Foods to Avoid with Breast Cancer

by Natalie on May 2, 2012

More often than not we hear about foods to include in our diets to reduce breast cancer risk. I do think this is the best approach, but I am always up for looking at the other side of things. If you have breast cancer or are trying to prevent breast cancer, you may be wondering if there are any foods to eat less of. Research has uncovered some potential concerns with particular foods, and I have listed them below. The foods listed are in no particular order.

1. Foods Containing Trans-Fats

In research studies, trans-fats have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Trans-fats are an unnatural form of fat, created through a process called hydrogenation. This process converts liquid vegetable oils into solid fats, which then become more like saturated fat – only worse. Some food manufacturers began using these fats because they were cost effective and improved the shelf life of their products.

Trans-fats are mostly likely to be found in fried foods, pastries, pie crusts, and store bought cookies (the kind that sit on the shelf). Shortening and margarine are sources of trans-fats. Check the ingredient list on your food products. If it says “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil”, it contains trans-fats.

2. Alcoholic Beverages

Though alcohol is not a food per se, it is important to be included in this discussion. Alcohol is one of the most well known dietary factors associated with breast cancer. Risk for breast cancer increases with a higher alcohol intake. At this time, researchers have not been able to pinpoint the reason why alcohol causes an increased risk. Some evidence points to a disruption in our hormone balance, while other evidence suggests that the products of alcohol metabolism are carcinogenic. All in all, it is smart to limit your intake all together.

Women who have had hormone positive breast cancer should not consume more than 3 alcoholic drinks per week. Women who are at increased risk (but have not had breast cancer) should limit intake to less than 5 drinks per week.

3. Charred or “Well-Done” Meat

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are two chemicals that form on meat when it is cooked at high temperatures. These chemicals have been classified as “mutagens”, meaning they can cause damage to your DNA that could lead to cancer development.

Several studies have been done looking at how meat consumption affects breast cancer risk. One study found that women who consumed well-done meat had almost five times greater risk than women who consumed meat medium or medium rare. The researchers attributed the increased risk to the HCAs and PAHs present in well-done meat.

Slower cooking methods can reduce the formation of HCAs. These include steaming, braising, poaching, stewing, and microwaving. Grilling and pan-frying are two methods that encourage the formation of HCAs and PAHs.

*please note that I am not encouraging the consumption of raw or undercooked meat. Meat should be cooked to the level that meets food safety standards.

5. Sugary Foods and Drinks

There is not a direct relationship between breast cancer and sugar, but consuming excess sugar can have an indirect effect for two reasons. One, food and drinks high in sugar cause the body to pump out more insulin. Insulin can act as a growth factor and promote the growth of cancer. Two, foods high in sugar are high in calories. Consuming too many calories causes gradual weight gain. Being overweight is a big risk factor for breast cancer.

6. Canned Foods

Canned foods contain bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is an industrial chemical used to make plastics and liners for food storage containers. The chemical leaches into the food from the can. Several studies have shown that BPA increases risk for breast cancer. BPA acts like a weak estrogen in the body and can alter the way our breast cells function.

It is almost nearly impossible to reduce your BPA exposure to zero. Worldwide, BPA is one of the most highly produced chemicals. Reducing your intake of canned food items will have a big impact on decreasing your exposure to this chemical.

There are a few companies that produce cans without BPA. One I know of for sure is Eden Foods.

7. Seafood High in Toxins like PCBs

Fish and seafood absorb pollutants from the waters where they live. PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls are of particular concern. Research has indicated that PCBs can disrupt normal estrogen levels, which may cause an increase in breast cancer risk. Exposure to a low dose of PCB’s will not have a big impact on your health but if you routinely eat contaminated fish, it can become a problem.

Seafood low in toxins include: wild salmon from Alaska, freshwater coho salmon from the U.S, farmed rainbow trout, tilapia from the U.S, wild sardines from the Pacific, farmed oysters, farmed mussels, Alaskan cod, and farmed clams.

Please visit the following pages for the most update seafood safety information.

