Dr Alan Barclay
Reducing your risk of breast cancer through a healthy lifestyle
In Australia and the US, breast cancer accounts for around 1 in 4 cases of all cancers, and the number of cases has more than doubled over the past 25 years.
There are a large number of risk factors for breast cancer that you can’t do anything about such as your genes and family background, the number of children you have, your age at when your first child is born, and your age at menarche and menopause. However, there are also a number of risk factors related to your diet and lifestyle that you can do something about.
The main risk increasers include the usual suspects.
A recently published systematic review and meta-analysis has added another to the risk increaser list, finding that a high GI diet may increase the risk of breast cancer by 8% when a high (GI 60 or more) diet compared to a low GI diet (GI 45 or less) is consumed for 5 years or more.
- Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who drink 2 or more standard drinks a day have about a 21% increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who do not drink at all.
- High fat diets have been found to increase the risk of developing breast cancer by 10–15%, and high processed meat consumption (e.g. more than 3 serves a week) has been found to increase the risk by 8%.
- Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk in women by 9% after menopause.
Three key risk reducers are regular exercise, eating plenty of dairy foods and enjoying an all-round healthy, balanced diet.
How do you go low GI? To reduce the average GI of your diet by 10–15 units, simply swap any high GI foods that you may be eating with low GI alternatives. For example, swap high GI breads and breakfast cereals for low GI ones. A 10–15 unit difference for each food you eat within all of the major food groups will make a difference as it all adds up.
- Regular exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer by up to 25%. The American Cancer Society recommends 45–60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on 5 or more days a week to help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Consuming plenty of dairy foods (that’s more than 2–3 serves a day) has been found to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer by 15%, most likely due to their high calcium content.
- Eating an all round healthy diet has been shown to decrease the risk of developing breast cancer by 11%. This analysis did not take GI into account, and the one study that did found a 32% risk reduction!
Here at the GI Foundation, we are big fans of the ‘this for that’ swap it approach. The reason why is relatively simple: the GI was originally designed to choose the better options within each food group.
In Australia, the easiest way to find all round healthy low GI choices is to look for foods with the low GI symbol: not only have they had their GI tested at an accredited lab, but they must also meet category specific nutrient criteria for calories/kilojoules, total and saturated fat, sodium (salt), and where appropriate fibre and calcium.
Elsewhere in the world, checkout the GI News’ 10 tips to reduce the GI of your diet, make use of the GI database at www.glycemicindex.com or pick up a copy of the annual Shopper's Guide to GI Values (it’s published in Australia, New Zealand and the US/Canada.
The GI Symbol, making healthy low GI choices easy choices
For more information about the GI Symbol Program
Dr Alan W Barclay, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Glycemic Index Foundation (Ltd)
Phone: +61 (0)2 9785 1037
Mob: +61 (0)416 111 046
Fax: +61 (0)2 9785 1037