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These Foods May Increase Your Breast Cancer Risk, Says New Study

You may already have most of these foods in your cupboard and fridge.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Foods that increase inflammation throughout the body cause a 12% increase in breast cancer risk, according to a major study of more than 318,000 women.

In findings presented at the Nutrition 2021 Live online conference, researchers assessed the impact of dietary choices over 14 years and found that inflammatory foods were connected to this type of cancer, with the association more pronounced among premenopausal women—a connection that occurred regardless of other cancer risk factors like body mass index, physical activity, or alcohol consumption. These foods include:

  • Sugars, including high fructose corn syrup
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Fried foods
  • Processed meat like hot dogs and sausage
  • Saturated fats

Most studies looking at consumption and breast cancer risk tend to focus on single nutrients or foods rather than the whole diet, said the study's first author Carlota Castro-Espin, Ph.D.(c) at Catalan Institute of Oncology in Spain, in a statement. This study is important, she added, because people don't consume solo nutrients, but rather, foods in combination.

woman refusing cupcakes
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For example, regularly eating processed meat with highly refined breads that are slathered with margarine, and washing it down with a sugary soda, would cause a major spike in your inflammatory response, says David Hanscom, M.D., a physician who focuses on controlling inflammation in his patients. That enlists your immune system to fire up to try and control that reaction, but if you regularly eat these foods, your system doesn't get a chance to stand down.

That can put you at risk for breast cancer, as the recent study suggests, but it's also been shown to increase the likelihood of many other issues, including autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular problems, obesity, diabetes, and other types of cancer. These foods aren't the only triggers for that inflammatory response, Hanscom adds.

"Stress can be a major cause of inflammation, along with poor sleep, smoking, food allergies, and chronic illness," he says. "The good news is that there are many ways to lower inflammation, and those strategies help to improve your health and wellbeing in major ways."

For example, he suggests tackling stress first, since simply changing your diet without addressing feelings of anger will have limited effect.

"For many people, stress is the underlying cause of some food choices, particularly inflammatory foods, so you're compounding the problem," he says. Starting with de-stress tactics—even just writing in a journal, for example—can start to reduce that inflammation response, and choosing anti-inflammatory foods like fruits and vegetables can keep you on the right track.

For more, check out Eating This One Type of Food May Lower Your Stress, New Study Says.

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth
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