Let's Beat Breast Cancer » a four-pronged approach

October is a busy time. Autumn has started, it’s flu season, for students it may be midterm season, some people take part in Halloween or Yom Kippur, and it’s even National Pizza Month in the states.

But possibly the most important of all, is that it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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.

What is 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 has made considerable progress with the help of many. But with over 2 million new cases in 2018, there is still work to be done and 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 can also help after 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 that help protect our breast and overall health.

PILLAR #1 - Choose more plant-based foods

As we've said before, plant-based foods are full of 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 and lower levels of it have been associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.

Here are three possible approaches to help choose more plant-based foods:

Load up on the veggies!

Any and all veggies are great, and especially when we eat a variety of it. Think: eating the rainbow! Cruciferous veggies are particularly noteworthy, and include broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts.

These can help our body get rid of cancer causing chemicals.

Never been a fan of kale? Try Massaging it!

We're not the only ones that enjoy a good massage. Massaging kale helps break it down to become more soft and tender. This makes it much more enjoyable to eat raw, and decreases the bitter taste.

Featured Recipe: Massaged Umami Kale Salad

Cauliflower is a great staple for meal prepping

By making a double batch of roasted cauliflower, you can meal prep for the week! Cauliflower and curry make a delicious combo. You can also add your roasted cauliflower to grain bowls, stir-frys and salads.

Featured Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Lentil Curry

Enjoy soy

There’s a lot of conflicting info out there on soy.

Enjoying soy products, such as tofu or soy milk, especially early in life can help lower the risk of breast cancer. This study even showed a 30% reduction in the risk of breast cancer with the help of soy.

But how does it work? Basically, estrogen-like plant-based compounds in soy products have a similar shape to real estrogen and can act as a protective substance. Because of this, they're able to bind to receptors in our intestines which are normally for estrogen that our body produces or estrogen we consume in 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) which can help drive levels of estrogen in our bodies down.

Studies that show soy associated with a higher breast cancer risk are usually done on animals that process soy differently than humans or explore unusual high doses.

Moderation is still important. Studies involving adults benefits are associated with around 2-4 servings per day. Overall, 2-3 servings a day of soy foods is thought to be beneficial. Some examples of a serving size of soy foods are:

  • Cooked soybeans - 175 mL (3/4 cup)

  • Edamame - 175 mL (3/4 cup)

  • Tofu - 175 mL (3/4 cup)

  • Roasted soy nuts - 60 mL (1/4 cup)

  • Soy beverages - 250 mL (1 cup)

Overall, eating soy is linked to reducing the risk of breast cancer, especially for survivors. Need some inspiration? Look no further!

Featured Recipe: Speedy Vegan Pad Thai

Featured Recipe(s): Smoothies using Soy Milk

If you'd like to learn more about soy, we have a whole article about it! Check it out here

Avoid processed meats

Processed meats including 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 can make a satisfying alternatives to processed meats.

If necessary, there are also plant-based meat-like alternatives such as vegan hotdogs, vegan burger patties, and other soy-based lunch meats. When consuming these commercial alternatives, aim to consume them in moderation, as they tend to be quite processed and high in sodium.

Featured Recipe: Vegan Tofu Chorizo

PILLAR #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 kill cancerous cells.

Sitting is the new smoking. Research suggests there are risks with sitting down all day, and breaking up sedentary behaviours is helpful. This may be especially relevant for office workers, students, or those sitting at a desk all day.

Some ideas to break up sitting all day are:

  • Set your alarm to stand up every hour - this is also a great chance to walk around and get a drink of water!

  • Get a light stretch in during breaks.

  • Try seated exercises such as toe taps, leg marches, rowing, waist twists or side bends.

  • Other seated stretches can be done for legs, ankles, arms our neck. Not sure where to start? There's a bunch of ideas on search engines.

Some other ways we enjoy exercise are:

  • Going for walks, runs, hikes & bike rides.

  • Signing up for a workout class.

  • Stretching first thing in the morning.

  • Swimming at the pool.

  • Sport activities such as dance, tennis and soccer.

One of our favourite channels on YouTube is Yoga with Adrienne. Her videos range from 5 - 40 minutes in length; it's a great way to move at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home.

PILLAR #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 ideas (curated from this resource) for those looking for alternative drinks are:

  • Freeze juice in an ice tray and use these as ice cubes. They look nice and add a splash of flavour to club soda or sparkling water.

  • Put fresh berries, such as raspberries or strawberries, in the bottom of a glass and then pour in sparkling water or ginger ale.

  • Add chunks of your favourite fruit into a glass of your favourite non-alcoholic beverage to infuse a fresh flavour.

  • Try one of our personal favourites, kombucha!

Featured Recipe: Homemade Kombucha

PILLAR #4 - Maintain a healthy weight

Although weight is not always the best indicator of health, and BMI is generally only helpful for an overview on large population of people, having excess body fat has been linked to a higher 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.

  • Eating a balanced diet and enjoying exercise are two possible ways to stay healthy and active.

  • Rather than focusing on numbers, set aside time to focus on healthy habits! This could be through practicing mindfulness, meal prepping some of your favourite foods, or socializing with friends on a walk.

Check out our healthy morning habits checklist or our staying motivated to make healthy food choices printable guide for some extra support!


  1. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer; help us spread the word and advocate!

  2. We can minimize our risk of getting breast cancer: although everyone is different, our food choices and lifestyle factors can have an impact.

  3. Familiarize yourself with the four pillars: eating more plant-based foods, enjoying exercise regularly, limiting alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight are proven to minimize the risk.

Disclaimer: If you think you're at risk for developing breast cancer, we highly advise to see 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.

Additional References

Read the original article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine here.

Brenda David and Vesanto Melina. Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference on Plant-Based Nutrition. Book Publishing Company, 2014.

Psst: Find this book in our shop! Choose between the comprehensive edition or the express edition.

Want To Learn More?

Read this previous nutrition article called -- KITCHEN ESSENTIALS » for food prep & efficiency

What About You?

What are your favourite ways to enjoy plant-based foods? Let us know in the comments below or share with us on Instagram using #pickuplimes.

❤ Written by: Sophia (Dietetic's Student) & Sadia

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