Breast health

Nutrition and breast cancer risk

Food consumption is a core physiological need composed of various biological, social, and cultural layers. Similar to how physical exercise helps maintain your physical and mental wellbeing, your diet plays a significant role in how the nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems function in the human body. Nutrition in the form of food intake and dietary habits is an essential health determinant and marker. From overseeing the energy balance to guiding an effective immune response, nutrition not only provides nourishment but can help prevent modifiable disease risk factors. 
Although no food or diet can directly prevent you from getting breast cancer, the field of epidemiological and scientific research has invested a lot of resources into attempting to establish links between dietary behaviours and increased breast cancer risk. One of the many difficulties of distinguishing the direct impacts of macronutrients and micronutrients are differences in human response based on genetic and metabolic variation as well as lifestyle factors. Not only are the individual responses to common food components, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, highly varied but isolating a single factor in the complex relationships between nutrients and physiological processes is particularly challenging. Today the only well-established diet-related risk factors for breast cancer are obesity and alcohol consumption (2). However, that does not mean that striving for a balanced, healthy diet composed of a high diversity of quality vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, whole foods, unsaturated fats is not important. The cancer process includes a wide range of cellular processes – all of which can be impacted by diet. It is estimated that approximately one-third of breast cancer cases can be influenced by dietary modification (7). 

There are many suggestions to consider relating to your diet that can minimize your risk and help protect you from developing breast cancer. Here are some of the scientifically justified recommendations.  

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are evident. Studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables may indeed help lower breast cancer risk. The WHO guidelines suggest consuming 400-574 grams of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily is essential for a breast cancer prevention diet (3). Plant-based diets are high in nutrients and dietary fiber, low in energy density, and rich in phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. 

Fruits and vegetables promote health through antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and estrogen-modulating effects, which contribute to lowering your risk of breast cancer (6). Therefore whether you are receiving the necessary vitamin B by eating green, leafy vegetables and eating orange and red fruits full of healthy carotenoids, making a habit of eating lots of fruits and vegetables is one of the best things you can do for your health. Protect yourself from a variety of illnesses, including breast cancer, by including fruits and vegetables in every meal.

Limit consumption of processed meat and red meat

The increased breast cancer risk associated with red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb) and processed meats (such as sausage, ham, bacon, and hotdogs) was affirmed when the International Agency for Research on Cancer labeled these foods as possible carcinogens (1). While eating meat can have nutritional benefits, some of the cancer-promoting effects of meat are thought to be connected to the stimulation of growth-regulating systems and hormones. A meat-heavy diet can result in an excess amount of the hormone estrogen, which can increase your likelihood of developing estrogen-positive breast cancer. 

Besides, further studies are looking into the influence of cooking methods of meat in relation to breast cancer risk. When the meat is cooked at high temperatures, toxins called heterocyclic amines are formed, which can have adverse health properties. While more robust evidence is necessary, the negative effects of processed meats are leading more people to limit their daily meat intake and stay away from smoked and charred meat products. 

Limit your saturated and trans fat intake 

The scientific data on the correlation between dietary fat intake and breast cancer risk remains largely inconclusive. Fats are an essential component of our diets yet a distinction between various types of fats and their associated risks needs to be discerned. There are four basic types of fat: saturated and trans fats (“bad” fats); and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (“good” fats, when eaten in moderation) (5). Trans-fatty acids found in the majority of vegetable oils (corn, soybean, and sunflower), have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Similarly, trans fats make up a large component of high-caloric, processed foods (potato chips, french fries, cakes, etc.), which should be limited as much as possible in your everyday diet. The preferred type of fat is polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and spinach. 

The amount of fat that is consumed in your daily diet similarly poses a correlating risk in terms of breast cancer development. One of the largest diet-related studies known as the Women’s Health Initiative Trial found that a high-fat eating pattern (>40% of energy as fat), characterized by a higher intake of processed meats, margarine, butter, and other animal fats, was associated with a 2-fold greater risk of breast cancer. One of the many negative effects of a high-fat diet is the development of excess body weight and obesity. An increased BMI is an established risk factor that further predisposes women to an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer. 

Nutrition remains a young science and more research is necessary to comprehend the full extent of the importance that diet plays in causing and preventing breast cancer. What we do know however is that based on World Health Organisation and ACS recommendation, a breast cancer prevention diet is plant-based and encourages a high intake of fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts (4). Keeping a food journal might be the first step towards a more conscious-driven approach to maintaining a healthy diet. To help You develop a healthy diet and meet all of your nutrition-related needs or advice, seek the help of a dietician or nutrition specialist. Working in collaboration with a professional in creating a personalized diet and physical health plan guarantees to cater to your needs and minimizes your chances of breast cancer risk development. To learn more about the impacts that alcohol and excess weight have in increasing your chances of developing breast cancer read here. 

A fascinating research prospect now aims to focus on the connection between food exposure and significant developmental life stages for women, such as the beginning of menarche or pregnancy. Diet patterns and excessive consumption of, for example, dairy, fat, or sugar during important periods in breast epithelial tissue growth, such as fetal development, adolescence, and pregnancy could be predisposing factor for cancer risk later in life. 


  1. Anon, 2020. Intake of Various Food Groups and Risk of Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), pp. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 2020–12-03.
  2. De Cicco, Paola, et al., 2019. Nutrition and Breast Cancer: A Literature Review on Prevention, Treatment, and Recurrence. Nutrients, 11(7), p.1514.
  3. Temple, N.J., Wilson, T. & Bray, G.A., 2017. Nutrition Guide for Physicians and Related Healthcare Professionals 2nd ed. 2017., Cham: Springer International Publishing: Imprint: Humana.
  4. Key, Timothy J, et al., 2003. Nutrition and breast cancer. Breast (Edinburgh), 12(6), pp.412–416.
  5. Chajès, Véronique & Romieu, Isabelle, 2013. Nutrition and breast cancer. Maturitas, 77(1), pp.7–11.
  6. Thomson, C.A., 2012. Diet and Breast Cancer. Nutrition in clinical practice, 27(5), pp.636–650.
  7. Brennan, Sarah F, et al., 2010. Dietary patterns and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(5), pp.1294–1302.