Research beginning in the 1960s has shown that healthy diets not only help prevent breast cancer, but that they may also improve survival for women who have been diagnosed with the disease.
One of the best-established factors affecting breast cancer survival is body weight, which is more easily achieved and maintained with a healthy diet. A 2002 review of over two dozen breast cancer studies showed that women who weighed more had poorer outcomes after diagnosis. Higher body mass index values are also associated with poorer outcomes. The link between lower body weight or BMI and better survival may be due to lower body fat; leaner women have less estrogen circulating in their blood. An excess of estrogen can promote the growth of cancer cells.
Studies that have followed women for several years after diagnosis have generally found that women with less fat in their diets live longer than other women. Saturated fat, found in meat, dairy, eggs, and chocolate, is a primary culprit in an increased risk for cancer. Why do low-fat diets boost breast cancer survival? Experts say it is because lower fat diets tend to also be lower in calories, which promote a healthy body weight. Foods that are naturally low in fat are fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The average American gets less than half of the recommended dietary intake of fiber per day (experts recommend at least 25 grams and even up to 40 grams daily). Studies show women who consume a low-fiber diet tend to have larger breast cancer tumors as compared to women with higher fiber intakes. Fiber is essential to the body's ability to eliminate excess estrogens that make their way into the intestinal tract. High fiber foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Research suggests that women who consume the most fruits and vegetables, particularly ones rich in beta-carotene or vitamin C, have the best chance for survival. Beta-carotene is found abundantly in orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C can be found in oranges, broccoli and other green vegetables. Aim to get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Eating a diet high in fiber or a mostly plant-based diet will help improve your risk of survival. However, Dr Barnard and Reilly suggest striving for a diet that puts all cancer-fighting components together. Comprise your diet of plant-based foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and calories.
In addition to following a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity can also improve your chances of surviving breast cancer. Research shows walking a mere three to five hours per week at a modest pace is sufficient to extend your life.
To learn more about how your diet can bolster your fight against cancer, visit CancerProject.org.
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