Nutrition & National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN

Nutrition and its Influence on Breast Health

One in eight women or 12 % in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.  The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that breast cancer rates in the US could be reduced by one third if women maintained a healthy weight, engaged in physical activity and avoided alcohol. 

Obesity and Cancer Risks

The reason obesity places an individual at increased risk is due to the rise in insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels increase the inflammatory biomarker cytokines, which result in increased cancer growth.  The more adipose tissue there is the more overproduction of pro-inflammatory molecules takes place, which in turn increases inflammation. Leptin is one such hormone that is produced by the adipose tissues raising estrogen signaling, and thereby promoting the formation of breast cancer cells.

Location of body fat has indicated that weight gain in the trunk area makes an individual at more risk for developing breast cancer.  As little as an 11-pound increase in total body fat mass can increase a women’s chance of developing breast cancer by 35 %.  If the 11 pounds of body fat settles in the trunk area the chances of developing Breast cancer are 56 %.

Those individuals with obesity have been found to have low levels of Vitamin D, which may be responsible for a 20 % increase in cancer risks linked to an increased BMI.  Vitamin D inhibits cancer tumor growth by, limiting the development of new blood cells, enhancing communication between an individual’s healthy cells and aiding in inhibiting the spreading of cancer cells.

Individuals with a BMI of over 25 are advised to lose weight.  The ideal BMI for cancer reduction is to maintain a BMI between 21 to 23. Weight reduction is one of the key factors in lowering the risk of developing breast cancer; following the Mediterranean Diet is recommended for promoting a healthy weight loss. 

Exercise is extremely important for achieving a healthy weight loss. Physical activity improves the utilization of insulin and increases the body’s immune function.  Adults need to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, to aid with weight loss and improve the body’s immune function.

Phytochemical Foods Role in Cancer Prevention

Phytochemicals help detoxify carcinogens from the body, repair mutated DNA, regulate tumor suppression, and decrease inflammation.  The following foods should be incorporated into your daily menu to promote cancer prevention.

Green Tea contains flavanols that have been found to suppress the growth and development of cancer cells by reducing inflammatory molecules.  Green tea improves the immune system and is found to increase the beneficial Bifidobacterium (microbiome) in the gut.  The only contraindication with using green tea is for those individuals taking blood thinners as green tea interacts with these medications.

Berries are one of the superfoods rich in flavonoids that have been identified in slowing down the progression of cancer cells.  Incorporate fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

Turmeric/Curcumin reduces the risk of breast cancer as it acts as an anti-inflammatory, by reducing the binding power of the cancer cells.  This spice also induces apoptosis.  Apoptosis removes pre-cancerous and virus-infected cells.  The main function of apoptosis is to maintain balance within the cell and keep the body’s immune system healthy. Before starting on Turmeric/Curcumin check with your physician whether you should take this spice because it increases blood-thinning properties. 

Carotenoids are commonly found in orange vegetables, red vegetables, and fruits.  These fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk of cancer because they are antioxidants.  Reducing oxidative stress in the cell is imperative to decreasing cancer risk.  Common sources of carotenoids are carrots, sweet potatoes, and yellow peppers, incorporate these daily.

Cruciferous vegetables contain many powerful cancer-fighting phytochemicals. A compound identified as PEITC has been shown to induce apoptosis in cancer cells. These vegetables also contain sulforaphane which induces detoxification enzymes and enhances tumor suppression proteins. Include Broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage, three to four times per week to increase the consumption of Cruciferous.

Cocoa powder contains high amounts of flavonoids and pro-anthocyanidin, these provide high antioxidant properties in the body, which suppress inflammation.  The darker the cocoa the more flavonoids present. Consider consuming items that contain 70 % cocoa powder.


The presence of healthy microbiomes has a protective effect against cancer development.  Microbiomes regulate the immune system as well as tumor progression.  Foods rich in a variety of Microbiomes are Greek yogurt, Kefir, and fermented foods.  A serving of one of these foods should be consumed daily.  It is important to have a diet high in fiber as this is the fuel for the microbiomes.  Adults should incorporate 25 to 31 grams of fiber daily.

There is increasing evidence that certain foods can increase the risk of developing cancer.  It is recommended to limit or avoided the following foods from your diet; red meats, processed meats, charred meats, and alcohol.  The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming no more than 18 oz of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) a week.

Evidence shows that following a proper diet can provide positive outcomes with the prevention of breast cancer.  Working to incorporate foods that are high in autoinflammatory properties gives the body a fighting chance to overcome this devastating disease.  Focus on eating a plant-based diet using the guidelines from the Mediterranean diet and incorporating foods such as berries, turmeric, cruciferous, carotenoids, green teas, and cocoa gives one a fighting chance for their path to wellness.


Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors on June 10 2007. Boasting over 100,000 sq. ft., a 5-pool aquatics complex, and over 200+ weekly group and aqua fitness classes, it is Delaware's premier fitness destination. 100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, DE ·

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