to cancer. Some of my favorites include roasted salmon with fall vegetables, anything with mushrooms, and lentil dishes like dal – here are some delicious ones I’ve tried recently:

What are some common myths or misconceptions around diet and breast cancer?
  • Myth: Eating too many soy foods is risky. Soy foods contain isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens that in some ways mimic the action of estrogen. Because high levels of estrogen link to increased breast cancer risk, there was a fear that soy foods – and its isoflavones – may increase risk. Yet overall, human studies show soy foods do not increase risk and, in some cases, research suggests they may lower it.
  • Myth: Sugar feeds cancer and you can’t eat any of it during treatment. Well, sugar does feed cancer BUT it also feeds every other cell in the body. It’s not advised to cut out all sugar but instead focus on enjoying natural sugars from fruit and choosing whole-grain, complex carbohydrates over refined carbs. It’s important to maintain your energy during cancer treatment so diet restrictions are typically not recommended.

It’s important to remember to schedule mammograms every 1-2 years after age 40, and more often if there is a history of breast cancer in your family. Researchers continue to encourage regular exercise and breast exams to notice any differences that may arise.

Christy Goff, MS, RDN, CD is a registered dietitian nutritionist and yoga instructor at Pacific Medical Centers. She graduated with a master's from Bastyr University and has since worked in various settings including as a clinical dietitian, as a dietitian with the federal program for women, infants and children (WIC), and with SNAP-ED program. She is a board member of the Greater Seattle Dietetic Association and past president.


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