A woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer can be reduced with a low-fat diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, according to a new national study that included research participants in Memphis.
Doctors at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) joined researchers nationwide in following almost 50,000 postmenopausal women for close to 20 years, dividing them into two study groups.
One group of women was asked to restrict calories from fat to just 20 percent of their total daily intake while also increasing their servings of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. A second group maintained normal eating habits, in which on average at least a third of calories come from fat.
Researchers found that those women who developed breast cancer while following the low-fat regime were 21 percent less likely to die from the cancer.
“That’s huge to think that you can influence your cancer risk by just what you eat,” says Dr. Karen Johnson, the study’s principal investigator at UTHSC. “What you choose to eat will affect your risk for disease later in life, there’s just no question about it.”
Research also showed that women who modified their diets had a 15 percent reduced chance of dying from any cause after developing breast cancer.
About 4,000 study participants were from the Memphis area and all had no history of breast cancer.
Women in the study struggled to reduce their dietary fat consumption to 20 percent or less, Johnson says, but most were able to maintain a 25 percent level. Still, it indicates people significantly altered their eating habits, such as baking food instead of frying it.
“It is possible to make long-term lifestyle changes,” she says. “Even when you're postmenopausal.”
The research did not establish a link between a low-fat diet and a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.