A US study says high intake of red meat in early adulthood may increase breast cancer risk.
The study by Harvard School of Public Health also suggests substituting around 85 grams or three thin slices of roast beef or 26 grams or two rashers of bacon with a portion of chicken may help reduce breast cancer risk.
Legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils, can also be swapped for red meat since they are rich in fiber and phytoestrogen, which are linked with decreased risk.
Dr Maryam Farvid, author of the study, said: 'Higher red meat intake in early adulthood may be a risk factor for breast cancer, and replacing red meat with a combination of legumes, poultry, nuts and fish may reduce the risk.'
Postmenopausal women are more susceptible to breast cancer risk, and the risk can be reduced by almost a quarter if they opt for poultry instead of red meat.
The study spanned over 20 years and constituted 88,803 women in the age group of 26-45, who participated in the Nurses' Health Study II. They filled out questionnaires on their diet every four years starting from 1991 to 2007 and gave information on how frequently they consumed certain foods.
The study also considered age, height, weight, family history and smoking as other criteria.
At the end of 20 years of the study, 2,830 cases of breast cancer were reported.
The study findings revealed high red meat intake resulted in increased risk of 22 percent overall with every extra daily serving increasing the risk by 13 percent.
"When this relatively small relative risk is applied to breast cancer, which has a high lifetime incidence, the absolute number of excess cases attributable to red meat would be substantial, and hence a public health concern," added Dr Farvid.
One of the reasons for this association of red meat with breast cancer may be saturated fat, a major constituent of red meat, can increase cholesterol and hormone levels that in turn can cause tumors. Also, red meat cooked at very high temperatures on a barbecue, along with sausages and burgers, emit harmful, carcinogenic chemicals.
Research also observes increased red meat consumption in younger age can be a triggering factor for disease development in older age.
But other experts are skeptical of the findings and warned against their misinterpretation.
Prof Tim Key, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, asserts only a weak link exists between red meat intake and breast cancer risk as per the US study, which does not present a stronger evidence than the existing one that finds no definite association between the two.
"Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol and being physically active, and it's not a bad idea to swap some red meat - which is linked to bowel cancer - for white meat, beans or fish," he added.
Prof Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said dozens of studies had looked into breast cancer risk association with diet and the totality of available evidence indicated red meat consumption had little or no effect on breast cancer risk and therefore results from a single study could not considered in isolation.
Sally Greenbrook of Breakthrough Breast Cancer welcomed more research on the subject.
The study was published in the 'British Medical Journal.'