Several studies have looked at the relationship between foods high in saturated fat, such as meat and dairy products, and breast cancer. When it comes to meat, the findings are mixed. Some studies show that higher meat intakes are linked to a greater risk, whereas others don’t show any effect. The harmful effect of meat may be due to
its saturated fat content, or it may be due to the way it’s prepared. Cooking meat at high temperatures forms compounds called heterocyclic amines, which have been shown to cause breast tumors in animals; this may hold true for women, too. A University of Minnesota study found that women who ate hamburger, steak and bacon well-done were more than four times as likely to have breast cancer than women who enjoyed their meat cooked rare or medium.3 Until we know more about the effect of cooked meat, breast cancer experts advise that we consume no more than 3 ounces (80 grams) of meat each day.
It may be that whole milk offers protection from breast cancer. Finnish researchers studied 4697 women for 25 years, and discovered that the women who had the highest intake of milk had a 48 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who drank the least.4 Scientists speculate that a special fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) might be responsible for milk’s protective effect. CLA occurs naturally in dairy products and meat, and has been shown in a number of animal studies to inhibit breast cancer growth.
Omega-3 Fats for Breast Cancer
You may want to start eating more fish. In population studies, eating plenty of fish for many years is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. While no trials have been done in women, one animal study did find that omega-3 fats from fish oil actually suppressed growth of human breast cancer cells and metastases in female mice (scientists inject human breast cancer cells into mice to study the effects of different carcinogens).5 Despite the lack of strong evidence of fish’s protective effect, the existing studies do suggest that you should get more omega-3 fats in your diet. My recommendation is to eat fatty fish three times a week.