Less red meat + more vegetables = less cancer

The World Health Organization has officially classified red meat and processed meat as carcinogens-that is, likely to cause cancer if eaten regularly and recommends “reducing consumption of these products to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer” .

A few months ago I shared some related information about diet and the risk of colon cancer – what is the risk of cancer in people who do not eat meat, or who eat very little?

cows in a field

American beef is popular

NEJM Journal Watch (New England Journal of Medicine) published this report in 2015.

“Vegetarian Diets Are Associated with Lower Risk for Colorectal Cancer”

In this North American prospective study, researchers identified the eating habits of 78,000 adults  for 7 years,   A prospective study means the people studied are followed or observed over a continuing period of time, usually years.

Participants were characterized, based on food questionnaires, as following one of five diets:

  • Vegans: No eggs, dairy, fish, or meat
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Eggs and dairy, but no fish or meat
  • Pescovegetarians: Eggs, dairy, and limited fish, but no meat
  • Semivegetarians: eggs, dairy, and limited fish plus meat (≤1 time per week)
  • Nonvegetarians: eggs, dairy, and fish plus meat (>1 time per week)

plate of vegetables

In that 7 years, 490  people developed colon cancer.

After adjusting for certain personal and clinical factors, they reported that all four vegetarian groups had a 22% lower risk of colon cancer than non vegetarians.

Most impressive was a 43% lower risk for the pescovegetarians.

They concluded that any diet in which fruit and vegetable intake is emphasized has health benefits, including lower risk for colon cancer.  And that eating fish in particular may be even more beneficial in regard to colon cancer.

Vegetarian diets are popular for various reasons, some related to health, some related to concern for animals or the environment. Besides cancer prevention, diets high in fruits and vegetables help to prevent or control diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.


What the American Cancer Society says about diet and colon cancer.

More detail about the World Health Organization’s report on the link between red meat and cancer


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