Certain fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, fermented foods, beans, herbs and spices, whole grains, and walnuts can help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Steer clear of alcohol, fast food, fried foods, processed meats, added sugar, and refined carbs.

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 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.

Here are 12 foods that may help reduce your risk of breast cancer and 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.

1. Leafy green vegetables

These are just a few of the leafy green vegetables that may have anticancer properties:

  • kale
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • mustard greens
  • chard

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 eight 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 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 effect, 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

an assortment of onions, shallots, and heads of garlic against a gray backgroundShare on Pinterest
Johner Images/Getty Images

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 2020 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 a 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:

  • oranges
  • grapefruits
  • lemons
  • limes
  • tangerines

Citrus fruits and their peels are teeming with compounds that may protect against breast cancer, including:

  • folate
  • 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 six studies involving 8,393 people linked high citrus intake to a 10% reduction in breast cancer risk.

5. Berries

nine cartons of fresh strawberriesShare on Pinterest
Kristin Lee/Getty Images

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 and the development and spread of cancer cells.

Notably, an older 2013 study involving 75,929 women linked a higher intake of berries — and blueberries in particular — to a lower risk of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer.

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 two 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 protect 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 fish consumption 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

Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut contain probiotics and other nutrients that may safeguard against breast cancer.

A 2015 literature review of 27 studies linked the consumption of dairy products, including fermented dairy products like yogurt, 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.

9. Beans

three bowls filled with either uncooked black beans, uncooked cranberry beans, or uncooked chickpeasShare on Pinterest
Nadine Greeff/Stocksy United

Beans are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Specifically, their high fiber content may protect against breast cancer.

A 2018 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 2020 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.

Curcumin, the main active compound in turmeric, has also demonstrated significant anticancer properties, as has apigenin, a flavonoid concentrated in parsley.

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 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, including pancreatic, colorectal, stomach, and esophageal cancers.

12. Walnuts

Walnuts have many 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 could block the growth of breast cancer cells by 63%.

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:

  1. Alcohol: Alcohol use, especially heavy drinking, may significantly increase your risk of breast cancer.
  2. Fast food: Eating fast food regularly has many downsides, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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.

However, studies in humans have actually found that increased soy intake is linked to a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

What’s more, soy intake may actually improve outcomes and help protect against recurrence in people diagnosed with 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 negatively affect your hormones.

Exposure to pesticides, as well as endocrine disruptors such as Bisphenol A (BPA) that are found in materials like plastic, may raise breast cancer risk too.

Thus, opting for natural skin care, gardening, and cleaning products may decrease 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.