The Role of Nutrition in Breast Cancer


Jaime Rose Chambers

When it comes to cancer, there are many potential variables that may put us at risk. Genetics and age we can’t control, but there are certain diet and lifestyle factors we can. More women these days are surviving breast cancer and research is showing that there are some specific things we can do that may either prevent breast cancer developing, and it’s recurrence and survival after a diagnosis.  


  • Eat more plants 

Plant foods include wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses. These foods are dense sources of fibre, which is beneficial as they help to eliminate excess estrogen from the body. Specific vegetables are the cruciferous family which include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage as well as leafy greens. For fruits, it’s whole apples and pears, but overall, a variety of plants every day is important. 

  • Soy products 

This has been a controversial food in relation to breast cancer however the most recent research is showing that whole and fermented soy products may reduce the risk of recurrence and death of breast cancer. The best sources are edamame, tofu, tempeh and soy milk.  

  • Low GI and GL carbohydrates 

Glycaemic index (GI) refers to the rate that carbohydrates are delivered to our blood and glycaemic load (GL) is the amount eaten at a time. The more refined the carbohydrate source, generally the higher GI – for example a refined slice of white bread is higher GI than a slice of wholegrain bread. A high GI and GL diet impacts our blood glucose and insulin levels and has been associated with higher rates of death after a breast cancer diagnosis. 

  • Low fat dairy  

Choose low fat, skim and no fat milk, yoghurt and cheese products, or try swapping out your full cream milk for calcium-fortified soy milk, making sure to continue to meet calcium needs for healthy bones. This is not only good for our heart and waistline, but the fat found in full cream dairy products was related to poor breast cancer survival long term. 


  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight 

This is a tricky topic as weight management is extremely complex. However the research is clear that maintaining a healthy body weight can help prevent the development of breast cancer. It has also shown to help survival rates for those diagnosed with the disease. 

  • Physical activity 

The research on exercise and breast cancer mostly looked at aerobics, walking and running. It’s still relatively limited but  some evidence showed that exercise can reduce the risk of recurrence, and death from breast cancer. 

  • Alcohol 

Higher intake of alcohol has been associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. The most recent World Health Organisation report states that there is no safe amount of alcohol that does not affect health and that we shouldn’t exceed more than ten units of alcohol per week, and no more than four per day. 

It’s important to note that diet and lifestyle factors may differ in the way it affects individuals and the different types of breast cancers. For specific information, it’s best to discuss this with your specialist, doctor or an oncology dietitian. 

Jaime Rose Chambers

Please note: Jaime's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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