Health experts have long touted the benefits of a low-fat diet for preventing heart disease, but now a large study suggests it might do the same against breast cancer.
Researchers found that eating low-fat foods reduced a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer by 21%. What’s more, the women on low-fat diets also cut their risk of dying from any cause by 15%.
“This is the only study providing randomized controlled trial evidence that a dietary intervention can reduce women’s risk of death from breast cancer,” said study author Dr. Rowan Chlebowski. He is from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif.
Diet has long been suspected to be a factor in cancer. Obesity has been linked to 12 different types of cancers, including postmenopausal breast cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. And, a diet full of healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes is thought to help protect against cancer.
Chlebowski noted that previous studies have shown a higher cancer incidence in countries where people tend to eat more fat.
The latest study looked at the effect a low-fat diet might have on the incidence of breast cancer and death.
Nearly 49,000 postmenopausal women from 40 centers across the United States were included in the study. The women were between the ages of 50 and 79, and had no history of previous breast cancer. Eighty percent of the women were white, which Chlebowski said matched the population when the study began.
Between 1993 and 1998, the women were randomly assigned to one of two dietary groups. One group was assigned to a normal diet. This diet had about 32% of their calories from fat. The low-fat group had a target of 20% or less of calories from fat.
Chlebowski said the low-fat diet was close in content to the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet. This emphasizes eating vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, while avoiding high-fat meats and dairy products, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.