Nutritionist Maryam Farvid of Massachusetts General Hospital and her team have uncovered a link between teen girls’ fruit consumption and their chances of developing breast cancer later on in life, according to a report published in the British Medical Journal this month.
Teen girls with the highest rates of fruit consumption, or at least 2.9 servings per day, had a 25% lower chance of developing breast cancer than their peers who consumed 0.5 or fewer servings of daily fruit, according to longitudinal data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. Farvid’s prospective analysis began by following the health outcomes of over 90,000 women who completed comprehensive questionnaires back in 1991.
Significantly, the positive findings extended only to the consumption of whole fruits, not fruit juice. This difference suggests that the food’s beneficial properties may be principally due to fiber content.
As Dr. Farvid’s report explains: “We recommend whole fruit and not fruit juice, because maybe one of the most important ways that fruit decreases risk of breast cancer is through fiber, and even natural fruit juice often has no fiber in it.” Bananas, apples, grapes, and oranges were singled out as some of the most highly correlated fruit choices.
The study breaks ground as a pioneering effort to examine the links between early diet and lifestyle choices with long-term health outcomes. While many previous studies have attempted to correlate adult diet choices with particular types of cancer, this new report suggests early education about healthy decision-making may be more important than ever.
Discussions about the benefits of dietary fiber are commonly restricted to older populations. For instance, The Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference currently recommends fiber intake levels for people 50 or older at 21 grams per day for women and 30 grams for men.
According to the report’s findings, however, fiber should be emphasized as an essential part of a healthy diet for young populations as well.
“This study underscores the importance of what a young girl eats for her future health,” Farvid said. The study “also has an important message for schools and the need to provide students with the opportunity to consume more fruits and vegetables as part of the school meal program.” Better diets for today’s youth might spell better health for the future’s adults.