Here’s why you’ll want to follow a low-fat diet rich in plant-based foods.

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If you’re a woman, would you take steps to help reduce your chance of dying from breast cancer if you could? Well, you may be able to do that.

Findings released in May 2019 from a very large Women’s Health Initiative clinical trial showed that postmenopausal women who had breast cancer and followed a lower-fat diet, including a higher intake of vegetables, fruits and grains, had a lower risk of dying than women who maintained a higher-fat diet.

The study involved over 48,000 women across the United States. The women, who did not have breast cancer at the beginning of the study, were randomly assigned to two groups. One group was told to follow their usual diet, which included about 32% of daily calories from fat on average. The other group was instructed to try to reduce their fat intake to 20% and to eat more vegetables, fruits and grains.

“I am often asked how to lower the risk of breast cancer. There are several things women can do to decrease their risk. You can start with exercising at least 2 hours weekly; not just staying active, but exercising elevates your heart rate for 30 minutes at a time. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight by eating a low-fat diet with more fruits and vegetables. You should also limit alcohol intake to less than 3 drinks per week (one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor). Last but not least, avoid tobacco in any form. Not all breast cancer can be prevented, but healthy habits lower the risk of getting breast cancer and for those who have it of cancer returning!”

-Mary Elizabeth Christian, MD, FACS, BCBA, Breast Surgery 

The lower-fat group wasn’t able to maintain an average fat intake of 20% – it averaged about 25% fat – but women in that group who developed breast cancer had a lower risk of dying from any cause than women in the higher-fat group who developed breast cancer.

During the 20 years that the women in the study were followed, 3,374 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed. Of those women, the women in the lower-fat diet group had a 21% lower risk of dying from breast cancer and a 15% lower risk of dying from any cause.

Although the findings of this study don’t conclusively show that eating a lower fat diet with more plant-based food will prevent breast cancer from occurring in the first place, it does add to the mounting evidence that demonstrates a link between diet and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

The diet followed in this study was not very restrictive and did not require the women to eliminate any food groups. It consisted of making small changes such as increasing fruit, vegetable and grain intake, as well as reducing fat intake, making it relatively achievable for those looking to make similar changes. So if you’re looking to stack the odds in your favor when it comes to breast cancer – what you put on your plate matters. Eating more plant-based foods and reducing the amount of fat in your diet is one positive step you can take for your health.

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Date Last Reviewed: August 19, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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