BREAST cancer is the most common cancer in women, with invasive breast cancer affecting 1 in every 8 women in the United States during their lifetime. It even occurs in men, though male breast cancer accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.
DNA damage and genetic mutations may cause this disease. Inheriting certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can likewise increase your risk, as can having obesity.
Lifestyle also plays a critical role, with research linking heavy drinking, smoking, estrogen exposure, and certain dietary patterns — including Western diets high in processed foods — to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Notably, studies associate other eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Moreover, specific foods may even protect against this illness.
Here are 10 foods to eat to help reduce your risk of breast cancer, as well as a few to avoid.
Foods that may lower breast cancer risk
Keep in mind that many factors are associated with breast cancer development. While improving your diet can improve your overall health and reduce your cancer risk in general, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Even with a healthy diet, you still need regular breast cancer screenings like mammograms and manual checks. After all, early detection and diagnosis significantly increase survival rates. Talk to your healthcare provider for advice about breast cancer screenings.
All the same, research suggests that these foods may lower your risk of this disease.
1. Leafy green vegetables
Kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, and chard are just a few of the leafy green vegetables that may have anticancer properties.
Leafy green vegetables contain carotenoid antioxidants, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, higher blood levels of which are associated with reduced breast cancer risk.
An analysis of 8 studies in over 7,000 people found that women with higher levels of carotenoids had a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer, compared with women with lower levels.
Likewise, a followup study in over 32,000 women linked higher blood levels of total carotenoids to an 18–28% reduced risk of breast cancer, as well as a reduced risk of recurrence and death in those who already had breast cancer.
What’s more, research reveals that a high intake of folate, a B vitamin concentrated in green leafy vegetables, may protect against breast cancer.
2. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are teeming with compounds that may protect against breast cancer, including folate, vitamin C, and carotenoids like beta cryptoxanthin and beta carotene, plus flavonoid antioxidants like quercetin, hesperetin, and naringenin.
These nutrients provide antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory effects.
In fact, research ties citrus fruit to a reduced risk of many cancers, including breast cancer. A review of 6 studies in over 8,000 people linked high citrus intake to a 10% reduction in breast cancer risk.
Citrus fruits include oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and tangerines.
3. Fatty fish
Fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, are known for their impressive health benefits. Their omega-3 fats, selenium, and antioxidants like canthaxanthin may offer cancer-protective effects.
Some studies show that eating fatty fish may specifically reduce your risk of breast cancer.
A large analysis of 26 studies in 883,000 people found that those with the highest intake of seafood sources of omega-3s had up to a 14% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared with those who ate the lowest amount.
Other studies report similar findings.
Balancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio by eating more fatty fish and less refined oils and processed foods may help reduce your breast cancer risk as well.
Regularly enjoying berries may help lower your risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer.
Berries’ antioxidants, including flavonoids and anthocyanins, have been shown to protect against cellular damage, as well as the development and spread of cancer cells.
Notably, a study in 75,929 women linked higher berry intake — and blueberries in particular — to a lower risk of estrogen receptor negative (ER−) breast cancer.
5. Fermented foods
Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut contain probiotics and other nutrients that may safeguard against breast cancer.
A review of 27 studies linked fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, to a reduced risk of breast cancer in both Western and Asian populations.
Animal research suggests that this protective effect is related to the immune-enhancing effects of certain probiotics.
6. Allium vegetables
Garlic, onions, and leeks are all allium vegetables that boast an array of nutrients, including organosulfur compounds, flavonoid antioxidants, and vitamin C. These may have powerful anticancer properties.
A study in 660 women in Puerto Rico tied high garlic and onion intake to a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Likewise, a study in 285 women found that high garlic and leek intake may protect against breast cancer. However, the study noted a positive association between high consumption of cooked onions and breast cancer.
Thus, more research on onions and breast health is needed.
7. Peaches, apples, and pears
Fruits — specifically peaches, apples, and pears — have been shown to safeguard against breast cancer.
In a study in 75,929 women, those who consumed at least 2 servings of peaches per week had up to a 41% reduced risk of developing ER– breast cancer.
