A new study from Oxford University has found that vegetarians, pescatarians, and low meat-eaters have a lower risk of cancer. They studied 472,377 participants who were cancer-free at the beginning of the study and followed up over an average of 11.4 years. They defined regular meat-eaters as those who ate meat more than five times per week, and low meat-eaters as those who ate less than that. Although not defined in the study, vegetarians are those who do not eat meat but may consume eggs or dairy, and pescatarians include fish in their diet. (Vegans eat no animal products at all).
The study found that when compared to regular meat-eaters, the risk of developing any type of cancer was 2% lower in low meat-eaters, 10% lower in pescatarians, and 14% lower in vegetarians. When focusing on specific types of cancers, they found that low meat-eaters were 9% less likely to get colorectal cancer, vegetarian women had an 18% lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, and pescatarians had a 20% lower risk of prostate cancer while vegetarians had a 31% lower prostate cancer risk.
There were limitations to the study that make it difficult for the researchers to conclusively link regular meat-eating with increased cancer risk across all populations. The participants in the study were 94% white, and they did not look at smoking or body fat which could also be contributing factors. The results of the study are consistent, however, with the hundreds of other studies that have linked meat eating with increased incidence of disease. See our article More Meat + More Disease.
A diet rich in whole plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains is a nutrient-rich diet which helps the body avoid disease instead of increasing the likelihood of developing it. If you’re not ready to give up meat altogether, you will benefit even by reducing the amount you eat.