As an African American woman, this month — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — has recently hit home. A family member very close to me was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I was shocked about this, because breast cancer has never been detected in my family. Sure, my family has heart disease, diabetes and thyroid problems, but breast cancer? No way!
I know the statistics — breast cancer is more common in African American women, and we are most likely to die from the disease due to late stage detection and poorer stage specific survival. I always did my yearly mammogram, and had a great report in my recent one, but I was still in denial that this would happen in my family.
Once I overcame the shocking news, I started to analyze myself: What I am doing to prevent breast cancer? As a registered dietitian and semi-vegetarian, I felt that I had everything covered both by what I ate and the daily jogging with my dogs for exercise. But once I really sat down and did a food and lifestyle journal, I realized that I had a lot more changes to make.
The American Institute for Cancer Research 2007 Guidelines for Nutrition and Cancer Prevention show that eating a healthful diet, along with regular physical activity, can promote health and reduce the risk of developing cancer. Here are their guidelines and suggestions for cancer prevention:
- Be as lean as possible and aim to be at the lower end of the healthy BMI range. I know this is hard because in our culture it is OK to have a little bit of thickness or something to cuddle, but this extra fat is not going to help us in the long run. Try to achieve and maintain a healthy weight for your size.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. This consists of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk, that gets your heart beating a bit faster and makes you breathe more deeply. Or you can go further with vigorous activity, which means raising our heart rates so that we warm up, start to sweat and feel out of breath. Be careful not to overdo it — check your heart rate.
- Also include at least 15-30 minutes of relaxing, de-stressing exercises such as mediation, yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi.
- Avoid sugary drinks such as sodas, Kool-Aid and other high fructose corn syrup products.
- Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, low in fiber or high in fat).
- Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans. Choose a diet with many types of plant-based foods. Try to substitute dried beans and peas for meat at some meals each week. Also try to eat at least five colorful servings a day of fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits and dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables, as these contain natural health-promoting substances called phytochemicals .
- Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats. Limit high-fat foods, particularly those from animal sources. Avoid beef, pork and lamb.
- Choose lower-fat milk and dairy products. Also reduce the amount of fat in your meals by choosing a lower-fat cooking method, such as baking and broiling.
- If you consume alcoholic beverages at all, please limit them — two servings for men and one serving for women per day.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with sodium. Try to choose salt-cured, smoked and pickled foods less often.
- Eat more high fiber foods such as whole grain breads and cereals each day.
- And finally, ask a registered dietitian to help you personalize a nutritious, balanced eating plan.
Please do not wait until breast cancer reaches someone you love. Start a positive lifestyle change today and get an early detection mammogram today. Your health, body, mind and spirit will be glad that you did.