Earlier in February, I attended a fantastic session about Breast Cancer and nutrition presented by Erin Brenner with Alberta Health Services. She primarily works in the Bone Marrow Transplant clinic in the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and is one of two oncology dietitions.
It was a great general overview about nutrition, specifically pertaining to breast cancer and some of the myths surrounding the topic. I strongly recommend attending all educational and information sessions provided by the Tom Baker as education is a key source of strength in approaching or dealing with cancer intervention. Being educated will help guide your discussions with your oncologist, and help you feel in control of your course of treatment. Some of the sessions have a large audience, but this one was especially intimate with only six women and a couple husbands, which gave all participants the opportunity to ask specific questions about how nutritional decisions may come into play during their own journey. There was a great deal of information delivered, so I will discuss a few key takeaways, but will encourage anyone interested to attend the seminar. As a bonus, it is located at the Holy Cross site in Mission (make sure you go to the main entrance!), which is very central and boasts lots of parking nearby and is a great lunch destination to put your new nutritional knowledge to good use!
Preventing Initial Diagnosis or Recurrence
Only 1/3 of a breast cancer diagnosis can be attributed to lifestyle. Despite mega funding being poured into breast cancer research, healthcare and other research professionals are still baffled by the cause of breast cancer. Attributing only 1/3 of a diagnosis to lifestyle leaves 2/3 yet to be discovered. Although 1/3 may not seem as significant as expected, it is still a major part of prevention that can be controlled by an individual. If we have the opportunity to limit our risks of being diagnosed with breast cancer, or breast cancer recurrence, we should capitalize on this opportunity by eating well, exercising, maintaining a health weight, not smoking, and limiting the consumption of alcohol.
Remember the Canadian Food Guide that you or your children learned in grade school? Turns out, you don’t need to follow the latest fad health craze, or cut entire food groups out of your routine, eat entirely raw, or go on a juice diet...the Canadian Food Guide remains a tried and true program recommended by oncology dietitians to best lead a healthy lifestyle, which includes lowering your risk of diagnosis or recurrence.
“A heart-healthy diet is a breast-healthy diet”
Another highly recommended guide is called the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is applauded for its heart-health benefits, but also shows a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. As Erin Brenner said, “a heart-healthy diet is a breast-healthy diet”, which is a strong appeal to reduce your risk of the two number one killers of women in North America by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The image below gives an introductory idea of what the Mediterranean diet is all about:
To learn more about the Mediterranean diet and some GREAT recipes to try, I have provided the following links:
What is a “healthy weight”? While this seems very relative, dietitians use two factors that can help you determine if you are within healthy limits:
Body Mass Index (BMI): BMI = weight (kg) / height (m)
Waist Circumference: your waist circumference should be 80% of the circumference of your hips.
Of course these factors of determination are generalized, so don’t be concerned if you deviate minimally from the recommendations. If you are concerned, discuss with your doctor or make an appointment to visit a dietitian.
Erin Brenner drove home the point that the two key things to keep in mind while in treatment are PROTEIN and CALORIES. Getting the right amount of both protein and calories is essential in boosting your immune system so you can help maintain strength and support the healthy tissue within your body. The reason it is so important to maintain caloric intake is so that your body does not start burning through protein and take a toll on muscle mass, which is a vital player for cancer treatment recovery.
Top 5 Cancer and Diet Myths
I bet you’ve heard all of these before...sugar feeds cancer, soy gives you breast cancer, etc. It seems every other day there is a new article that makes us nervous we have been eating wrong all along... We discussed the following cancer myths in our seminar:
1.Sugar feeds cancer
2.Organic is better
3.Dairy foods cause breast cancer
4.Red wine prevents cancer
5.Soy products give you cancer
In general, the food “scares” we are often exposed to have little research-based evidence. Erin was able to help break down the myths above and give us a good idea as to what flaws exist in their claims and what the research history is. If you are concerned about any of the myths above, I highly recommend attending the seminar to ask the necessary questions. We do not need to feel threatened by the foods we consume, and generally, consuming food groups in moderation will not increase your risk factors.
To learn more about breast cancer and nutrition, or to see a complete list of the educational seminars provided by Tom Baker, follow this link. Erin Brenner is a dietitian working in the Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and is available for consultations.
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