After you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, making healthy food and lifestyle choices can help improve your overall health, reduce your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis and may help lower the chance of breast cancer returning. The most important diet and lifestyle choices you can make are: to be at a healthy weight, to eat a lower fat diet based on Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide, to exercise regularly, and to drink very little alcohol (if any).
The healthy eating and lifestyle habits recommended after a breast cancer diagnosis may also lower the risk for diabetes and other types of cancer.
If you are having problems eating or have had unplanned weight loss this information may not be appropriate for you. Speak with a Registered Dietitian about your nutritional needs.
Steps You Can Take
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight lowers the risk of developing new cancers and other chronic diseases. If your body weight is already in a healthy range, keep it there by following Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide and being active everyday. If you are overweight, aim for a slow gradual weight loss of ½-1 kg (1-2 lbs) per week.
- Follow a balanced eating pattern based on the serving sizes recommended in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.
- Increase your physical activity. (Check with your doctor first if you are currently not active.)
- Choose high fibre foods to help fill you up.
If you are not sure if you are at a healthy weight, use Health Canada's Body Mass Index (BMI) Nomogram. For tips on healthy weight loss, see the fact sheet Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Getting Started and Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Taking Action listed in the Additional Resources section below.
Follow a diet for Cancer Prevention. Use Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide to help you plan your diet. Lower fat eating is recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease and to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A lower fat diet may also lower the risk of breast cancer returning, especially for women who also lose weight.
- Choose plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and lentils: at least 2/3 of your plate should be filled by foods that come from a plant and 1/3 or less from foods from an animal.
- Include low fat dairy.
- Include healthy fats (such as olive oil and canola oil) but keep the amount small — no more than 30 to 45 mL (2-3 Tbsp) per day.
- Limit processed foods that are high in sugar and fat.
Be active everyday. Regular exercise can help improve your quality of life and lower the risk of breast cancer returning. It also helps you stay at a healthy weight.
Start with 30 minutes of physical activity everyday. As your fitness level improves aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate activity (e.g., walking briskly, cycling, dancing, swimming) or 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity (e.g., running, tennis) every day. Limit sedentary activities such as watching television and sitting at the computer.
Avoid alcohol. Any amount of any kind of alcohol increases your risk for breast cancer. Not as much research has been done on the effect of alcohol after you are diagnosed with breast cancer, but research suggests that alcohol may also increase the risk of breast cancer returning. Avoiding alcohol may be sensible.
If you choose to drink alcohol, limit to one drink per day. One drink is equivalent to: 350 mL (12 oz) bottle of beer or 150 mL (5 oz) of table wine or 45 mL (1 ½ oz) of liquor (e.g., vodka, whisky, rum or gin).
Aim for the recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are important for strong bones. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important because some breast cancer treatments can increase your risk for osteoporosis. Current recommendations for women are:
Calcium: Aim to meet your calcium needs through foods when possible. Supplements can provide the difference between your recommended intake and what your diet provides.
|Age||Aim for||Don't exceed (from food and supplements)|
|19-50 years||1000 mg/day||2500 mg/day|
|Over 50 years||1200 mg/day||2000 mg/day|
Vitamin D: In addition to drinking 500ml (2 cups) of milk or fortified soy beverage every day for vitamin D, everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily supplement providing 400IU vitamin D. A vitamin D supplement will help you meet the recommended daily amount.
|Age||Aim for||Don't exceed (from food and supplements)|
|19-70 years||600 IU/day||4000 IU/day|
|Over 70 years||800 IU/day||4000 IU/day|
If you have had or are having cancer treatments that increase your risk for bone loss, your recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D may be higher. Speak with your doctor or a dietitian to determine your individual needs.
What about phytoestrogens? Plant estrogens are substances found in plant foods that may act like the hormone estrogen. Plant estrogens are also called phytoestrogens. The main food sources of phytoestrogens are soybeans, soy foods (such as tofu and soy milk) and ground flaxseed. Other plant foods may contain phytoestrogens, but not in high amounts.
Soy and flaxseeds are healthy foods, but for many years it was not known if women with breast cancer should eat soy foods or flaxseeds.
- New studies have found that soy foods are safe after a breast cancer diagnosis when eaten in amounts similar to typical Asian diets (two servings per day). Soy supplements such as soy products in concentrated or pill form should be avoided. A typical serving of soy is: 250 ml (1 cup) soy beverage, 125 ml (1/2 cup) tofu, 60 ml (1/4 cup) roasted soy nuts, or 175 ml (3/4 cup) edamame.
- Flaxseed is safe when used in moderation (such as 1-2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed per day) as part of a healthy diet.
It is unclear if eating soy foods or ground flaxseed offers any benefit beyond general health in terms of lowering the risk of recurrence or improving survival.
For more in-depth information on nutrition after a breast cancer diagnosis see A Nutrition Guide for Women with Breast Cancer available at www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthy-eating.
HealthLinkBC Files Available at www.HealthLinkBC.ca/services-and-resources/healthlinkbc-files/.
Dietitian Services Fact Sheets available at. www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthy-eating or by mail (call 8-1-1):
- Healthy Eating Guidelines For Cancer Survivors
- Eating Guidelines For After A Cancer Diagnosis
- Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Getting Started
- Lifestyle Steps for Healthy Weight Loss: Taking Action
BC Cancer Agency www.bccancer.bc.ca.
- Natural Health Products and Breast Cancer
- Patient Guidelines for the prevention of Osteoporosis in Women
- Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guides.html, or call 1-800-OCanada (1-800-622-6232) for a free copy.
Last updated: February 2011