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Meat and alcohol cause breast cancer

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As a working mom who rarely has time to cook, figuring out what to have for dinner is hard enough without having to factor in the latest news about food and cancer.

When I feel tempted to eat foods that might be less than healthy, I think of this quote from Dr. Larry Norton, who heads the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City: "God put more good things in an apple than I know about."

Doesn't get much simpler than that. Plus, there is lots of good science about foods that can cut your cancer risk and ones that can raise it. Here are a few:

What to Eat
Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and herring are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy fat that's believed to have anticancer properties. Aim for two to three servings a week.

Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are powerful cancer fighters and appear to contain chemicals that turn on your body's natural detox enzymes. Eat them raw or slightly steamed (cooking breaks down the protective chemicals). Shoot for five servings a week.

Berries: The more colorful, the better! These fruits are rich in antioxidants, which protect cells from damage, and strawberries and raspberries contain ellagaic acid, which has been shown to protect against breast cancer in lab studies. Sneak these in wherever you can...toss some in your smoothie or even have some with dessert.

Whole grains: Lowfat sources of fiber, such as quinoa, unbuttered popcorn and cereals like All-Bran and Fiber One, may regulate your levels of estrogen and insulin, two hormones that both have been linked to breast cancer. Aim for 25 grams per day.

What to Watch
Red meat: You don't have to forgo the occasional burger (thank goodness!), but eating more than 1.5 servings of red meat per day can nearly double the chances of developing breast cancer. Limit your intake to three servings of lean cuts (such as filet mignon, flank steak or sirloin) a week or fewer.

Alcohol: As few as two drinks a day may increase breast cancer risk by 20 percent, possibly by raising estrogen levels. There's nothing wrong with having some wine with dinner, but it's safest to average no more than one drink a day. (Savor it! I mix soda water in my white wine to make one glass last through dinner.)

So, when I hear about studies like the one published last summer in The Journal of the American Medical Association that a high intake of fruits and vegetables has no impact on breast cancer, I think: But fruits and vegetables are great for you, especially all those antioxidants.

So what gives? Well, it turns out the study was on survivors, and the one thing you can glean from it is that gorging on produce probably isn't a big factor in recurrence.

What you can't take away from it is that it's OK to skip the salad. Believe me, I'd just as soon pack in and drive to the local greasy spoon. But despite findings like this, the truth is that a healthy diet never hurt anyone.

For more news and cancer-prevention tips, visit SELF's Women's Cancer Handbook.

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