It's a fact: One in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. While researchers search for a cure, experts agree with Larry Norton, deputy physician in chief for breast-cancer programs and the medical director of the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, that "it's very clear that eating a healthy diet and maintaining a normal body weight has a huge impact on breast-cancer incidence." Here are some guidelines.
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Maintain a healthy weight. Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society, says keeping your body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 and exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes five days a week) can reduce your risk by 10 to 25 percent. With the ACS linking one third of the more than 550,000 cancer deaths a year in part to excess weight, poor diet, and physical inactivity, it's a critical factor.
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Fill up on fruits and veggies. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage may defend against cancer. Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, et cetera) contain carotenoids, which act as antioxidants. Fill two thirds of your plate with veggies, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
Cut back on red meat. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming no more than 18 ounces a week. In fact, a recent study involving more than 35,000 British women found that women who ate the most red meat (two or more ounces daily) were up to 56 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not eat red meat. The AICR suggests you avoid eating any processed meat at all.
Limit alcohol. According to Doyle, even one drink a day elevates risk. "Women should look at the big picture. What is your family history? What are your risk factors for heart disease and for breast cancer? Then make an informed decision."
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Check your vitamin-D level. Your vitamin-D level should be in the upper half of the normal range. A simple blood test can determine this.
Use soy sense. Studies have shown that Western women are up to five times as likely to develop breast cancer as Asian women. "If you eat soy the way they eat it in Asia, a couple of tablespoons a day, it's not going to hurt you, though there's no great evidence it will help you," says Norton. "If you eat soy the way Americans do, as purified soy protein or very large amounts of tofu, it could be dangerous."
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FOODS THAT FIGHT CANCER
Beans: Rich in fiber, beans and other legumes like lentils and peas appear to protect cells from damage.
Berries: Strawberries and raspberries contain ellagic acid, which may deactivate carcinogens.
Grapes: Red and purple varieties are rich in resveratrol, which may help inhibit tumor growth.
Green tea: Studies have associated the antioxidant-rich beverage with lower risk.
Whole grains: Loaded with fiber, wheat breads, brown rice, and oatmeal contain phytochemicals, which may lessen risk. For more information, go to cancer.org, mskcc.org, and aicr.org.
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