A 7-Point Thanksgiving Game Plan For Preventing Cancer

Walking is one of the easiest and most accessible exercises. Consider taking a Thanksgiving pre-dinner walk with your family to help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Photo: Lee Haywood

Thanksgiving is often a time for indulgence and excess, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to navigate the festivities without falling back on your breast cancer prevention plan.

1. Make exercise part of the new family tradition

Football players shouldn’t be the only ones getting exercise on Thanksgiving day, especially since exercise is such a great cancer-fighter. Consider one of the many “Turkey Trot” races held throughout the country; most have varying degrees of difficulty and distances so even children or running and walking novices can participate. Or, what about a fun game of pick up football, badminton, or other outdoor group sport with the family before dinner? And a post-meal walk around the block or a pre-dinner hike are both great ways to enjoy beautiful fall weather. Along with keeping you fit, family sport sessions can add great memories and laughs to the holiday season.

2. Eat slowly

When you eat slowly and pace yourself, your brain has more time to register fullness and to tell you to stop eating. Chew your food for a longer amount of time and pause between bites. Put your fork down between bites, or even sip water every other bite to slow down what oftentimes becomes a holiday feeding frenzy. Eating less reduces your chance of obesity, one of the significant risk factors for breast cancer.

3. Skip the canned foods and go fresh

A 2011 study by the Breast Cancer Fund found the presence of BPA in several popular canned foods used to make Thanksgiving dinner. An independent lab tested 28 cans, 4 each of:

  • Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • Campbell’s Turkey Gravy
  • Carnation Evaporated Milk (by Nestle)
  • Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn (Cream Style)
  • Green Giant Cut Green Beans (by General Mills)
  • Libby’s Pumpkin (by Nestle)
  • Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce

A variety of BPA levels were detected, from zero (Ocean Spray’s cranberry sauce) to 221 ppb (parts per billion) in Del Monte’s creamed corn. BPA, or bisphenol A, is a toxic chemical found in, among many places, the epoxy lining of canned foods. It has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer, mainly due to its nature as a synthetic estrogen. Allow for extra prep time the day before Turkey Day and substitute fresh or even frozen versions of canned foods.

4. Make Thanksgiving your annual reminder for a mammogram

If you are female and over 40, you should begin getting annual mammograms to detect breast cancer in it’s earliest and most curable stages. Some use the New Year as their reminder, or their birthday, but why not Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude—gratitude for health and for family. What better way to protect both than to take care of yourself and make sure you live a long and healthy life?

5. Focus on fruits and veggies

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey and stuffing, but there’s no need to go overboard. Even if you plan to eat a bit extra than your normal serving sizes, remember the FDA’s MyPlate nutrition recommendations: make sure half of your plate is fruits and veggies. Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, so it’s fitting to indulge in fall-time farm favorites like sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, carrots, cherries, green beans, squash, cranberries, dark leafy greens, pumpkin, and apples. Opt out of the gooey and fatty toppings like marshmallows, butter, whipped cream, gravy, and cream sauces, and try roasting, steaming, boiling, or lightly sautéing these flavorful cancer fighters. You’ll be keeping the calories low in addition to enjoying the cancer-preventative antioxidants.

6. Go easy on the alcohol

Even one drink of alcohol per day can increase your risk for breast cancer. If you can’t skip it completely, consider nixing alcohol for the rest of the week. Or, choose red wine. While it is a myth that red wine can reduce your breast cancer risk, the resveratrol found in red wine from red grapes makes it a slightly healthier choice.

7. Check in with family about medical histories

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of it, but for women that do have a close relative with the disease, the risk level is higher. You may want to get a mammogram at a younger age or more regularly, be more attentive to doing a monthly breast self-exam, or just improve your diet in general. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reach out to far-flung relatives in a comfortable and familiar setting and ask about their medical histories. It’s also a great time to remind your loved ones about doing their own important breast health screenings. You can even use the opportunity to plan a fun day with your sister or mom, do your screenings together, and follow it up with a fabulous lunch or pampering spa session.

How are you making your Thanksgiving a healthy one? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!