Changes in starch consumption were behind nearly half the carbohydrate intake change, she found. Those whose cancer did not return decreased starch intake by 8.7 grams a day, while those with a recurrence decreased starch by only 4.1 grams a day, she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one slice of bread has 12.5 grams of carbohydrate, of which 10 grams are starch. A cup of pasta has 43 grams of carbs, 36 of which are starch.
Emond said she cannot explain the link between starch and breast cancer recurrence with certainty. However, starchy foods boost insulin levels, and elevated insulin levels have been linked with higher breast cancer risk, she said. The insulin may stimulate the growth of tumor cells, she explained.
The increased risk with higher starch intake held even when weight changes were taken into account, Emond said. Obesity and breast cancer have long been linked.
Marji McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, said the findings are noteworthy. "This is an important area of research because women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer want to know how to lower their risk of recurrence," she said.
But it's too soon to advise making any dietary changes, McCullough said. "Dietary recommendations change when several studies show the same thing," she said.
The effect of diet on breast cancer recurrence risk is much less clear than the data on the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight, she said.
"The American Cancer Society recommends that breast cancer survivors strive to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a mostly plant-based, varied diet and regular physical activity," McCullough said.
Emond agreed it's too soon to make new diet recommendations. However, she suggested women follow the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend
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