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector

Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Super Green List

8. Processed Soy Foods 

A large amount of research suggests that processed soy foods may be harmful to women who have breast cancer or women who are at risk. Studies have shown that when isolated soy compounds are consumed, they may be stimulatory to breast tumors. Processed soy foods include soy shakes, soy crisps, soy breads, soy bars, soy supplements, and fake meat products. If the label lists soy protein concentrate, soy isolate, or isolated soy protein, it should be avoided.

Moderate intake of whole soyfoods is considered safe. 1 to 2 servings of whole soyfoods are ok to include in your diet. Whole soyfoods include whole soybeans, edamame, roasted soybeans, soymilk, tempeh, tofu, and miso.

9. Milk from Cows Treated with Bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH or bST)

Bovine Growth Hormone is a type of hormone drug used to increase milk production in dairy cattle. It has been approved for use in the U.S since 1993. Studies have shown that dairy cows treated with rbGH have higher levels of IGF-1 (a type of growth factor) in their milk. There is a concern because women with breast cancer have shown to have higher levels of IGF-1 circulating in their system. Currently it has not been determined if the IGF-1 from milk treated with rbGH actually enters the human bloodstream. Until this is determined, I believe it is wise to avoid hormone treated milk. Plus, I don’t think it is compassionate to treat the dairy cows with this growth hormone, I have read that it can lead to pain and infection in the animals.

Tell me – now that you’ve learned this information – how will you change what you eat?


photos by (in order of appearance): cookbookman17, kurmanstaff, the Marmot, Flora on Flickr Creative Commons


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Protein Powder Nutrition Kylie May 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for the info.
Not easy to deal with breast cancer … once you have it 🙁

Nancy Fortner September 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm

This was valued information! I did not know about IGF-1 in milk, but i have actually been drinking Organic Milk for about 6 months now. I was diagnosed with Stage 1-Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I was a true meat eater prior to being diagnosed, but i am a constant work in progress because i am changing what i eat. I feel truly blessed each and every day and want to do whatever i can to be around!

Natalie September 28, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I am so glad you found the information helpful Nancy! It is wonderful that you are being so proactive with your health – it will truly make a big difference. It’s ok that you are a “work in progress” (I still feel this way!). Small, steady changes are more likely to be become permanent. Keep up the good work!

diana October 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Is it then recommendable to completely exclude dairies from the daily diet when already diagnosed with DCIS?

Natalie October 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Hi Diana! Thank you for your comment. Complete avoidance of dairy is not necessary. With dairy, it is most important to choose organic. This helps ensure that the animal was not treated with additional synthetic hormones or antibiotics. If you would like more information about dairy, please see this post.

danish February 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm

can you please tell about the more vegetables that cancer patient should avoid?

Natalie February 6, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I can’t think of any vegetable that a cancer patient should avoid. Sometimes cancer treatment can cause symptoms that make eating and digestion more difficult. Only in those cases would there be a recommendation to avoid certain vegetables, or change the way they are cooked. But that is really all dependent on the person and what they are going through. When selecting vegetables, try to choose organic as much as possible to lower your exposure to pesticides. Thank you for your question!

Lesley Booth March 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Is it OK to have almond and coconut milk, and is this milk hirer in calories than skim milk?
I am also eating more beans however am terrible trouble with gas, please help.
I have conflicted reports, the cancer clinic has said yes to margarine, this surprised me my acupuncturist yes to unsalted butter?
Three questions, I’m sure more will come to mind.

Natalie April 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Hi Lesley,

All great questions!
1) Yes, it is okay to have almond and coconut milk. Both are great substitutes for cow’s milk. Look for unsweetened, and for those without carrageenan (a fat replacer which has been linked to inflammation). My favorite is Silk unsweetened almond milk.
2) As for the beans, if using canned, make sure you drain and rinse them thoroughly. If you make your own, it is helpful to soak them overnight, drain and rinse before filling up with water again and cooking. Adding a strip of Kombu (seaweed) to the pot when soaking overnight can be helpful too. Just remove before cooking.
3) No to margarine, yes to butter (from grass-fed cows is best). However, butter should not be your primary cooking fat because there aren’t as many beneficial fatty acids in it. Olive oil or canola oil make good primary cooking oils, especially olive because it is high in Oleic acid – a fatty acid shown to reduce breast cancer risk in studies.

