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 (1, 2).
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 (
Here are 12 foods that may help reduce your risk of breast cancer as well as a few to avoid.
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 (11).
2. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolate compounds, which your body can convert into molecules called isothiocyanates. These have significant anticancer potential (13).
Notably, a study involving 1,493 Southern Chinese women linked higher total cruciferous vegetable intake to a reduced risk of breast cancer (14).
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 (15).
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 (15).
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
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 (19).
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 (20).
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 (
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 (25,
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 (
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 (34).
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 (38).
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 (45).
Walnuts have a long list of benefits and are a great source of heart-healthy fats, including alpha-linolenic acid (46).
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 (47).
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 (48).
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.
While certain foods may protect against breast cancer, others may increase your risk.
As such, it’s best to reduce your intake of the following foods and beverages — or avoid them altogether:
- Alcohol: Alcohol use, especially heavy drinking, may significantly increase your risk of breast cancer (
4, 21, 50).
- Fast food: Eating fast food regularly has many downsides, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer (
- Fried foods: Research shows that a diet high in fried foods may significantly increase your risk of breast cancer. Indeed, in a study involving 620 Iranian women under 50 years old, fried food intake was the largest risk factor for breast cancer development (53).
- Processed meats: Processed meats like bacon and sausage may raise your risk of breast cancer. A 2018 literature review of 18 studies linked highly processed meat intake to a 9% greater breast cancer risk (
- Added sugar: A diet high in added sugar may significantly raise your risk of breast cancer by increasing inflammation and the expression of certain enzymes related to cancer growth and spread (
- Refined carbs: Diets high in refined carbs, including the typical Western diet, may increase breast cancer risk. Try replacing refined carbs like white bread and sugary baked goods with whole grain products and nutrient-dense veggies (57).
Soy and breast cancer
Many people also wonder whether soy products — such as tofu, soy milk, and edamame — can affect their risk of breast cancer. Research is mixed.
According to a segment of test-tube and animal studies, consuming high amounts of isoflavones, a compound found in soy, could increase the risk of breast cancer development. Isoflavones mimic the effects of estrogen (
To lower your risk of breast cancer, steer clear of alcohol, fast food, fried foods, processed meats, added sugar, and refined carbs. Research on soy is mixed, but human studies suggest it may protect against breast cancer.
There’s no doubt that your diet can help prevent chronic diseases, including breast cancer. However, many other lifestyle choices may affect your cancer risk too.
For example, engaging in regular exercise, getting enough rest, and avoiding smoking offer significant protection against breast cancer. Maintaining a moderate body weight may also help reduce your risk (
Furthermore, some research suggests that certain skin care products may increase breast cancer risk.
For example, many moisturizers, cosmetics, and hair products contain parabens, a type of chemical that could play a role in the development of breast cancer. Parabens are considered endocrine disruptors, which means they may have a negative effect on your hormones (65,
Thus, opting for natural skin care, gardening, and cleaning products may decrease your breast cancer risk.
Making health-promoting lifestyle choices and avoiding potentially harmful chemicals in personal and household products may lower your breast cancer risk.
Overall, cancer risk is complex but certainly influenced by your diet.
Following a nutritious diet rich in foods like leafy greens, citrus fruits, and fatty fish may help reduce breast cancer risk. It may be equally important to limit or avoid items like alcohol, highly processed meats, and sugary foods and beverages.
Keep in mind that regular medical appointments and breast cancer screenings are critical for early detection and diagnosis. Speak with a healthcare professional if you have questions about your breast cancer risk or the screening process.