Low-fat diet including one piece of fruit a day could cut risk of death from breast cancer by a fifth

Laura Donnelly
Major trial finds low fat diet including at least one piece of fruit a day could slash breast cancer death risk by a fifth  - PA 

A low-fat diet including at least one portion of fruit a day cuts the risk of dying from breast cancer by a fifth, a major study suggests. The findings, from almost 50,000 women, come from the largest randomised trial to explore the impact of nutrition on the disease.

It found that those who limited daily fat consumption down to 25 per cent of their daily calories, and ate at least one serving of a fruit, vegetable and grain, had significantly lower mortality rates, compared with those consuming high-fat diets.

Overall, the risk of early death was 15 per cent lower.  And the chance of premature death from breast cancer fell by 21 per cent.

The research by the Women’s Health Intitative led by Dr Rowan Chlebowksi, from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, tracked women for an average of 20 years, during which 3,374 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with one in eight women diagnosed during their lifetime.

A number of trials have suggested that healthy diet reduces the chance of developing the disease, and of dying from it. But they have often been observational studies, which could not fully adjust for the fact that those consuming more fruit and vegetables, and limiting fats, might have healthier lifestyles in other respects.

Dr Chlebowski, from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, said: “Ours is the first randomized, controlled trial to prove that a healthy diet can reduce the risk of death from breast cancer. The balanced diet we designed is one of moderation, and after nearly 20 years of follow-up, the health benefits are still accruing.”

Researchers enrolled 48,835 postmenopausal women age 50 to 79 with no previous history of breast cancer.  Half were asked to follow a typical diet, where fat accounted for at least 32 per cent of their daily calories. The rest were asked to cut fat consumption and to include at least one serving of a vegetable, fruit, and grain in their daily diet.

Most women in the balanced, low-fat diet group reduced daily fat consumption to 25 per cent or less, while increasing their intake of fruits, vegetables, and grains.  Among patients who maintained the diet, there was an average three per cent weight loss, the study found.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, said: “This major trial provides strong evidence that all postmenopausal women [who have not had breast cancer] can reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by maintaining a healthy diet low in fat and rich in fruit, vegetables and grains.

“These findings are promising as they suggest that by encouraging healthy eating, we could help more women lower their risk of dying from breast cancer. But we need to find ways to support more women to make sustainable changes to their diet. Far too many women are still losing their lives to breast cancer and we urgently need renewed focus and funding from UK Governments on promoting healthy lifestyles."