Interestingly, a test-tube study revealed that polyphenol antioxidants from peaches inhibited the growth and spread of a breast cancer cell line.
Furthermore, a study analyzing data from 272,098 women linked apple and pear intake to a lower risk of breast cancer.
8. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli, may help lower your risk of breast cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolate compounds, which your body can convert into molecules called isothiocyanates. These have significant anticancer potential.
Notably, a study in 1,493 women linked higher total cruciferous vegetable intake with a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Beans are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Specifically, their high fiber content may protect against breast cancer.
A study in 2,571 women found that high bean intake reduced breast cancer risk by up to 20%, compared with low bean intake.
Additionally, in a study in 1,260 Nigerian women, those with the highest intake of beans had up to a 28% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared with those with the lowest intake.
10. Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices like parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, turmeric, curry, and ginger contain plant compounds that may help protect against breast cancer. These include vitamins, fatty acids, and polyphenol antioxidants.
For example, oregano boasts the antioxidants carvacrol and rosmarinic acid, which test-tube studies have found to exhibit significant anticancer effects against aggressive breast cancer cell lines.
Curcumin, the main active compound in turmeric, has also demonstrated significant anticancer properties, as has apigenin, a flavonoid concentrated in parsley.
As many other herbs and spices have powerful anticancer effects as well, it’s a good idea to include a wide variety in your diet.
Foods that may help lower your risk of breast cancer include fatty fish, numerous veggies, beans, fermented foods, many herbs and spices, and fruits like berries, peaches, apples, pears, and citrus.
Foods and beverages to avoid
While certain foods may protect against breast cancer, other foods may increase your risk.
As such, it’s best to reduce your intake of the following foods and beverages — or avoid them altogether:
- Alcohol. Alcohol use, especially heavy drinking, may significantly increase your risk of breast cancer.
- Fast food. Eating fast food regularly is associated with many downsides, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer.
- Fried foods. Research shows that a diet high in fried foods may significantly increase your risk of breast cancer. Indeed, in a study in 620 Iranian women, fried food intake was the largest risk factor for breast cancer development.
- Processed meats. Processed meats like bacon and sausage may raise your risk of breast cancer. One analysis of 15 studies linked high processed meat intake to a 9% greater breast cancer risks.
- Added sugar. A diet high in added sugar may significantly raise your risk of breast cancer by increasing inflammation and the expression of certain enzymes related to cancer growth and spread.
- Refined carbs. Diets high in refined carbs, including the typical Western diet, may increase breast cancer risk. Try replacing refined carbs like white bread and sugary baked goods with whole grain products and nutrient-dense veggies.
To lower your risk of breast cancer, steer clear of refined carbs, added sugar, alcohol, fried foods, processed meats, and fast food.
There’s no doubt that your diet can help prevent chronic diseases, including breast cancer. However, many other lifestyle choices may affect your cancer risk as well.
For example, engaging in regular exercise, getting enough rest, and not smoking offer significant protection against breast cancer. Maintaining a healthy body weight may also help reduce your risk.
Furthermore, some research suggests that certain skin care products may increase breast cancer risk. For example, antiperspirant use is tied to an increased risk of breast cancer, though more research is needed.
Plus, exposure to pesticides, as well as compounds known as endocrine disruptors found in materials like plastic, may raise breast cancer risk.
Thus, opting for natural skin care, gardening, and cleaning products may decrease your breast cancer risk.
Keep in mind that regular medical appointments and breast cancer screenings are critical for early detection and diagnosis. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have questions about your breast cancer risk or the screening process.
Getting optimal sleep, refraining from smoking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy body weight may all lower your breast cancer risk. Keep in mind that breast cancer screening is vital for women’s health.
The bottom line
Following a nutritious diet rich in foods like leafy greens, fatty fish, citrus fruits, beans, berries, and certain herbs and spices may help reduce breast cancer risk.
It may be equally important to cut out sugary beverages, processed meats, fried food, and alcohol.
Overall, cancer risk is complex but certainly influenced by your diet. Remember to talk to your healthcare provider about breast cancer screenings.