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Opting for grilled chicken or seafood this summer may save a woman’s life.

According to the result of a 20-year study, women who ate the most red meat increased their risk for breast cancer by nearly 25 percent.

At the same time, researchers found that replacing a daily serving of red meat with a combination of fish, legumes, nuts and poultry appeared to lower the risk of breast cancer by 14 percent.

“Cutting down processed meat, limiting intake of red meat, and substituting a combination of poultry, fish, legumes and nuts as protein sources for red meat during early life seems beneficial for the prevention of breast cancer,” said lead researcher Maryam Farvid of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.

Compared with women who had one serving of red meat a week, those who ate 1.5 servings a day appeared to have a 22 percent higher risk of breast cancer. Each additional daily serving of red meat seemed to increase the risk of breast cancer another 13 percent, Farvid said.

Eating more poultry, however, appeared to lower the risk. Substituting one serving of poultry for one serving of red meat reduced the risk of breast cancer by 17 percent overall and by 24 percent among postmenopausal women.

“Decreasing consumption of red meat and replacing it with other healthy dietary sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, peas and nuts, may have important public health implications,” Farvid said. “Reduction of red meat intake in the diet not only decreases the risk of breast cancer but also decreases the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other kind of cancers, as well.”

Farvid also noted that red meat has been thought to increase the risk of breast cancer in different ways:

  • Cancer-causing by-products created during high temperature cooking of red meat
  • Hormones used to increase growth of beef cattle
  • Food preservatives such as nitrate and nitrite in processed meat

The report was published June 10 online in the BMJ.