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Nutritional Changes Advocated in the Fight Against Breast Cancer : National Women's Health Network Seeks to Promote a Low-Fat Diet as a Strategy to Lowering Risks and Curbing Spread of the Deadly Disease

September 03, 1987|NINA KILLHAM | The Washington Post

Every 15 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer. What is especially frightening is that more than 60% of those diagnosed with the disease had no risk factors.

According to National Women's Health Network, changing to a low-fat diet could be an effective way to curb this widespread disease.

Victoria Leonard, executive director of the network, said that although dietary fat doesn't cause breast cancer, studies have shown that fat promotes it.

Studies on rats conducted by Dr. Peter Greenwald of the National Cancer Institute and Drs. Ernst Wynder and John Weisbruger of the American Health Foundation have confirmed a study first done almost 40 years ago, which indicated that the lower the fat intake in a diet, the fewer and smaller the breast tumors.

Unfortunately, according to Leonard, there is a bias among many doctors against regulating nutrition to prevent breast cancer. "They think women won't follow a low-fat diet." But, she said, after a widespread campaign about the detrimental effects of cholesterol, the level of cholesterol in the population at large dropped.

More Studies Called For

She suggests that women need counseling to change their high-fat intake. "We are saying, give us the information and let us make the choice. Tell us what the risks are and let us decide."

Leonard is calling for more studies conducted on humans to explore fully the effect of diet on breast cancer. Of a Harvard Medical School study on 90,000 nurses that showed there was no association between dietary fat and breast cancer, the network said that the study was based on a 30% fat intake figure and that other studies based on a 20% fat intake showed a decrease in the growth of breast cancer. The average American diet is 40% fat.

The National Cancer Institute is conducting a long-term low-fat study to determine whether diets containing 20% or less of total calories from fat will reduce the incidence of breast cancer in women who are at increased risk of the disease.

In the meantime, the network has developed a pamphlet on low-fat nutrition to help women change their diets. To stick to a 20%-fat diet, it suggests cutting down on the fat in meat, dairy products and vegetable oils. Leonard notes that there are studies now investigating the possibility of olive oil being exempt from this list because Mediterranean women who consume just as much dietary fat have a lower incidence of breast cancer. Omega-3 oils found in some fish are also considered exempt.

Orders From Physicians

Since the network developed the pamphlet, said Leonard, a number of physicians have begun to order it to give their patients.

According to the network, prevention through diet might eventually be seen as the only hope, for despite treatments, the actual mortality rate from breast cancer has not declined during the past 40 years.

The best procedure to fight breast cancer, suggests the network, is to change a diet in combination with regular breast self-examination.

For $1 you can send away for "The Diet Your Doctor Won't Give You." Prepared originally for a national magazine, it explains how to calculate fat allowance. Also included are sample menus, a few sample low-fat recipes and an explanation of the different fats. Write: National Women's Health Network, 1325 G St. NW, Lower Level B, Washington, D.C. 20005.

There is no better time than tonight to begin a low-fat diet with the recipe below provided by the network.

Express-lane list: chicken, onion, thyme, marjoram, lemon, paprika and parsley.



1 chicken, cut into serving pieces and skinned

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 small onion, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon thyme, crushed

1/2 teaspoon marjoram, crushed

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup water

Lemon quarters


Snipped parsley

Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, rubbing well into flesh. Place in shallow baking pan. Combine onion, thyme, marjoram, lemon peel, lemon juice and water. Pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees about 30 minutes. Turn chicken and continue to bake, basting with pan drippings once or twice, until chicken is done, about 30 minutes.

Arrange chicken on serving platter. Dust one side of each lemon quarter with paprika and garnish platter. Makes 3 to 4 servings, 215 calories per servings and 7 grams fat.

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