Studies have shown that women who live in countries where a low-fat diet is eaten have fewer breast health complaints. “Leading health authorities say to follow a diet consisting of less than 30% fat,” says Ellen Yankauskas, MD, director of the Women’s Center for Family Health in Atascadero, CA.
Blake Cady, MD, director of the Breast Health Center at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, RI, agrees. “This is not only good for general breast health, but it’s also recommended for overall health. Americans eat too many fatty foods and calories. Instead of a plant-based diet, we have a cholesterol-based diet, which stimulates the endocrine system to produce more hormones. Each generation of American women is getting heavier and taller, and they’re menstruating earlier and having menopause later than their ancestors. The body converts animal-based foods into hormonelike compounds.”
Breast-friendly, low-fat diets, say these two experts, contain less meat, salt, and caffeine and more soy, among other foods. “Most beef today contains growth hormones, either from injections or from the feed they eat,” notes Yankauskas. “Although we’re not completely certain yet of the possible connection between growth-stimulating hormones and breast problems, why add more hormones to your diet, since most breast lumps are hormone-related? In cultures that consume a large amount of soy in the diet, women have fewer breast problems.” Soybeans, and foods made from soy, contain isoflavones, naturally occurring substances that are converted to hormonelike substances that may be beneficial in decreasing the overall estrogen level in the body, thereby aiding breast health and cutting discomfort. “Aim for at least two servings of soy a day,” says Yankauskas.
“Salt, and foods that are high in sodium, cause the body to retain fluid, which adds to breast discomfort,” says Yankauskas. Switch your table salt to low-sodium products, and cut back on canned and processed foods. Fast-food restaurants also dish up many high-sodium meals.
According to Yankauskas, many women feel the difference in breast comfort very quickly when they cut back on coffee. “Some women are very sensitive to caffeine and have to eliminate it completely from their diets. But when they do, their breast discomfort improves.”
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and some over-the-counter pain medications.
“Switching from coffee to herbal tea can help many women with breast problems because some herbal teas act as a diuretic, removing extra fluid from breast tissues,” says Yankauskas. “The extra fluid causes swelling and discomfort.”
Yankauskas also recommends drinking purified water. “I believe there are many pesticides in the environment and water systems today, which the body turns into hormonal substances.” Recent animal studies have shown that pesticides can be converted into hormonal substances. This association justifies further investigation into the link between pesticides and breast and prostate cancers, she adds.
You can purchase a faucet water purifier at home improvement centers or specialty water stores. Bring a bottle of purified water to work with you, so you can have it anytime. It’s also a good idea to bring along your own purified water when you travel. “This is something that I do,” says Yankauskas.
Add these foods to your low-fat diets:
Nuts and seeds (for vitamin E)
Soy milk (on breakfast cereal)
Soy shake (soy milk blended with plain fat-free yogurt, wheat germ, and fruit, such as strawberries)
Herbal tea (dandelion, nettle, parsley, uva-ursi, corn silk, or buchu tea)
Eat less, or eliminate, these foods:
Meat (unless hormone-free)
Canned or processed foods (unless low-sodium)
Coffee and soda (unless decaffeinated)