Breast cancer is a common form of cancer in Jamaican women of all ages. Our diets include substances that may prevent and cause breast cancer. Most studies have shown that a low-fat diet with reduced intake of alcohol, exercise and a reduction to normal or near-normal body fat may reduce the chances of breast cancer development.
Conditions that increase the chances of breast cancer development include:
The consumption of foods that help to produce high levels of oestrogen during pregnancy (which will affect the unborn child) and after menopause.
High alcohol intake when folic acid rich food intake is low. Foods that are good sources of folic acid include liver, green leafy vegetables, lean beef, potatoes, oranges, dried peas and beans and wholewheat products.
Consumption of meats that form a harmful compound called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons when prepared at high temperatures, such as grilling, barbecuing, smoking or broiling.
Eating foods that contain nitrites or nitrates such as smoked, salted and pickled foods. Sodium and potassium nitrates are found in a variety of foods and are the ingredients that give hot dogs and luncheon meats their pink colour.
Oxidative stress or damage to cells by harmful substances.
Making healthy food choices by reading food labels and being aware of how foods are prepared, and living a healthy lifestyle can be helpful in reducing breast cancer risk, but also remember there are other factors or exposure that must also be taken into consideration.
Diet alone cannot prevent breast cancer. Food and lifestyle choices that can lower breast cancer risk are:
Breastfeed newborn infant exclusively for six months and continue after introducing foods from the family pot up to two years and beyond.
Eat moderate amounts of animal foods that are low in fat. Remove skin and visible fat from chicken, beef and use low-fat milk and fewer than three egg yolks per week. Eat less processed animal meat and red meat.
Increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating more sardine and tuna packed in water (and not oil), mackerel in tomato sauce, fresh salmon and trout. Omega-3 fatty acid protects the cell from damage, which may cause cancer.
Use unsaturated fats such as canola, olive, sunflower or other vegetable oils. All oils should be used in small amounts, regardless of the source.
Consume a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fibre, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals and antioxidants. Each day it is recommended to consume 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, 9-11 servings of unrefined staples such as yam/potatoes, wholegrain breads and cereals and 2-3 servings of peas, beans and nuts. One serving of fruit is four ounces of unsweetened juice or fresh whole fruit, one serving of vegetable is half cup cooked or one cup raw, one serving staples is four ounces cooked yam/potato/one slice bread/half-cup porridge/one cup dried cereal, one serving peas and beans is half-cup or one ounce/ handful of nuts. At each meal, eat a variety of vegetables with different colours to be able to get the phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Phytochemicals such as alpha and beta-carotene are found in yellow/orange foods such as carrot, pumpkin and mango. Lycopene is found in cooked tomato, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Anthocyanins are found in red and purple foods such as grapes, prunes, red wine and berries. Flavonoids are found in yellow/orange foods such as cantaloupe, oranges and papaya. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are found in yellow/green foods such as callaloo, spinach, avocado and honeydew. Indoles and sulforaphanes are found in green foods such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
Eat foods made from soybeans such as tofu and soymilk. It is recommended that soy be offered to children at an early age because the phytoestrogen (oestrogen found in plant foods) is of additional benefit to reduce cancer risk. The use of soy is controversial for persons diagnosed with cancer, so soy should be consumed in moderation after diagnosis.
Increase physical activity or exercise to lower the amount of fat on body. According to Michelset al(2006), gaining weight before puberty causes more fat cells to be available and with more fat cells in the body, there will be more oestrogen being made. Oestrogen is made by fat cells.
It is extremely unlikely that any one food or substance is responsible for the prevention or development of breast cancer. Therefore, the general recommendation is to eat a variety of foods from all food groups in moderation, limiting fat and processed foods and exercise 3-4 days per week for at least 30 minutes.
Let's eat and drink for healthy breasts!!
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org