How Healthy Eating Can Lower Breast Cancer Risk

A discussion with nutritionists and food professionals.

starting left Marco Petrini (President of Monini North America, INC.),
Albert DeAngelis (Executive Chef at the Ramze Zakka restaurant group),
Karen Ayoub (Alliance volunteer), and
Dr. Barry Boyd (Director of the Integrated Medicine program at Greenwich Hospital)

The old saying, “You are what you eat” never has been more true. Recent research has shown definitive links between diet and health — or conversely, between diet and certain diseases.

We know that eating foods rich in anti-oxidants, high in protein, low in fat (particularly saturated fats), high in fiber and not overly processed is a key factor in preventing certain diseases, including breast cancer. But sorting out all the options and discerning the hype from the facts can be complicated. To gain a better understanding of what foods, diets and lifestyles are beneficial to our health, the Breast Cancer Alliance talked with:
Dr. Barry Boyd, Director of the Integrated Medicine program at Greenwich Hospital and author of the upcoming book, The Missing Link: Obesity, Insulin and the Cancer Connection - The True Basis for Integrative Cancer Care;
Marco Petrini, President of Monini North America, a specialty olive oil importer/distributor; and
Albert DeAngelis, Executive Chef at the Ramze Zakka restaurant group, which includes Acqua in Westport, Terra and Mediterraneo in Greenwich, Solé in New Canaan and Aurora in Rye.

Here, our panel shares its views on Mediterranean and American diets, choosing healthy options both at home and in restaurants, and the truth about organic foods.

What is a healthy diet? And, how can healthy eating combat obesity?

Boyd: There is enormous confusion between a healthy diet and a diet to lose weight. Obesity is the single most important issue when it comes to nutrition and cancer. But, people really need to change their focus when they diet. There is good epidemiological evidence to suggest that you don’t need low carbohydrate diets to lose weight. You don’t need to overload on certain foods, either. Although we know that broccoli and cauliflower break down carcinogens rapidly and that processing foods reduces their nutrients, the key is a healthy dietary pattern rather than concentration on a single food. Exercise and stress reduction also come into play. Remember, it’s not the soy — it’s the healthy lifestyle.

Petrini: People need to pare down their portions — if they see it, they eat it, and it’s often too much.

DeAngelis: As a restaurant, we need to make portions generous enough that people feel they are getting value for their money, but our real value is in offering good ingredients prepared well. People should also slow down — if they eat more slowly, they will be satisfied with a smaller amount of food.

Why do southern Europeans have healthier eating habits than many Americans?

Petrini: In the United States, people want their meals to be “quick.” They mistakenly assume that a good meal requires numerous ingredients and two hours of preparation. But all it really takes is a few ingredients, a little time and some passion! People in Europe, especially children, also eat a more varied diet — here, children’s menus are always the same. Another thing I notice is snacking. In Europe, we have bigger meals and take our time about them, but we don’t eat while we drive in our cars, for instance.

DeAngelis: People sometimes don’t realize that cooking simply can make a great meal. A simple piece of fish with a drizzle of flavored olive oil is just as appealing as one with a creamy sauce, not to mention healthier and faster to prepare. Sometimes when you overcomplicate a recipe, you lose the basic flavor.

Boyd: It is known that the Mediterranean diet is high in Omega 3 fats found in fish, olive oil and vegetables. People in that area of the world are known to have significantly lower incidences of lung, prostate and colon cancer. In this country, we eat far too much processed food, including concentrated carbohydrates such as corn syrup and sugar. It is a human evolutionary trait to search for sweets so our bodies can store fat. That’s a hard habit to break when we make sweet foods so abundantly available.

Why do we hear so much about the benefits of olive oil?
Can you guide us through the different types of olive oil?

Petrini: Olive oil has long been a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and studies have proven that it is a healthier fat than animal fats like butter or lard. The preliminary results of a study currently underway show that the use of olive oil in every day quantities protects against the development of breast cancer. The reason: olive oil is rich in natural antioxidants like Vitamin E, which is beneficial for heart and circulation problems as well as some cancers. Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fats, which the human body can easily break down. In fact, Italian pediatricians often prescribe 1 tsp. of olive oil per day for infants because it helps protect their digestive system. And olive oil can be used in baking — for cakes, biscuits, frying — anywhere you would use other fats. Not every type of olive oil offers a benefit, however. It is extremely important to use extra virgin olive oil, which simply means that the oil has been extracted through a method of mechanical, not chemical, pressure. Extra virgin olive oil may be organic or not, depending on how it is grown, but it is all natural — there is no processing and nothing is added. Extra virgin olive oil is more expensive than other olive oils because the yield is low — a harvest of 100 pounds of olives yields roughly 20 pounds of oil. But the health benefits are undoubtedly worth the added price.

How do popular diets and other eating trends affect a restaurant?

DeAngelis: We definitely have more customers who make specific requests based on diets like Atkins and South Beach. They might request two vegetables rather than a vegetable and a starch. Many of our customers also request organically grown vegetables. But going “all organic” becomes a cost issue for a restaurant, so we try to have a mix. Ironically, consumer preference for “healthier” foods sometimes has a downside. For instance, people don’t want to be limited to seasonal choices anymore. The result is that we import many fruits and vegetables whose growing conditions may not be up to American standards, and which can sometimes cause serious illness. Hydroponic farming is another example — lettuce can now be grown year round in a water mixture, but it isn’t as tasty and it is missing essential phytonutrients like selenium found in soil. Finally, certain fish have become victims of their own popularity. Chilean sea bass is now an endangered species, tuna is blasted with nitrogen to keep its red color and farm salmon are injected with dyes and antibiotics. Sea scallops are often injected with sodium trisulfide, which causes them to fill with water — making them weigh more and thus cost more. We do our best to avoid these less-than-natural products, but consumers need to be aware when they shop for their own food as well.

What’s your best advice to consumers in terms of healthy eating?

DeAngelis: They need to become more knowledgeable. If an expensive seafood is available at $3.00 per pound, it’s probably coming from another country where it is injected with dye, fed antibiotics and farmed poorly. It’s important to have a relationship with the people you buy your food from so you can trust that the product you’re buying is really what you think it is.

Petrini: Make it a habit to read labels — don’t just look at price and packaging.

Boyd: Make good eating choices and integrate those choices into an overall health plan. We now know that obesity is a health issue, not a cosmetic one, so people need to make choices that will lower their risk.





Monini North America, Inc. - 6 Armstrong Road - Shelton, CT 06484 - USA - Phone 1 (203) 513-2763 - Fax 1 (203) 513-2863