Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Do vegetables help reduce risk of breast cancer?
A: Eating more vegetables (and fruits) may work in several ways as part of an overall healthy eating pattern and lifestyle to reduce breast cancer risk. Excess body fat does increase risk for post-menopausal breast cancer, so substituting low-calorie vegetables and fruits for foods high in calories can help because research strongly supports this as a key step in weight management. A recent analysis conducted as part of the AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project reported that higher vegetable and fruit consumption is linked with a small reduction in breast cancer risk. Another analysis showed a link between high blood levels of carotenoids and decreased breast cancer risk. High blood carotenoids are a marker of people consuming more vegetables and fruits, but could also reflect more use of nutrient-rich deep orange and dark green leafy vegetables. These carotenoids (including beta-carotene and several others) may offer both antioxidant protection and direct interference with cancer development. Some cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale, are rich in carotenoids as well as compounds called glucosinolates that may reduce cancer risk. In an analysis of 13 population studies, women who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables had a 15 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who ate the least. However, the researchers emphasize that no firm conclusions can be drawn yet about cruciferous vegetables and breast cancer risk. As you look for steps you can take to reduce your risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, by far the strongest effects seem to come from reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity and minimizing alcohol consumption. For all these reasons, eating more vegetables does make sense as one part of an overall lifestyle to reduce breast cancer risk and promote overall health.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International..