October is breast cancer awareness month and one of the factors that may impact a woman’s lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is her early-life diet, especially before initial pregnancy. Well, a recently published Harvard Medical School study has shown a daily serving of vegetable protein such as that from nuts can reduce the risk for developing benign breast disease (BBD) by as much as 68%. BBD is a significant risk factor for full blown breast cancer later in life.

The 2013 study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research looked at the dietary habits of 9,039 female subjects ages 9 to 15 in 1996 as part of the Growing Up Today Study. Diet was assessed by food frequency questionnaires (FFQ) which were completed annually through 2001, then in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010. The girls started reporting biopsy-confirmed BBD in 2005 and subsequent analysis estimated associations between the intakes of vegetable protein and fat with the incidence of BBD. The risk was also calculated for the individual foods which constituted the greatest intakes of vegetable protein and fat in the diet. So what did they find? Girls ages 11 and 14, who consumed at least 10g/day of vegetable fat, saw a 28% reduction in BBD. The most significant sources of vegetable protein in these young girls diet was identified from the FFQ’s as coming from peanut butter (no surprise there) but also peanuts themselves, actually nuts in general as well as beans were shown to be beneficial. A daily serving of any one of these corresponded to a 68% reduction in the incidence of BBD.

The clear take-home message here is that nuts and beans, as sources of valuable vegetable protein and fats, when consumed daily may dramatically help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer later in life.  Nuts are a delicious way to get vegetable protein and healthy fats and are linked with a  host of other health benefits. Remembering which other breast cancer-fighting foods you should eat more of is as easy as ABC, that’s asparagus, bananas and celery and don’t forget the benefits of exercise.

For a healthy, vegan dish incorporating peanuts try our Indonesian Peanut Salad.

Published October 1, 2013