2022 – A plant-based diet may help prevent breast cancer

Thursday, June 16, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A new French study shows that postmenopausal women who follow a healthy vegetarian diet have a lower risk of breast cancer.

After tracking more than 65,000 women over two decades, researchers found that the risk of developing breast cancer was reduced by an average of 14% in women who ate a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

But the focus is on “health”. Breast cancer risk decreased only in women whose diets contained a large amount of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea or coffee — although red meat and poultry sometimes entered the equation.

In contrast, no protective benefit was observed in older women whose vegetarian diets were considered relatively unhealthy due to heavy reliance on sweetened fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened beverages and/or sweets. In fact, these women had an increased risk of breast cancer by about 20%.

The study’s lead author, Sanam Shah, said the findings “highlight that increasing consumption of healthy foods of plant origin and decreasing consumption of less healthy plant foods can help prevent all types of breast cancer.”

But, she added, the warning is clear: “Not all plant-based diets are equally healthy.”

Shah, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of Paris-Saclay in France, said that given that “a meat-free diet carries a ‘positive’ health profile, this finding may surprise some people.”

But Shah and her colleagues haven’t focused on women who give up meat completely. None of the women were vegetarians or vegans.

Instead, the investigators focused on women whose diets included some meat and poultry while still mostly plant-based.

They then examined whether healthier plant-based foods had a different effect on breast cancer risk compared to less healthy options, an aspect that has typically been overlooked in previous research.

For the study, French participants (mean age 53) completed diet questionnaires in 1993 and again in 2005.

The women were assigned either a predominantly animal diet or a predominantly vegetarian diet.

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