Many factors influence your risk of cancer, including lifestyle and genetics. Discover foods and beverages that may help reduce – or increase – your breast cancer risk. Also, learn about chemicals like parabens and pesticides.
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 also occurs in men, although male breast cancer accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.
DNA damage and genetic mutations may cause breast cancer. Inheriting mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can likewise increase your risk, as can having obesity.
Lifestyle also plays a critical role. Research links smoking, estrogen exposure, heavy drinking, 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 disease.
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 nutrient-rich diet, you still need regular breast cancer screenings like mammograms and manual checks. After all, early detection and diagnosis significantly increase survival rates. Ask a healthcare professional for advice about breast cancer screenings.
All the same, research suggests that these foods may lower your risk of the disease.
1. Leafy green vegetables
These are just a few of the leafy green vegetables that may have anticancer properties:
- mustard greens
Leafy green vegetables contain carotenoid antioxidants, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Higher blood levels of these antioxidants are associated with reduced breast cancer risk.
An older 2012 analysis of 8 studies in 7,011 women found that those with higher levels of carotenoids had a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer compared with women with lower levels.
Likewise, a large 2015 study 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. This study followed 32,826 women over a 20-year period.
Some research has found that intake of folate, a B vitamin concentrated in leafy green vegetables, may help protect against breast cancer. Research is mixed overall on whether folate intake has a significant impact, positive or negative, on breast cancer risk. More studies are needed.
2. 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 involving 1,493 Southern Chinese women linked higher total cruciferous vegetable intake to a reduced risk of breast cancer.
3. Allium vegetables
Garlic, onions, and leeks are all allium vegetables. They boast an array of nutrients, including organosulfur compounds, flavonoid antioxidants, and vitamin C. These may have powerful anticancer properties.
A study involving 660 women in Puerto Rico tied high garlic and onion intake to a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Likewise, a study involving 285 Iranian women found that high intake of garlic and leeks may protect against breast cancer. High intake of raw onion may have a small protective effect as well. Interestingly, the study also found that high consumption of cooked onion was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Thus, more research on onions and breast health is needed.
4. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits include:
Citrus fruits and their peels are teeming with compounds that may protect against breast cancer, including:
- vitamin C
- carotenoids like beta cryptoxanthin and beta carotene
- flavonoid antioxidants like quercetin, hesperetin, and naringenin
These nutrients have antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory effects.
In fact, research ties citrus fruit to a reduced risk of many cancers, including breast cancer. An older 2013 literature review of 6 studies involving 8,393 people linked high citrus intake to a 10% reduction in breast cancer risk.
Regularly enjoying berries may help lower your risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer.
Antioxidants in berries, including flavonoids and anthocyanins, have been shown to protect against cellular damage as well as the development and spread of cancer cells.
6. Peaches, apples, pears, and grapes
Fruits — specifically peaches, apples, pears, and grapes — have been shown to safeguard against breast cancer.
In the large 2013 study mentioned above, women who consumed at least 2 servings of peaches each week had up to a 41% reduced risk of developing estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer.
Interestingly, an older study from 2014 revealed that polyphenol antioxidants from peaches inhibited the growth and spread of a human breast cancer cell line implanted in an animal model.
Studies analyzing data from hundreds of thousands of women have also linked apple and pear intake to a lower risk of breast cancer.
Some test-tube studies also show that certain compounds found in grapes — including flavonoids and anthocyanins — can protect against breast cancer cells. More research involving humans is needed.
7. Fatty fish
Fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, are known for their impressive health benefits. Their omega-3 fats, selenium, and antioxidants like astaxanthin may offer protective effects against cancer.
Some studies show that eating fatty fish may specifically reduce your risk of breast cancer.
One older literature review from 2013 analyzed 21 studies involving a total of 883,585 people. Researchers 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 on the consumption of fish and its fatty acids report similar findings .
Balancing your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio by eating more fatty fish and less refined oils and ultra-processed foods may help reduce your breast cancer risk as well.
8. Fermented foods
A 2015 literature review of 27 studies linked consumption of dairy products, including fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir, to a reduced risk of breast cancer in both Western and Asian populations.
Test-tube studies and animal research suggest that this protective effect is related to the immune-enhancing effects of certain probiotics.
A study involving 4,706 women found that high bean intake reduced breast cancer risk by up to 20% compared with low bean intake.
Additionally, in a study involving 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 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. A 2017 test-tube study found that these antioxidants exhibit significant anticancer effects against aggressive breast cancer cell lines.
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, such as thyme, curry spice mixes, and ginger.
11. Whole grains
Whole grains like wheat, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and rye are rich in a variety of important nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
What’s more, they may also possess powerful cancer-fighting properties.
In fact, one 2016 study found that consuming more than seven servings of whole grains each week was linked to a significantly lower risk of the development of breast cancer in women.
Another study involving 10,812 middle-aged women showed that eating more high quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, was associated with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer over a 12-year period.
Furthermore, other research suggests that adding whole grains to your diet could also protect against several other types of cancer as well, including pancreatic, colorectal, stomach, and esophageal cancers.
Walnuts have a long list of benefits and are a great source of heart-healthy fats, including alpha-linolenic acid.
Interestingly, some research suggests that adding walnuts and other types of nuts to your diet could even help protect against breast cancer.
According to a 2015 study involving 201 people, those who consumed the highest amount of walnuts, peanuts, and almonds each week were 2–3 times less likely to develop breast cancer than those who didn’t consume any nuts.
Another small study looked at the effect of walnuts on women with breast cancer. The researchers found that consuming 2 ounces (57 grams) of walnuts each day for 2–3 weeks led to significant changes in levels of specific genes that control the growth and spread of breast cancer cells.
In addition, one 2016 test-tube study showed that certain compounds isolated from walnuts were able to block the growth of breast cancer cells by 63%.
Foods that may help lower your risk of breast cancer include numerous veggies and fruits, fatty fish, fermented foods, beans, many herbs and spices, whole grains, and walnuts.