Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer with these 3 Science Supported Habits

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Medical treatment can cure it in many women. However, experts estimate that 40,700 women will die of breast cancer this year. Like all women, I want to know how to reduce my risk. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer – but many women who get it don’t have one either. So, I went looking for the best evidence on what we can do to lower our risk.  One of best websites for solid, science based cancer prevention recommendations is the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR). They estimate that 33% of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. are preventable. That means 81,400 women who could avoid breast cancer. But how?

You can’t avoid all of the risk factors for breast cancer. Age and genetics increase your risk and you can’t do much about them. But there are some things you do have control over. Research shows that these three steps may actually lower your risk:   

Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk:
1.    Get to – and Stay – at a Healthy Weight
Extra body fat correlates with post-menopausal breast cancer risk. About 1 in 5 cases of breast cancer is in women with extra body fat. Fat tissue increases inflammation and hormones that promote cancer cell growth. Overweight and obesity correlate with 10 other cancers as well.

2.    Be Physically Active Every Day
Exercise helps lower the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer risk. It can help you stay at a healthy weigh and boost the immune system. Thirty minutes a day may be all you need! It can be any activity – walking, gardening, dancing, swimming, hiking and the list goes on!

3.    Limit Alcohol
Alcohol can act as a carcinogen in the breast tissue. It can damage DNA and increase hormones that promote cancer. Women should limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day or seven per week on average. Less is best when it comes to alcohol and cancer risk. 

Now, those three are the most evidence-based recommendations. There’s a lot of interest in Mediterranean diets and the risk of cancers. One recent study showed that a Mediterranean eating style – particularly nuts and olive oil – reduces breast cancer risk. The study was a randomized controlled trial. That’s the kind of study that can actually show cause and effect. It's a really strong study design. But it’s just one study – so we can’t really make recommendations on it just yet. Also, the women in the study were eating around four tablespoons of olive oil a day! That’s a lot to work into your diet (although I’m pretty sure I’m getting at least two to three a day!). Some new research is also linking smoking with breast cancer.

But at least for now, you can take these three steps and rest assured that you’re doing all you can to lower your risk!

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham


The American Institute for Cancer Research (

JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(11):1752-1760. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.4838

Published online September 14, 2015. Corrected on November 2, 2015.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What Those Food Product Dates Really Mean

Should you toss out those eggs or that carton of milk just because it’s past the “best if used by” date? What does it really mean?
You may be surprised to learn that food producers are not required to put product dating on foods – with one exception: baby food. But, food manufacturers often do put dates on foods. While that can be a good thing, it can also lead to a lot of food waste.

Here are just a few common dates you'll see on food labels and what they mean: 
·         "Best if Used By/Before" tells you when a food will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

·          "Sell-By" tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.

·         "Use-By" is the last date recommended for the use of the food while at peak quality.

Most of the time, the food is still good for a few days (sometimes longer) past these dates. Now, two big food industry groups are trying to decrease the confusion about what these dates mean. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are now recommending using only two dates: “best if used by" or “use by”. Manufacturers should use “best if used by” on foods you can use past that date. They should use the “use by” date on foods that really could be unsafe if they sit on the shelf or in the fridge too long.

These are just guidelines but the hope is that most food companies will be using them by sometime in 2018. We hope this will cut down on food waste but it could also be good for your budget!

So how do you know if a food should be thrown out? Give it a sniff. If it smells off, then throw it out. If you see mold or deterioration, definitely throw it out. In the case of hard cheese, you can cut away the mold and it’s still safe to eat. But my big tip is to freeze foods if you know you won’t be able to use it up soon after the date. This works particularly well with meats, shredded cheeses, and breads but just about anything can be frozen (with a few exceptions)! For more information on how long you should keep foods, what to do when the power goes out for a long time, and what foods freeze well, go to www.foodsafety.gov This is a great website for learning about how to keep foods safe and maximize food quality. 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham