According to a new study, one of the deadliest types of cancer is also one of the most preventable. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research found that eating too much meat raises the risk of colorectal cancer and that eating fiber-rich vegetarian foods reduces the risk. What's more, nearly half (45 percent) of colorectal cancer cases "could be prevented if we all ate more fiber-rich plant foods and less meat."
This serves as yet another reminder that one of the best weapons in the war on cancer is a fork.
Scientists at Imperial College London conducted the new analysis as part of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research's groundbreaking Continuous Update Project (CUP). They found that a person who eats just 3.5 ounces of pork, beef or lamb every day has a 17 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than does someone who eats no meat.
Three ounces of meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards. That's just one serving size as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, yet it's far less than most Americans ingest in one sitting, let alone in one day.
Just about any meat is loaded with the saturated fat that the American Cancer Society believes is linked to cancer of the colon and rectum, but processed meats such as ham, bacon, hot dogs and deli slices carry an even greater risk. According to the CUP report, if a person eats 3.5 ounces of processed meat every day, his or her risk for colorectal cancer increases by 36 percent. The more meat you eat, the higher your risk will be.
Almost as bad as what's in meat is what's not in it: fiber. Meat and dairy products have absolutely no fiber at all, while fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are loaded with it. Fiber helps speed the passage of food through the colon. Meat, on the other hand, tends to hang around and, well, rot.
In my work with PETA, I've been researching and writing about vegetarian issues for more than 15 years. And the conclusion of each new nutritional study is nearly always the same. There is overwhelming evidence linking meat to some of our society's most severe health problems. Conversely, eating vegetarian foods can greatly reduce your risk of developing many of these same diseases--and in some cases, actually reverse them.
For example, according to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have "lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease, lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer" than meat-eaters do. The American Cancer Society recommends "choosing most of your foods from plant sources and limiting your intake of high-fat foods such as those from animal sources."
If we take away anything from such nutritional research, it should be that the best prescription for good health is always prevention. And if making the sensible switch to a vegan diet can so greatly benefit our health--not to mention save animals' lives--why not at least try it? With summer fast approaching, and with it a wealth of locally grown fruits and vegetables available in farmers' markets and at produce stands, now is a great time to start eating for life.
Bruce Friedrich is a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.