Foods to Avoid
This section covers foods and substances that should be avoided as they increase the risk for breast cancer or directly promote breast cancer cell growth.
Alcohol includes beer, wine, and hard liquor. Drinking alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer, especially for those with estrogen-positive tumors, those who are postmenopausal, have a family history of breast cancer, and those who smoke. Just one alcoholic beverage per day can increase the risk for breast cancer. And heavy drinking increases the risk dramatically as women who have two to five drinks a day are at least 50 percent likelier to develop the disease.
Coffee contains antioxidants and anticancer nutrients, however too much could be a risk as a large study of women that was conducted over twenty-two years found that drinking four cups of caffeinated coffee daily slightly increased the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Non-organic coffee beans may contain agricultural chemicals. If you do drink coffee, make sure that it’s organic.
Most varieties of corn today are genetically modified. They are high in unhealthy omega-six fatty acids and sugars and low in nutrients. For these reasons corn should not be a staple vegetable but can be eaten occasionally.
Dairy foods include cheese, yogurt, ice cream, milk, and butter. Dairy foods should be minimized as they often contain hormones from the animals themselves and possibly additional hormones administered in their food and injected into the animals. Eating dairy foods increases serum levels of IGF-1. A study of over 90,000 postmenopausal women found that higher concentrations of IGF-1 were associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. This is due to natural hormones from the mother cow’s milk and also from recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), which is commonly used in dairy production. To avoid rBST, look for organic certification, which is only given to products that do not contain rBST.
Also, organic milk from pasture-fed cows has been found to contain 25 percent less omega-six fatty acids and 62 percent more omega-three fatty acids. There is evidence that diets high in omega-six and low in omega-three increase the risk of inflammation, which may increase the risk of cancer.
If you do choose to drink or eat dairy products, be sure that they are organic, which significantly lowers the risk for those with hormone-sensitive cancer types.
Although vegetable oils are lower in saturated fats than animal fats such as butter and lard, they provide few nutrients and are so calorie-dense that they contribute to obesity which is a risk factor itself (Lauby-Secretan, 2019). Avoid processed oils such as soy oil, corn oil, and coconut oil, and opt instead for nutrient-dense, unprocessed oils including avocado-, sesame-, and walnut oils.
Those who eat red meat (beef, lamb, and pork) have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Red meat is particularly damaging for adolescent girls, increasing their risk for premenopausal breast cancer development.
Switching from animal protein to vegan protein can dramatically reduce the risk for breast cancer and support healing. For example, one study found that replacing just one serving per day of red meat with one serving of legumes, and nuts were associated with a 16 percent lower risk of breast cancer overall and a 24 percent lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer.
Meat is high in protein which may promote angiogenesis giving support to the development of metastasis, therefore eating meat may be associated with lymphatic and vascular metastasis in breast cancer patients (Shokri, 2019).
The risk is not just from the foods themselves, but also from their preparation. For example, fried meat contains carcinogens (compounds that increase the risk for cancer development). The high heat used to fry, or char meat creates heterocyclic amine compounds. These compounds are mutagenic, meaning that they activate cellular mutations and may lead to the formation and sequestering of cancer cells. Studies have linked consumption of fried meats to increased cancer incidence.
The greatest increase in risk is associated with the consumption of processed meats, according to a study involving over 35,000 women. Processed meats include bacon, sausage, roast beef, pepperoni, bologna, and many deli types of meat.
To reduce the risk of developing breast cancer and certainly if you have breast cancer, avoiding meat is warranted. However, if you do choose to eat red meat, choose grass-fed, organic, unprocessed options.
Diets that limit foods made from white flour and simple sugars, as well as other processed carbohydrates, are linked to a lower likelihood of breast cancer.
Hyperglycemia or high blood sugar occurs when there is too much circulating sugar in the bloodstream. Scientists believe that high blood glucose levels may be detrimental to the immune system and may hinder the immune-enhancing effects of the antioxidant vitamin C. There is also evidence that a diet that includes too much sugar circulating sugar in the bloodstream. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as refined flours and simple sugars and emphasize complex carbohydrate foods, which are high in fiber such as vegetables, whole grains, and legumes in your diet.
Because arsenic is naturally found in soil, water, and air, it’s also found in trace amounts in many fruits and vegetables. Rice is uniquely vulnerable to contamination with arsenic because it’s grown in flooded fields. The rice plants soak the arsenic up through their roots and store it in the grains. To avoid ingesting too much arsenic, eat other grains. Wheat and oats have lower levels of arsenic than rice. Quinoa, millet, and amaranth are low arsenic, and gluten-free grain options.
If you do choose rice, eat it only on occasion. White basmati rice is the best option. Instant rice is also fairly low in arsenic. Arsenic levels are highest in brown rice.
Foods that have been hydrogenated or contain chemicals such as food coloring, preservatives, and synthetic flavoring agents should be avoided as many (e.g.: nitrites and sorbates) have been directly linked to breast cancer development (Javanmardi, 2019). Opt for whole, unprocessed foods that are organic whenever possible.
Processed, and high-glycemic foods that are laden with sugar and should be avoided are candies, cakes, sweets, carbonated sodas, biscuits, puffs, ice cream, white bread, white rice, sugar, honey, marmalades, and alcohol.
Red Meat—See Meat
Saturated Fat—See Fats
Fats come in many forms. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the types that are liquid at room temperature in the form of oil. Saturated fats are those found in animal foods such as lard and butter. And trans fats are the unhealthiest and are primarily fats that have hydrogen atoms added to make them solid at room temperature like margarine. They are identified on food labels as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” A diet containing high amounts of trans fats is linked to higher rates of breast cancer.
Look for monounsaturated fats for cooking such as olive-, avocado-, and safflower oil. Research suggests that choosing monounsaturated fats may help reduce breast cancer risk in those who are postmenopausal. Avoid safflower, corn, and soy oil; all of these are high in omega-six fatty acids.
Also avoid processed or refined oils, which are often oxidized by the light and the heat of the processing machines. Processed oils may also contain chemical solvents from compounds used to extract the oils from plants and seeds. Avoid heating oils to high temperatures as heat can cause them to form polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogenic and very hard to break down in the digestive tract. Never buy oils stored in plastic; microplastics and smaller molecules of plastic called nanoplastics leach into the oils, which are then ingested.
Sugar—See Refined Carbohydrates
Artificial or synthetic sweeteners increase glucose intolerance, cause dysbiosis, are toxic, and some are carcinogenic. Common chemical sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium, and saccharin which go by brand names such as NutraSweet, Sweet-n-Low, and Splenda.
Synthetic sweeteners can trigger the liver and muscles to release stored sugar in the form of glycogen, which causes a spike in blood sugar levels. This spike may trigger the release of insulin growth factor, which can increase breast cancer growth.
These synthetic compounds have also been found to inhibit the growth of beneficial microbes in the intestines.
Foods to Avoid Checklist
O Use the Foods to avoid list to guide you in removing unhealthy foods from your kitchen.