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Dietary Fat and Breast Cancer

Fortunately, reading articles on fat doesn’t add a calorie to your diet. Unfortunately reading is not a very good activity to burn calories either. It seems like more research is being reported on the benefits or the dangers of dietary fat than any other part of the diet. It is widely accepted that the western diet contains too much fat in general and that the amounts of trans and saturated fatty acids in the diet should be reduced. In the case of trans fatty acids this can be difficult because often the fat is "hidden" or is present as a result of the processing of the food. The effects of polyunsaturated fats can be positive or negative depending on what disease you are trying to affect. The picture appears much clearer for monounsaturated fatty acids. Several studies now have reported that the consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids is beneficial. Having olive oil in the diet is one of the most common ways of increasing monounsaturates. But in a study released in which the incidence of breast cancer was investigated in Swedish women, olive oil was probably not the main source of monunsaturates, indicating that the source of monounsaturatres is not as important as the amount.


Swedish researchers have recently published a summary of a study they carried out in which they monitored more than sixty thousand women for just over four years. The study is what is called a prospective study because they followed the health of the women after they had been questioned about their dietary habits. In the 4.2 years of the study, 674 women developed invasive breast cancer. By comparing the diets of these women to others in the study the researchers were able to calculate that the total amount of fat in the diet had no influence on the risk of developing breast cancer. For each 5 gram increase of polyunsaturated fat in the diet, the risk of breast cancer increased by 69%, but for each 10 grams extra of monounsaturated fat in the diet, the risk of breast cancer deceased by 45%.

In Sweden, the use of olive oil is not as common as it is in the Mediterranean countries to the south. It would seem, therefore, that the source of monounsaturated fats is not as important as the actual amount consumed. Like so many other studies that find relationships between specific components in the diet and disease, this study depended upon a diet recall type of survey to estimate the diet of the participants. The results and conclusions must therefore be evaluated with caution. But as more and more studies report beneficial effects of monounsaturated fats, there are more reasons to include these fats in the diet.

Oils and Their Monounsaturated Fatty Acid Level
Oil % Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
olive: 70.0
canola: 60.2
soybean: 25.1
corn: 24.5
sunflower: 18.0

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