Hope this helps! Best to you!

Sue May 15, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi Natalie. I was wondering if roasted no salt soynuts are considered a whole soy food. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and had a double mastectomy. I didn’t know I should avoid soy products and have been eating fake meat made with soy. I’m glad I saw your article! Thank you!


Natalie May 20, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Yes, soynuts are a whole soy food. They are just soybeans that have been dried and/or roasted. I would keep the serving size small (like 1/4 cup) because they have higher levels of isoflavones (due to drying, they are more concentrated). Thanks for the comment Sue!

Penny June 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Hi , my best-friend was dignoased with stage 4 breast cancer today.. this is her 2nd time but the first she had stage 1 in the other breast it is also in her bones ..we was talking and she wanted me to research and find out whats the best for her to eat..She laughed in this hard time and say , I thought orange was the answer to every-thing..:) I love her so much , so if there is any-thing you can let me know , please do ..I will truly appreciate it..

Natalie June 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Hi Penny,

I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I have some posts that you may find helpful:

antiangiogensis foods
breast cancer fighting foods

I would also encourage your friend to seek the assistance of a local registered dietitian (RD). This way, her individual needs will be met. Some registered dietitians specialize in cancer. They have the credential “CSO” next to their name (in addition to RD).

Best wishes

Diane July 11, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I have been eating veggie burgers almost daily, Morningstar only to find out they are not good for you. What about canned Tuna? I know you said avoid canned foods, there is not much left to eat. Just checked the almond milk it also has the ingredient that was recently mention, will have to toss in down the drain. Is there a list out there about all the foods to avoid??? I am hungry Ha Thankyou, Dee

Natalie July 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Try to emphasize on all the foods that you CAN eat, i.e Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fresh fish and meats, nuts, and seeds are just to name a few. I use Silk, unsweetened almond milk because it doesn’t contain Carrageenan. Best to you!

Amanda July 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hi Natalie .have just had lumpectomy for dcis and ductal invasive.I don’t drink alcohol,or eat red meat.however I eat tinned sardines and tuna are these ok to eat.I also eat chicken which you’ve said is skimmed milk ok and yoghurt .also do you know of any companies who sell chemical free shampoo,deodorant etc

Natalie July 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Hi Amanda! I am wishing you a speedy recovery.

“Crown Prince” is a brand of tinned fish that uses BPA-free cans. “Wild Planet” Sardines are also BPA free. Sardines are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient for breast cancer risk reduction. Use the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database to search for natural body care products. That’s how I search for products and I have found it helpful! I currently use Loving Naturals face cream, which ranked very well on the EWG’s database. So far I think it works great.

Augusta July 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Keep up the fantastic piece of work, I read few blog posts on
this website and I believe that your site is really interesting and has
plenty of fantastic information.

Barbara B August 31, 2013 at 2:40 am

I’d be interested in knowing about supplements with natto (soy) such as Vitamin MK-7 for bones. What is considered safe or unsafe about those?

S. G. October 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm

I was told to avoid nuts and seeds for breast cancer.
what is your comment?

Natalie November 7, 2013 at 11:10 am

Interesting. For what reason were you told to avoid them? Based on my knowledge and research, I cannot think of any reason to avoid nuts and seeds for breast cancer.

J.B. January 20, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Should foods with soy lecithin be avoided?
Thank you!

Natalie January 27, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Hi J.B. Great question. Soy lecithin has been found to have estrogenic properties, but unless you’re consuming large amounts, it’s effects would likely be marginal. I say this because soy lecithin is a food additive, so it’s not the same as consuming straight-up soy protein, like what you would find in a soy burger or something of that sorts. I hope that helps!

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