Plant Based Diets Could Reduce the Risk of Certain Types of Cancers

Numerous people choose vegetarian diets, and cite various religious, philosophical, and health reasons for their choice. An analysis of several studies shows that choosing a plant based diet and reducing red meat can reduce the risk of some kinds of cancers.

Research indicates that greater vegetable and fruit consumption can be protective against a range of cancers. Many of the current studies show a decreased risk of overall cancers at 10%-12%, risk of specific cancers remains more difficult to pinpoint consistently. Creating a long-term randomized clinical trial has proven problematic, however a great deal of evidence points to the nutrient density, fiber content, and cancer-protective agents in fresh vegetables and fruits as the reason for the decreased risk.

The researchers who correlated these findings began by looking at the Oxford China Study, which was conducted in the 1970s and 1980s. This study strongly highlighted the link between diet choices and the later development in cancer. The risk ranged by a factor of 10 within the 65 participating counties. The findings strongly suggest that a diet of extravagance, focusing on eggs, meat, animal protein, and increased dietary fat greatly increase the risk of cancers, while a diet heavier in dietary fiber and legumes did not show this increase. While the China study may have some design flaws, much of the evidence for the correlation has merit, and can be used as a springboard for further, more controlled studies.

Next, these researchers found through a study published in the journal Nature of 61,000 British individuals, more of 20,000 of whom were vegetarians, that the occurrence of certain cancers was decreased in those who excluded meat from their meal plans. Those who ate fish, though did not eat meat, also enjoyed a lowered cancer risk. These statistics were not across the board. Those who chose vegetarianism had a significantly higher risk of cervical cancer, though the vegetarians had lower risks for stomach cancer and lymphatic cancers, and some types of cancer did not have a significant risk difference between the groups. The authors of this study noted that participants had a lower incidence of cancer overall than the national average.

Further, there is evidence that certain cooking methods of red meats, as well as additives in processed meat products can cause unfavorable increases in cancer risk. Cooking meat at high temperatures and cooking it for an extended length of time show an increase in heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are carcinogenic compounds that generally target the length of the digestive tract, as well as certain endocrine glands. Industrially processed meats such as lunch meat, many types of sausages, and other meat products in frozen and convenience foods contain processing agents as well as changes to the meat proteins themselves, which are also carcinogenic.

A well formulated vegetarian diet, or a plant-based diet that excludes red meats is generally rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and various other healthful compounds only available from fresh or lightly processed produce. Vegetables and fruits as the base of a food plan can provide the majority of nutrition that clients can benefit the most from. There are some nutrients that are more difficult to include in diets that exclude all animal products, such as B vitamins, DHEA, and fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K. Plant protein can also be more difficult for some individuals to digest and assimilate.

Vegetarianism has its criticisms, and some clients are hesitant to dive into a vegetarian or meat-limited diet, citing palatability, satiety, convenience, and social constraints. They may be heartened to learn that giving up meat entirely may not be necessary to enjoy better health. Limiting meat consumption and modifying cooking methods can help, as can replacing meat for types of fish in dishes that are compatible. It seems the greatest benefit can be had by ensuring fresh, plant-based foods are the core of the diet, while using animal proteins as the accent can fill in the nutritional gaps. Clients may need inspiration on changing their food choices, as well as making new cooking methods both easy and fast.

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