Talk to any vegetarian (or vegan), and they will gladly extol the virtues of a veggie-based diet. The truth is that there are many health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, better blood glucose control, lower calorie intake, an increase of vitamin and mineral intake, and the list goes on.
However, a vegetarian diet isn’t some magic bullet that can cure all diseases. The claims that vegetarianism can reduce certain types of cancer may be less founded and believable than you’d think. Why is that?
Well, a lot of the vegetarianism beats cancer claims come from the fact that fruits and veggies contain nutrients that can fight cancer. Meats, processed meats, and some dairy products (usually diet dairy) have been linked to an increased risk of carcinogen exposure. However, there is very little solid evidence linking a vegetarian diet to a reduction of cancers.
In fact, one recent study found that women who followed a lifelong vegetarian diet had no significant reduction in their risk of breast cancer. Between 2011 and 2014, the researchers examined more than 4,300 women between the ages of 30 and 70, all with newly diagnosed invasive breast cancer. Roughly a fourth of the women were lifelong vegetarians.
The study found that a veggie-based diet did little to reduce the risk of breast cancer. There was a 1.09% decrease in breast cancer risk among women who were lifelong vegetarians. Clinically speaking, that isn’t a significant enough difference for scientists to be able to point to a vegetarian diet and say, “Yes, going vegetarian can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer.”
Is a veggie-based diet good for your health? Absolutely. Vegetarian and vegan diets include a lot more dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than the average American consumes. They may not consume as much easily absorbed, complete proteins (the ones found in animal products), but they can get their protein from legumes, whole grains, veggies, and fruits. A vegetarian diet is usually a healthier one than the average American diet.
On the other hand, going vegetarian isn’t the cure-all to your health problems. As this study proves, a vegetarian diet is no more effective at reducing breast cancer than your basic diet. Granted, the average American eats a lot of foods that can contribute to an increase in estrogen production (more body fat equals more estrogen equals greater risk of breast cancer). However, following a balanced diet free of hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and artificial ingredients can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer as effectively as a vegetarian diet.
1. “Lifelong vegetarianism and breast cancer risk: a large multicentre case control study in India.” BMC Women’s Health. BioMed Central, 18 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.