The lead researcher of the study, Maryam Farvid, who works at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, noted women who ate 1.5 servings of red meat each day had a 22% higher risk of breast cancer than those who only had a serving of red meat once a week. The risk increased substantially for those who had even more red meat on a daily basis. Women who ate red meat more than 1.5 times a day increased their chances of getting breast cancer by 13% for each additional serving they had on a daily basis.
Those women who ate more poultry ended up lowering their risk of getting breast cancer. The study found substituting a single serving the day of red meat with poultry ended up reducing the risk of breast cancer by 17% for all women, and by 24% among women who were postmenopausal.
The study is considered observational, so it doesn’t prove directly that consuming more red meat will have the direct result in increasing a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. There could be a number of different reasons for the findings. For example, since red meat is often cooked at high temperatures, there may have been cancer-causing byproducts from the cooking process which raise the risk.
Another possibility for the larger risk could be due to hormones used to increase the growth of beef cattle. The results may also have been due to nitrates, which are often found in processed meat, and which have been associated in other studies with an elevated risk of breast cancer. Or it could be that women who eat less red meat simply live healthier lifestyles than those who consume it on a regular basis, and this healthier lifestyle is what reduces the risk of cancer.
Eating less red meat also has a huge positive financial consequence. Beef prices are currently at a 27 year high, so switching to poultry or fish also makes financial sense beyond the health benefits.
(Photo courtesy of Ernesto Andrade)