Beverly McKee MSW, LCSW

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“TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT”: THE FOOD CHOICE DILEMMA

to eat or not to eat“To Eat or Not To Eat” that is the question for me as I move past treatment and into “Life After Breast Cancer.” I’m not alone in this quest. There are entire discussion boards on breastcancer.org dedicated to the burning question, “What should I eat after a breast cancer diagnosis?”

I want to start by saying that I am reasonably intelligent individual and I have a basic knowledge of how to do research from my graduate studies. This seemingly amazing combination of skills has done nothing for me in this case...I have no idea what to eat at this point! The entire research world is fraught with inconsistencies and confusion. Pardon me while I ramble on about my findings:

Soy: soy produces a plant based estrogen. Many breast cancers, including mine, need estrogen to grow. So soy is out, right? Studies have shown this to be the case, however, other studies have shown that it actually attaches to the estrogen in our bodies and prevents it from feeding breast cancer cells. The jury is out and for me, so is soy. Easy answer until I realized how many foods contain soybean oil. Holy cow!

Speaking of cows, dairy is also on the list of questionable foods. Cows need to be pregnant in order to lactate. Estrogen, my new enemy, is released when we lactate, so all milk has a certain level of estrogen. Estrogen is stored in fat, so full fat dairy purportedly has the most estrogen...that includes cheese, ice cream and yogurt. Have I mentioned that I am seriously addicted to ice cream? Luckily, there is a substitute for dairy: soy. UGH!

A few months ago, I listened to an oncology dietician tell an audience full of breast cancer survivors to eat flax seed. It helps prevent breast cancer. I was thrilled, as I have been adding ground flax seed to my smoothies for years. I started adding it to pancake mix and spaghetti sauce for my family. As it turns out, flax seed also has plant based estrogen qualities and the jury is out on this as well. Seriously?

Meat is another one on the breast cancer beware list. Red meat has a compound that can feed cancer, chickens are often fed soy, and fish/shellfish may contain heavy metals, all of which increases the risk of cancer. So... meat is out. But wait, with a bit more research, I found that a limited amount of organic, grass-fed meat and chicken is fine. It may be essential to helping our bodies stay strong to fight cancer. For heaven’s sake!

Processed foods are not good for us...this is an easy one for me...although I do love the occasional Baked Cheeto.

Sugar is a big one...cancer needs insulin to grow. So avoid all sugar. Except for this nugget of information: ALL cells need insulin to grow. Really? Will a Twizzler be the death or me or not?

Here was one of my biggest surprises: grapefruit. Apparently, grapefruit may elevate estrogen levels. Unbelievable!

Eat whole grains...whole grains are the devil. Eat eggs...eggs are bad for you. One glass of red wine per day will help you live longer...alcohol consumption leads to cancer. Is your head spinning or is it just me???

As I continued to read, I found an “expert” who supplied an extensive list of foods to eat/avoid. He listed avocado as one to avoid, because animals that ate the leaves from the avocado plant developed tumors in their breasts. It was at this moment that I turned off the computer.

I pondered my research, as I have over the last few months. Here is what I know: no one really knows what causes breast cancer. I have a mutated gene that will make me high risk for the rest of my life, but I’ve taken every precaution with aggressive treatment. I can't control everything and I need to have some kind of "normal' life after breast cancer.

I plan to eat a mostly plant based diet with limited meat, dairy, sugar and fish. I try to avoid processed foods, soy, grapefruit and flaxseed. I will indulge in my ice cream addiction on occasion and drink my red wine. Mostly, I’m going to try to let go of the stress around deciding what to eat, as stress leads to cancer, too. I know this is a normal phase when dealing with life after breast cancer. We all go through it. I wish you much luck as you figure out how you will move forward with your diet.

Now I’m off to a have a grapefruit...no. Okay, some yogurt....nope...how about some steak? Soy burger? Maybe a banana. Yes...I know bananas are good for me...just watch out for the peel! Bon Appetit!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly McKee, MSW, LCSW

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