In a complete deviation from my usual writing, today I’m going to talk about nutrition. Specifically nutrition related to breast cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42; I was a healthy weight, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke, rarely drank alcohol, rarely ate red meat or processed foods, ate lots of fruit and vegetables, minimal salt intake, used sunscreen regularly, etc.
Statistically, I was a low risk, but as I’ve said before it’s just something to put down to bad luck. An estimated 40% of breast cancers could be prevented by healthy lifestyle, which means that 60% are down to biology!
A common worry for those who have had a cancer diagnosis, is that it could come back. Cancer cells are sneaky little things that can hide away in the body for years before starting to multiply and spread again, so it makes sense to do whatever we can to improve our health to reduce the risk of this happening.
Since finishing treatment I have read extensively on the subject of nutrition and it’s role in cancer prevention. I know that guidelines can alter as new research makes different discoveries, so I use the World Cancer Research Fund website, which has regularly updated information, and the British Dietetic Association website, which has a range of useful fact sheets worth taking a look at.
During my reading, I discovered the work of Michelle Harvie and Tony Howell from Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention. They developed a nutritionally based 2-day diet which I now follow. I also have eliminated red and processed meats and increased my soya intake. If you need to lose weight, the diet recommends two consecutive fast days with a maximum of 1,000 kcal per day. Effectively the fast days cut out carbs and promote an otherwise balanced diet with portion guidelines for protein, fat, dairy, vegetables and fruit. If you wish to maintain your weight, then simply do only one fast day per week.
The Genesis diet is different from other 5:2 diets in that it has a nutritionally balanced approach and encourages a moderate calorie intake on fast days.
The fast days enable your body to use stored fat as an energy source in the absence of carbohydrates. In addition to weight loss/fat loss, the diet also reduces insulin levels which improves the body’s ability to regulate sugar levels, and helps retrain appetite and diet habits leading to sustainable change in how you eat.
However, the research that interested me most was the diet’s effect on breast cancer risk. Briefly, by having fast days the body switches from cell growth to cell maintenance and repair. This means that the body improves it’s ability to fix or destroy cancer cells and therefore reduces risk.
I generally aim to do my two fast days on Mondays and Tuesdays and I eat the same each day which means I only have to prepare food on the first day. Often the rest of the family eat similar meals but with the addition of carbohydrates.
This week my fast days totalled around 800 kcal per day and contained 7 portions protein, 2.5 portions dairy, 3 portions fat, 6 portions vegetables (no fruit). I didn’t feel hungry at any point, meals were decent sizes and everything tasted lovely.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs (made with soya milk and turmeric), grilled mushrooms and tomato
Lunch: Tuna salad (celery, green beans, lettuce)
Dinner: Tofu and stir fry veg (courgette, green pepper, savoy cabbage) plus a portion of soya yoghurt
Snacks: a slice of gouda cheese and some mixed nuts.