Researchers at Harvard recently found a higher intake of red meat linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. A group of 88,000 mostly Caucasian female nurses completed five surveys about their diets from 1991-2007, and were followed for 20 years. Nearly 3,000 of these women later developed breast cancer. This study looked at the relations between different protein foods in the women’s diet and the risk of later developing breast cancer.
First, researchers noted a higher risk of breast cancer in the women who consumed the most red meat compared to those who consumed the least red meat. Women who had a high intake of red meat were also more likely to have a higher BMI, higher calorie intake and more likely to smoke than women who ate the least red meat.
Researchers noted a 13 percent increase in breast cancer risk for each additional serving of red meat per day. No increase in breast cancer risk was seen with intake of poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts. In fact, substituting any of these protein foods for red meat resulted in a 14 percent decrease in breast cancer risk.
Though a low intake of red meat has been recommended for overall cancer risk reduction for several years, data specifically linking red meat to breast cancer risk has been less clear. Previous studies and reviews of the earlier evidence that investigated the relationship to red meat and breast cancer were not able to show a definite link between the two.
This study supports the current recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society regarding red meat. They suggest limiting red meat (beef, pork, lamb) to 16 oz (one pound) per week, with a special recommendation to limit processed meats such as bacon, sausage, bratwurst, hot dogs and deli meats preserved with sodium nitrate.
However, red meat intake is just one factor to consider in cancer risk reduction. Substantial research highlights the importance of other major lifestyle factors in cancer prevention that include: maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains daily, and limiting saturated fat in the diet.
Learn more about risk factors for breast cancer.