If you woke up to headlines that cheddar and cream cheese could give you breast cancer, we’ve got some facts to help give you some perspective.
The top line is that researchers from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York studied the diets of more than 3,000 women for just over a decade, finding that high-fat cheese such as cheddar and cream cheese raised the risk of breast cancer by 53%.
However, it is important to appreciate that in the study they looked at monthly intakes of total dairy, milk, yogurt, low-fat cheese, other cheese and sweet dairy puddings. After controlling for factors like age, race, menopausal status, smoking history and family history of breast cancer, they discovered that overall dairy consumption was associated with a non-significant reduction in risk of breast cancer.
Interestingly, a higher intake of yogurt was associated with a significant 39% reduction in risk.
As Dr Susan McCann, professor of oncology and lead researcher in this study points out, ‘Dairy foods are complex mixtures of nutrients and non-nutrient substances that could be negatively, as well as positively, associated with breast cancer risk.’
Although dairy foods, with the exception of yogurt, contain a growth hormone called IGF-1 (and it is this hormone that is thought possibly to be involved in a mechanism that turns healthy cells into cancerous versions), this study does not prove a definite cause and effect of dairy equals higher risk of breast cancer.
The high-fat factor
What is linked with an increased risk of many cancers, including breast cancer, is carrying extra body weight. The bottom line is that tucking into a lot of high-fat cheese and cream cheese means that your overall diet could be high in fat, saturated fat, salt and, of course, calories. Going very steady on these types of foods is the advice we give to Healthy Food Guide readers on a regular basis.
Following a balanced style of eating that is mindful of overall fat intake, is rich in fruits and vegetables, relies on wholegrain versions of starchy carbohydrates and has moderate amounts of lean protein appears to be generally associated with better health. No matter whether this is in the heart and blood pressure department or for reducing the risk of many cancers and type 2 diabetes.
Rather than suddenly banning cheddar and cream cheese from your meals and snacks, think about your overall approach to your food and drink. Take care to plan a long-term approach that allows a balance, is both achievable and, crucially, enjoyable – which is what ultimately makes it sustainable.
Check out our this month’s diet planner to kick-start some healthy meal plans this weekend.