We've partnered with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to help share their message: four simple steps we can take to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Disclaimer: if you think you're at risk for developing breast cancer, we highly advise seeing a physician. This information is only to accompany whatever suggestions your doctor has recommended. Please do not use this information in lieu of medical advice.
Breast cancer awareness month
Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer that mostly impacts women, although it may occur in men. Breast Cancer Awareness Month helps fund research, provides one of the largest cancer support systems, and advocates for change in our society. It's also meant to:
- Raise awareness on breast cancer.
- Help bring communities together.
- Show life is greater than breast cancer.
The good news is that prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer have made considerable progress with the help of many. With over 2 million new cases in 2018, though, there's still work to be done. We can help by working together to support this important cause.
Four pillars to help beat breast cancer
Our food choices and lifestyle can minimize the risk of developing breast cancer, and may also help after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in collaboration with breast cancer surgeon Kristi Funk, MD, created the following four proven steps to help protect our breasts and overall health.
1. Choose more plant-based foods
As we've said before, plant-based foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. They can also help lower our estrogen levels. Estrogen is a hormone that promotes the female characteristics in our bodies. Lower levels of it have been associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.
Three possible approaches to help us nourish our bodies with plant-based foods include:
Load up on the veggies: any and all veggies are great, especially when we eat a variety of them. Think trying to eating all of the colours in the rainbow! Cruciferous veggies are particularly noteworthy for helping to get rid of some cancer-causing chemicals. Cruciferous veggies include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Enjoy soy: foods that fuel us with soy, such as tofu or soy milk, especially early in life can help lower the risk of breast cancer. A 30% reduction in the risk of breast cancer has been seen with the help of soy. How this works is that estrogen-like plant-based compounds in soy products have a similar shape to real estrogen and can act as a protective substance. Since they have a similar shape, they're able to bind to receptors in our intestines which are normally for either estrogen that our body produces or estrogen that we get from consuming animal-based foods such as meat. Consuming the plant-based estrogen-like compounds limits our body from absorbing real estrogen that we potentially have too much of. This in turn can help drive the levels of estrogen in our bodies down.
As with most things, moderation is still important. 2-3 servings a day of soy foods is thought to be beneficial. Some examples of a serving size of soy foods are:
- Soybeans, cooked, ¾ cup
- Edamame, ¾ cup
- Tofu, ¾ cup
- Soy nuts, roasted, ¼ cup
- Soy milk, 1 cup
Overall, eating soy is linked to reducing our risk of breast cancer, especially for survivors. Learn more about food sources and the controversies of soy in our soy article.
Limit processed meats: foods such as hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats have been found to increase the risk of breast cancer, in addition to colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and coconut bacon are satisfying and delicious alternatives to processed meats that we enjoy.
2. Exercise regularly
There are many benefits that come with enjoying exercise regularly. Research suggests that exercise supports our wellbeing, but also strengthens our immune defence system, which may help our bodies fight cancerous cells. Similarly, we can experience benefits from breaking up sedentary behaviours. This is especially helpful for those of us who find we're sitting all day, such as office workers or students. Some ways we enjoy taking breaks from sitting still include:
- Setting an alarm to stand up every hour: this is also a great chance to walk around and hydrate with a refreshing drink of water.
- Seated exercises: such as toe taps, leg marches, rowing, waist twists or side bends.
- Seated stretches: while staying seated, we can give our neck, back, legs, and arms a quick and energizing stretch.
Some other ways we enjoy exercise include:
- Going for walks, runs, hikes & bike rides.
- Signing up for workout classes.
- Stretching first thing in the morning.
- Swimming at the pool.
- Sports activities such as dance, tennis and soccer.
3. Limit alcohol
Alcohol has been shown to raise levels of estrogen and other hormones linked to breast cancer. It also may increase the risk of breast cancer by damaging the DNA in our cells.
Some tasty and satisfying ideas for those of us looking for alternative drinks may be:
- Freezing juice in an ice tray and using these as ice cubes. They look nice in glasses and add a lovely splash of flavour to club soda or sparkling water.
- Placing fresh berries, such as raspberries or strawberries, in the bottom of a glass and then pouring in sparkling water or ginger ale. Frozen berries work great too.
- Adding chunks of our favourite fruit into a glass with our favourite non-alcoholic beverage to infuse it with a fresh and fruity new flavour.
- Whipping up a smoothie! We've got lots of smoothie recipes on the blog for inspiration.
- Enjoying one of our personal favourites, kombucha!
4. Maintain a healthy weight
Although weight is not always the best indicator of health, having excess body fat has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. This seems to be because our fat cells are able to make estrogen and other hormones that help cancer cells form and spread. Regardless of our weight, there are many lifestyle choices that we can make to promote nourishing our cells and our soul. Here are just a few:
- Nourishing our body with wholesome and nutritious foods. To learn more about creating balanced meals and snacks see our plate method article.
- Enjoying regular exercise and movement, whatever it may be!
- Focusing on behaviours rather than numbers. As much as we may wish, it's hard to truly control the number on the scale. Some behaviours we have more control over may include practicing mindfulness, meal prepping some of our favourite foods, or socializing with friends on a walk.
For some extra support and inspiration, see our healthy morning habits checklist or our staying motivated to make healthy food choices printable guide.
- October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer; help us spread the word and advocate!
- We can minimize our risk of getting breast cancer. Although everyone is different, our food choices and lifestyle factors can have an impact on our risk.
- Familiarize yourself with the four pillars, which are eating more plant-based foods, enjoying exercise regularly, limiting alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight. These four pillars are proven to minimize the risk of breast cancer.
Discussion & Rating
I felt like sharing that I had triple negative breast cancer last year (2021) which is a cancer that has nothing to do with hormones and though I ate healthy all my life, I still got cancer even without any family history of it. I've learned that there are a lot of myths out there of what should be done to avoid cancer and then what fears people have around getting cancer. I learned that you can be as healthy and as fit as you like and still cancer is possible. I've learned that everyone is on a different journey and one person's experience with cancer is not the same as another persons experience. I'm learning to love my body after chemotherapy and a mastectomy and forced menopause. I'm learning that being vegan or a vegetarian is helpful in healing as I get used to who I am now.
Your videos kept me focused all through my treatment and are now a salve to my soul as I live in this new life beyond cancer. Thank you for all you do.
Hey Sadia, Thank you so so much for all that you do ! I have been and always be a huge fan of yours ! Recently I have been diagnosed of breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy , spices create a lot of inflammation and so I am staying away from it and having some of your smoothies which really helps but during chemo the problem is not cancer we are dealing with it is more of how our gut reacts to so some specific recommendations on what to consume when you are undergoing chemotherapy would be super helpful !
I love that you included links from pubmed and the candian cancer society.
Beautiful website :)
I've been eating pretty bad lately and your article was very helpful to make me reflect. As a woman who had two aunts who died in their 40s from colon cancer years ago, I really should be thinking about how I'm taking care of myself. Thank you!!
Enjoying exercise!! Yes! We GET TO exercise and take care of ourselves and move and feel good!! 🧡 I love that you put it that way in the summary 😊 great post and important information, I love that you shared this