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Nutrition Counts: High-Fiber Foods May Prevent Breast Cancer

nutritional counseling, Registered Dietitian, Bon Secours In MotionIt’s hard to discount the importance of nutrition when researchers from Harvard H.T. Chan School of Public Health suggest that eating fruits and veggies at a young age may be a way for women to prevent breast cancer.

A new large-scale study suggests that women who eat more high-fiber foods during adolescence and young adulthood have a “significantly lower breast cancer risk” than those who eat less dietary fiber.

How much lower? Researchers say the breast cancer risk was 12 to 19 percent lower among women who ate more dietary fiber in early adulthood, depending on how much they ate. And, eating a high amount of fiber during adolescence was also associated with a 16 percent lower risk of overall breast cancer and a 24 percent lower risk of breast cancer before menopause, according to a news release from Harvard School of Public Health. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics.

“From many other studies we know that breast tissue is particularly influenced by carcinogens and anticarcinogens during childhood and adolescence,” said Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. “We now have evidence that what we feed our children during this period of life is also an important factor in future cancer risk.”

Heart disease may be the leading cause of death for women but breast cancer remains one of their top health concerns – for good reason. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women overall, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among Hispanic women, it is the leading cause of cancer death.

With roughly 200,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year in the United States, federal health officials are constantly gathering data and research to help women lower their risk.

Understanding the role of nutrition can be a smart strategy for anyone trying to meet their nutritional needs.

So how much fruit and how many vegetables should parents feed their daughters?

“For each additional 10 grams of fiber intake daily—for example, about one apple and two slices of whole wheat bread, or about half a cup each of cooked kidney beans and cooked cauliflower or squash—during early adulthood, breast cancer risk dropped by 13 percent,” the news release states. “The greatest apparent benefit came from fruit and vegetable fiber.”

The authors speculated that by eating more fiber-rich foods, women were able to reduce high estrogen levels in the blood, which are strongly linked with breast cancer development.

“Previous studies of fiber intake and breast cancer have almost all been non-significant, and none of them examined diet during adolescence or early adulthood, a period when breast cancer risk factors appear to be particularly important,” said Maryam Farvid, visiting scientist at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study. “This work on the role of nutrition in early life and breast cancer incidence suggests one of the very few potentially modifiable risk factors for premenopausal breast cancer.”

Sources: Harvard Chan School of Public Health news release, CDC

+ Do you want to learn more about nutrition and how it affects your health and weight? Learn about the nutritional counseling program at Bon Secours In Motion.