Vegetarians and Cancer

You might have a general idea that eating a vegetarian diet is more healthy for you. But do you really know how much less the incidence is of certain types of cancers among vegetarians?

Vegetarian diets—naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and replete with cancer-protective phytochemicals—help to prevent cancer. Large studies in England and Germany have shown that vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat-eaters.

In the U.S., studies of Seventh-Day Adventists, who are largely lacto-ovo vegetarians, have shown significant reductions in cancer risk among those who avoided meat. Similarly, breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in nations, such as China, that follow plant-based diets.

Interestingly, Japanese women who follow Western-style, meat-based diets are eight times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who follow a more traditional plant-based diet. Meat and dairy products contribute to many forms of cancer, including cancer of the colon, breast, ovaries, and prostate.

Harvard studies that included tens of thousands of women and men have shown that regular meat consumption increases colon cancer risk by roughly 300 percent. High-fat diets also encourage the body’s production of estrogens. Increased levels of this sex hormone have been linked to breast cancer. A recent report noted that the rate of breast cancer among premenopausal women who ate the most animal (but not vegetable) fat was one-third higher than that of women who ate the least animal fat.

A separate study from Cambridge University also linked diets high in saturated fat to breast cancer. One study linked dairy products to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The process of breaking down the lactose (milk sugar) evidently damages the ovaries. Daily meat consumption triples the risk of prostate enlargement. Regular milk consumption doubles the risk and failure to consume vegetables regularly nearly quadruples the risk.

Vegetarians avoid the animal fat linked to cancer and get abundant fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer. In addition, blood analysis of vegetarians reveals a higher level of “natural killer cells,” specialized white blood cells that attack cancer cells.

Mercury in Fish

Many people think if they just eliminate red meat and poultry from their diets, their eating healthier. This is partly true, but there are hazards to eating fish and seafood as well. The harm that humans have done to the environment has had a direct effect on the fish and seafood we eat.

Most people believe there are elements of fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet.  It may be true that fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids.

We have been told that a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish.

Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Is this anyway to eat – in fear of unhealthy elements that are lurking in our food?

Eliminating red meat and eating a more vegetarian diet is an excellent start on the road to more healthy eating. Eliminating fish and seafood is one of the final steps towards eating a complete vegetarian diet and the health benefits that are your reward for making that change.