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According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most frequently-diagnosed cancer in the world. But, because of research and the information we’re gaining, outcomes are improving.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RDN – a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in offering nutrition support and guidance for breast and ovarian cancer thrivers through her private practice in Los Angeles. Read on to learn more about the role nutrition and lifestyle can play in breast cancer prevention, prognosis, and treatment.
There is no single food that will prevent or cure breast cancer. There are, however, dietary patterns that not only minimize the incidence of breast cancer, but may also enhance our prognosis if we are diagnosed. In fact, even if you are at higher risk due to pathogenic variations (or genetic mutations), these patterns have a positive impact on your risk. Any diet that contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, mushrooms, seeds, and nuts, with lower amounts of animal foods, is one of these patterns.
If you’re willing to make simple modifications to your diet, we know that eating a healthy diet and moving your body before or after diagnosis can cut the incidence of breast cancer by 37% and help women live longer lives by a staggering 58%!1
Myths about breast cancer and nutrition abound, unfortunately. We need to turn to trusted professionals, such as oncology dietitians, to sort through the confusion and reduce the fears around food. The most common ones I encounter are myths about soy. Right now, the recommendation is to include more soy foods to not only reduce the likelihood of getting diagnosed, but also to increase protective benefits after a diagnosis. Unfortunately, early research was faulty, and advice was provided to avoid all soy-based foods. In reality, soy is a fantastic plant protein that’s high in minerals and fiber.
Other myths are too nuanced to explain on social media, so they appear as “never eat” or “dangerous.” For example, the sugar-causes-cancer myth leads to people not eating fruit because they think it’s loaded with sugar. The truth is, although we need to reduce added sugars for better health, fruit provides a wonderful package of antioxidants and cancer-kicking compounds.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, nutritional support is essential during active treatment to alleviate side effects and ensure recovery. When you’re in recovery, your dietary demands shift to facilitate rebuilding. Pre- and probiotic foods like garlic, apples, beans, oats, and ground flaxseeds will help to support your immunity. Reduce your consumption of red meat, processed meats, alcohol, and refined, packaged meals as much as possible.
Above all, food should be delicious! Find a few healthful and delicious dishes that you’ll make on a regular basis. Here is an example from my new book:
8 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and cut into 4 pieces 1-inch knob
1/2 onion, sweet, chop
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoon thyme, fresh (or 1/2 the amount dried)
6 cups vegetable stock, low-sodium
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons pepitas, raw
1. Cannioto RA, Attwood KM, Davis EW, et al. Adherence to Cancer Prevention Lifestyle Recommendations Before, During, and 2 Years After Treatment for High-risk Breast Cancer. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(5):e2311673. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.11673
Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in nutrition for breast and ovarian cancer thrivers in her private practice in Los Angeles. She cuts through the confusing nutrition information to help you get your power back.
She has a Certificate of Training in Vegetarian Nutrition, and studied intuitive eating with Elyse Resch, the co-founder of intuitive eating. She was privileged to co-facilitate the study, “Coping with Cancer in the Kitchen,” at Cancer Support Community, which was published in Nutrients – an international, open access, peer-reviewed journal of human nutrition.
Tamar is the author of a new book, Cancer Diet for the Newly Diagnosed: An Integrative Guide and Cookbook for Treatment and Recovery, Rockridge Press, 2022.