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Eating Well For Your Breast Health

Food can be a source of pleasure as well as a way of expressing your creativity and celebrating your culture. It can connect us to memories of celebrations, time shared with people we love and places we’ve visited or lived in. Food is also vital to our survival and is a key factor in good health.

Taking a balanced approach to what you put into your body can help to ensure that you get enough of the right nutrients to help you stay healthy, and to help you to reach or maintain a healthier body weight. This is a key factor in lowering your risk of breast cancer. Aim for variety in the food you eat, with smaller portions and meals that are high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fat and sugar. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation offers you information and practical tips about how to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

A Healthier Diet May Protect You From Some Cancers

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that up to a third of cancers, including breast cancer, could be prevented in adults if we increased our daily vegetable and fruit intake, were more physically active and maintained a healthier body weight.

Evidence suggests that some nutrients may have a role to play in decreasing cancer risk. The body seems to use the nutrients found in vegetables and fruits to protect against tissue damage, or oxidation, that occurs during normal metabolism. Because tissue damage is associated with increased cancer risk, some research suggests that these so-called antioxidant nutrients may protect the body against some cancers. Research in this area in ongoing, and there is still much more to learn to gain a clearer understanding of the role that diet plays in cancer development.

We do know that eating a balanced diet can help you to achieve a healthier body weight, and evidence shows that a healthier body weight helps reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Can certain foods reduce your breast cancer risk?

The relationship of certain food groups to breast cancer risk is difficult to measure. You may have read or heard about studies on various food and food groups, including the following:

  • Fat, including saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids

  • Dairy products

  • Meat and fish

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches

  • Whole grains and fibre-rich foods

While there are many studies on all the food groups listed above in relation to breast cancer risk, the findings have not been conclusive. Part of the reason for this uncertainty is that it is difficult to research the health effects of individual foods. Most people eat a variety of foods every day, so it is hard to connect findings to any one particular food.

One food that receives much attention related to breast cancer risk is soy. Studies in humans have not linked eating soy foods (e.g. tofu, tempeh, miso, etc.) to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, evidence suggests it may even lower the risk for developing breast cancer. Soy foods can be eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet, both for the general population and people who have had a breast cancer diagnosis. Soy supplements contain much higher isoflavoneIsoflavone:
A type of plant estrogen found primarily in soybeans. Some isoflavones can act like estrogen in the body, but with much less potency.
concentrations than found in food. Until research gives us more information, it is recommended that soy supplements be avoided.

More research is needed to improve our understanding of nutrition, cancer risk, and risk reduction. However, what research tells us now is that our food choices play a role in our risk of cancer as well as offering us a way to reduce that risk. We can reduce our risk of cancer now by eating a more balanced diet and working to gain—or maintain—a healthier body weight. 

Making Healthier Choices

Like most people, you probably lead a busy life with lots of demands on your time. You may also feel that making healthier food choices is too much like hard work in a busy day. We need to eat to live and having a healthier diet is all about balance, so that your body benefits from a variety of foods. 

Making healthier choices can be made easier with the following practical tips to guide you:

  1. Choose foods mostly from plant sources.

  2. Include vegetables and fruits at every meal and for snacks. Try to eat at least seven servings of vegetables and fruits each day.

  3. Choose whole grain rice, bread, pasta and cereals.

  4. Aim for 25 grams of fibre per day. Foods that are high in fibre include fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), oats, whole grains and cereals. By eating at least seven servings of vegetables and fruit each day, you’ll help to increase your fibre intake

  5. Select leaner cuts of meat, eat smaller portions and limit your consumption of processed and red meats. Choose poultry (e.g. chicken) and fish as healthy alternatives to red meat.

  6. Reduce your consumption of free sugars. Free sugars are those sugars added to foods and many beverages, such as refined or brown sugar, raw sugar, syrups, honey, glucose, fructose and other sweeteners. Sugar sweetened beverages can contain up to 10 tsps of free sugars. Choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices, and limit yourself to 1-2 servings per day or dilute the juice with water.

  7. Limit fried foods, processed foods and salty foods.

  8. Reduce your portions with healthier serving sizes.

  9. Eat smaller portions of calorie-dense foods (high in fat, added sugars and low fibre)

  10. Learn about what food labels really mean.

 

What counts as a serving?

  Fruits

· 1 medium apple, banana, orange

· ½ cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit

· ½ cup of 100% fruit juice

Beans and nuts

· ½ cup cooked beans

· 2 tablespoons peanut butter

· 1/3 cup nuts

Vegetables

· 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables

· ½ cup of other cooked or raw vegetables, chopped

· ½ cup of 100% vegetable juice

Dairy foods and eggs

· 1 cup milk or yogurt

· 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese

·  2 ounces processed cheese

· 1 egg

Grains

· 1 slice bread

· 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal

· ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, pasta

Lean Meat, Poultry & Fish

⋅ ½ cup cooked fish

⋅ ½ cup of cooked chicken

⋅ ½ cup of lean meat (beef, pork)

 

What about vitamin supplements?

The best way to meet your nutritional needs is through the food you eat and drink.

This is not always enough though and vitamin supplements can be a good way to boost your well-being or immunity. For example, according to Health Canada, most Canadians should take vitamin D, due to our lower levels of exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is known for its role in promoting strong bones and teeth.

Giving Your Vitamin D A Boost

Currently Health Canada recommends the following Vitamin D supplements, in addition to the vitamin D you take into your body through exposure to sunlight and the foods you eat:

  • 600 IU per day for all adults (up to age 70).

  • 600 IU per day for women who are pregnant or lactating.

  • 800 IU per day for adults over 70 years. 

Vitamin D And Breast Cancer Risk Reduction

The effect of vitamin D on cancer risk and outcomes is inconclusive. Some observational researchObservational study:
In cancer research, there are two main types of research study:
experimental and observational. In an observational study, the researchers observe groups of people engaged in their normal activities, without an intervention controlled by researchers.
suggests that vitamin D may play a role in reducing some cancers, including breast cancer. It may also improve outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis. A large randomized controlled trialRandomized Controlled Trial (RCT):
A type of clinical trial which randomly assigns participants to either the treatment group or control group to reduce bias.
(RCT), the gold standard of scientific research, is needed to conclusively determine if there is a link between vitamin D and breast cancer risk and outcomes.

We encourage you to speak with your health care provider about your health, well-being and the value of taking vitamin D.

 

Sources:

World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Expert Recommendations. Accessed June 17, 2014

World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. In Washington DC: AICR, 2007. Accessed June 17, 2014

Hearth & Stroke Foundation. Sugar, Heart Disease & Stroke: Position Statement. Accessed December 3, 2014