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Healthy Habits

Reaping the Benefits

Following a vegetarian diet could reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. By Leigh Labrie

With seasonal produce abounding in grocery stores and farmer’s markets, you might be inclined to fill your plate with fruits and vegetables in the summertime.

However, new research suggests there are benefits to following a vegetarian diet year-round: It might lower your risk of colorectal cancer. 

Salad in a Jar With Lentils and Feta Cheese
Increase your intake of plant-based foods with this recipe.

Eating Right
Lighten up your diet by following the American Cancer Society's nutrition guidelines. 
A study in the May 2015 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who reported following vegetarian diets had a 22 percent reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer compared with non-vegetarians. In addition, people who added fish to a primarily vegetarian diet had a 43 percent reduced risk compared with non-vegetarians.
Researchers’ findings were based on questionnaires administered from 2002 to 2007 to 77,659 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Participants were asked whether and how often they ate any of 200 foods and were then categorized into five dietary groups: vegans; vegetarians who ate dairy; vegetarians who ate fish; vegetarians who ate meat occasionally; and non-vegetarians.

​New research suggests following a vegetarian diet might reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. | Photo © Rrrainbow / istock / thinkstock
Michael Orlich, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California, and a family- and preventive-medicine physician, led the study. He says that diets high in red meat, especially processed red meat, have been associated with an increased colorectal cancer risk, while fiber-rich diets appear to lower that risk. Limiting red meat and eating fibrous foods also have been linked to less obesity; obesity has been tied to the development of colorectal cancer.
Orlich says vegetarians in the study also ate greater quantities of unrefined, plant-based foods—such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains—and consumed less junk food and fewer desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages than non-vegetarians.
“The vegetarian groups are making a number of simultaneous choices” that encompass a healthy diet, he says, all of which could potentially stave off colorectal cancer.
For those interested in reducing their risk of colorectal cancer, Orlich says, in addition to limiting red meat and eating more plant-based foods, people should also consider other behaviors that contribute to health, such as avoiding refined foods and added sugar, and maintaining a healthy weight.
“These types of vegetarian dietary patterns that we identify in this study seem to capture that goal,” Orlich says.


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