Breast cancer research indicates that a healthy diet – rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, chicken, and fish – likely reduces breast cancer risk, while a diet high in fat and processed foods may increase the risk.

However, most studies examine broad dietary patterns without focusing on one specific type of food. It is often unclear what impact a ‘healthy’ diet has on breast cancer recurrence in women who had previously received a breast cancer diagnosis. Is diet directly related to recurrence rates? Or do the other benefits of healthy eating – such as weight loss – play a more significant role?

In a recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer, a team of researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA conducted a long-term investigation into the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption, and breast cancer risk.

The findings suggested not only that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer and aggressive tumors

– but what kinds of vegetables, and how many servings of them can potentially offset the risk of developing the disease.

The team of scientists found that eating 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day– as opposed to 2.5 servings or less– was associated with an 11 percent decrease in breast cancer risk. The researchers also found that cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts – as well as yellow/orange vegetables – such as carrots and yams – were most strongly associated with a reduction in risk for breast cancer, especially those that are more likely to be an aggressive tumor.

“Although prior studies have suggested an association, they have been limited in power, particularly for specific fruits and vegetables and aggressive subtypes of breast cancer,” said first author Maryam Farvid,  “This research provides the most complete picture of the importance of consuming high amounts of fruit and vegetables for breast cancer prevention.”