- A new study found women who eat a diet high in inflammatory foods have up to a 12% increased risk of breast cancer.
- Chronic inflammation is thought to be a precursor for various diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
- Experts recommend eating a Mediterranean-style diet rich in non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and lean protein for overall health.
To keep breast cancer out of your future, experts suggest working out regularly, keeping up with scheduled mammograms, and getting to know your family history. Another smart move? Fill your plate with anti-inflammatory foods.
In a new study, which was published in the journal Current Developments In Nutrition, Spanish researchers followed approximately 320,000 women from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition for 14 years. Among the group, 13,246 breast cancer cases were identified during the years of follow up.
The researchers analysed the participants’ diets using self-reported questionnaires that included information about the foods they ate and how often they ate them. Then, each person received an “inflammatory score of the diet” based on their overall intake of 27 foods. These foods were measured by their “inflammatory weight.” So, the higher the score a participant received based on the foods they ate, the more inflammatory their diet was considered to be.
The result: Women who had the highest inflammatory diet score had up to a 12% increased risk of breast cancer compared to women who had the lowest inflammatory diet score. The increase in risk was most prevalent among premenopausal women (typically those 50 and younger, or those who have yet to experience menopause).
Women with the highest scores ate lots of meat and meat products (particularly red and processed meats), foods rich in unhealthy fats and oils like butter and margarine, and sugary sweets. Anti-inflammatory foods, on the other hand, included legumes, vegetables, fruits, some fruit and vegetable juices, coffee, and tea, says lead study author Carlota Castro-Espin.
Here’s why that’s important: Inflammation isn’t inherently a bad thing. Whenever something enters your body, your immune system responds to try and get rid of anything it sees as an “invader.” This response should eventually bring everything back into balance to keep things running smoothly. Inflammation becomes a problem, however, when it persists for longer than it should or your body continues to heighten a response when it doesn’t need to. That can lead to low-grade, chronic inflammation, which experts believe is a precursor to various deadly diseases, including cancer, due to the damage it can cause to healthy cells.
That’s where anti-inflammatory foods come in. They contain powerful nutrients—like antioxidants and fibre—to help ward off the potential for long-lasting damage. “The Mediterranean diet is a great example of an anti-inflammatory diet and is consistent with cancer prevention guidelines,” says registered dietitian, Marji McCullough, who was not associated with the study. “It is rich in a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish, as well as olive oil and nuts.”
So, try this tip at your next meal: Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, and fruit and the remaining one-third with lean protein, like omega-3-rich fatty fish. (This expert-approved list of inflammation-fighting foods is a good place to start.)
Then, Castro-Espin also suggests a few other preventive measures to reduce breast cancer risk: Aim to do some heart-pumping exercise around 150 minutes per week, work with your doctor to identify what a healthy body weight means for you, and go easy on the booze—no more than 1 drink per day for women.