A new study of dietary habits of more than 70,000 people by California researchers found that those who followed a vegetarian diet had a 22% lower risk of colon cancer than non-vegetarians. When fish was added to a vegetarian diet, the risk reduction was even greater, 43%.
The results were published online in JAMA Internal Medicine on March 9, 2015.
Why does a vegetarian diet appear to help fight colorectal cancer? “These dietary patterns may decrease insulin and insulin-like growth factors, two hormones linked to colorectal cancer, compared to the traditional American diet,” Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said March 11, 2015 in the Harvard Health Letter. Adding fish appears to be a good choice because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may be anti-inflammatory, and supplies vitamin D, also linked to lower colorectal cancer risk.
The bottom line? “The lower the red meat intake the better, especially for processed meats. It may be difficult for some people to cut it out completely, but I would encourage them to at least reduce the amount they eat,” Giovannucci said. He recommends limiting red meat to no more than two 3-ounce servings per week.