Being Well

Eating a High-Fiber Diet When Young May Prevent Breast Cancer

It's never too early to start adding in more fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich foods to your diet. Starting young helps prevent breast cancer.

You’ve heard by now that you should eat more fiber. It keeps your weight down and just makes your overall diet healthier. Plus, the American Heart Association recommends fiber to keep your heart healthy, and the American Institute for Cancer Research even recommends fiber to prevent some cancers. To add to those benefits, new research found that young women who eat a high-fiber diet could significantly reduce their risk of getting breast cancer.

The Protective Effects of Fiber

The study, published earlier in 2016 in Pediatrics, found that every 10 grams per day of fiber intake translated to a 13 percent decrease in breast cancer risk. The study used data from more than 90,000 women aged 25 to 44, who were also asked about their diets as teenagers. The key link in this study between fiber and cancer seems to be age. Women who ate more dietary fiber as teens had a 16 percent lower risk of getting breast cancer overall. Women who ate more fiber also decreased their breast cancer risk before menopause by 24 percent.

Women who boosted their fiber intake in early adulthood still saw benefit, with a 12 percent to 19 percent lower overall risk of getting breast cancer. Fiber intake for women in the study ranged from 12.4 grams per day to 27.8 grams per day.

Where to Find Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body doesn’t digest. You can consume soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water and expands, while insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water. The former is considered good for your cholesterol and heart, the latter for digestion. You get fiber from fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. The study found that fiber from any source had a protective effect, but fruits and vegetables may be best. A high-fiber diet is great for digestive health, but before you completely revamp your diet, boost your water intake to avoid constipation. If you don’t already eat many foods with a lot of fiber, start slow by making small substitutions. Adding in too much fiber too fast can cause stomach discomfort.

How to Add Fiber to Your Diet

First, determine how much you should have. The Mayo Clinic recommends that women should aim for at least 21 to 25 grams every day. Moms, it’s never too early to make changes for the whole family. You can even begin tomorrow morning — serve oatmeal for breakfast with banana and chopped walnuts for a filling, fiber-rich start.

Start by upping your fruits and vegetables. Try to add a fruit (but not fruit juice) or vegetable at every meal. Offer apple slices with skin and peanut butter or carrot sticks with hummus for snack at home or in sacked lunches. If you guys crave a salty snack in the afternoon, choose popcorn over chips.

At dinner, include a side of brown rice with chicken and vegetables. If you’re feeling adventurous use quinoa instead of rice, which packs more fiber per cup. Beans are another easy way to add it to any meal. You can top salads with garbanzo beans, or use black beans on tacos for dinner. With 9 grams of fiber in a cup of peas, they’re an easy addition to soups and pastas, or as a dinner side.

A good rule to remember is to use whole grains whenever possible. Try whole-grain pasta for spaghetti or whole-wheat rotini in a minestrone. Your whole diet doesn’t have to change. A few simple changes could alter your and your daughter’s health — and cancer chances — for the better.

Staying on top of your health is the best way to prevent and catch breast cancer. Resources are available to help you.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney