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Nutrition Guidelines for Breast Cancer Survivors

  1. Eat at least 7 servings of fruits and vegetables (preferably fresh) per day.

Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals and antioxidants. It is important to introduce a wide variety of colors in to the body. Each color contains different phytochemicals that serve different purposes but they all have cancer fighting properties. Examples of antioxidants are vitamins A. C, and E. These fight against substances in the body called free radicals which may lead to cancer cell production. A serving of vegetables is a whole cup if raw or a ½ cup when cooked. A serving of fruit is about the size of a baseball if whole, ½ cup if canned or frozen.

  1. Keep meat to a minimum.

Move toward a more plant-based diet including non-meat sources of protein such as beans. Limit red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week. For reference, 3 ounces of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. Eat lean meats such as organic chicken and fresh fish (not farm raised). Limit processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and lunch meats. Select natural and uncured, nitrate and nitrite free versions of processed meats.

  1. Eat beans.

Beans are a healthy, inexpensive alternative to meat. Beans are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. They may reduce risk for breast cancer recurrence due to their fiber content. The fiber binds to circulating hormones and the excess hormones are ultimately excreted in the stool. Choose kidney, pinto, navy, cannellini, chick peas, etc. Introduce beans slowly into your diet to give the gastrointestinal tract time to adapt to the increased fiber.

  1. Eat 3-6 servings of whole grains every day.

Select whole grains like oats, wheat, brown rice, and whole grain pasta. Whole grains are digested slowly due to their high fiber content, providing sustained energy. Choose grain products that have whole wheat or a whole grain flour listed as one of the first 3 ingredients. Avoid highly processed and refined grains (white enriched flour, baked goods, snack foods, sweets). A serving of whole grain is one slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta, and ½ cup of whole grain cold cereals and oatmeal.

  1. Eat 1-2 servings of low-fat dairy products every day.

Low-fat dairy products include those made with reduced fat milk such as 1% or skim milk, low fat yogurt, 2% cheese or low fat kefir. Choose yogurt that is lower in sugar, not sweetened with artificial sweeteners, and that has active yogurt cultures listed on the label. Greek yogurt is naturally higher in protein and often contains less sugar than some other regular yogurts.

  1. Limit excess sugar.

Sugar provides the body with excess calories without any nutrients. It also causes the body to produce more insulin. Higher levels of insulin circulating in the blood may increase risk for breast cancer recurrence. Excess sugar can also be problematic when attempting to achieve a healthy body weight. Try to choose a healthy sweet food such as fruit to satisfy cravings for sweets.

  1. Avoid artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners are chemically based sweeteners including sucralose, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and saccharin. Due the lack of research on these chemicals and their relationship to cancer, it is better to avoid them completely. A good alternative is a natural, plant-based sweetener called Stevia.

  1. Drink water and green tea.

The human body is about 60% water. Every organ and organ system needs water to function optimally. Water is needed to transport nutrients to cells and to get rid of toxins from the organs. Water also helps to keep the environment of ears, nose, and throat moist. An easy starting point is to strive to drink eight 8 ounce glasses of fluid per day. Green tea and white tea are other good choices for beverages. Drink unsweetened green tea and limit calories from other beverages. Save calories for good whole foods especially when striving to reach a healthy body weight.

  1. Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish including salmon, albacore tuna, halibut, mackerel, lake trout, sardines, and herring. They are also found in walnuts, flaxseed, tofu, and soybeans. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory qualities. Reducing inflammation in the body reduces risk for cancer recurrence as well as improves cardiovascular health. A fish oil supplement is recommended if food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are not regularly consumed. Consult a registered dietitian for the recommendation of a fish oil supplement.

  1. Have your vitamin D level checked.

It is possible to be vitamin D deficient and not know. A simple blood test can determine the level of vitamin in your bloodstream. Although the research is inconclusive about the relationship between breast cancer and vitamin D level, it is still a good idea to make sure that your body has adequate vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to reduce inflammation, aids in the absorption of calcium, improves muscle strength, and the immune system.

  1. Reduce or eliminate alcohol.

Alcohol intake is a known risk factor for several types of cancer including breast cancer. If alcohol is consumed at all, it is best to limit it to no more than one drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men.

  1. Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Carrying extra weight is a risk factor for breast cancer recurrence. Excess body fat plays a role in hormone production which can lead to tumor growth. Lose weight by eating modest portions of healthy food combined with regular exercise. Begin keeping a food and exercise journal. Consult a registered dietitian for a specific calorie range.

A good reference can be found at It is called “The New American Plate” and is designed specifically for eating for cancer prevention.

  1. Move toward an active lifestyle.

Exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle. For breast cancer survivors it is the key to losing and maintaining weight. During treatment it is not uncommon to become more sedentary and as a result lose lean body mass (muscle). Hormonal changes also contribute to increased body fat and decreased muscle. Begin slowly and incorporate a combination of strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility/stretching. Sometimes there are support groups for survivors that make a point to exercise as a group. Having a friend, instructor, or trainer as an extra motivator is often helpful.

  1. Learn to relax.

Stress increases inflammation in the body. Learning to manage stress effectively can greatly reduce this inflammation. For some people, exercise may be relaxing and for others a good deep tissue massage is relaxing. The key is finding what is relaxing to you. If you are finding it difficult to relax you may try progressive muscle relaxation, prayer, meditation, or imagery. Some support groups may focus on these as a group.

For more information on dealing with weight gain, read Nutrition Management of Weight Gain.