Eating meat 5 times or less per week lowers your risk of getting cancer, according to a recent study published in BMC Medicine.
The study included over 470,000 participants and analyzed the risk of cancer in vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. Diets were classified as:
- Regular meat consumption: consuming processed red meats and/or poultry more than 5 times per week (52.4% of participants)
- Low meat consumption: consuming processed red meats and/or poultry 5 times per week or less (43.5% of participants)
- Fish eaters: no processed red meats and/or poultry, but consuming oily and/or non-oily fish (2.3% of participants)
- Vegetarians and vegans: no processed red meats, poultry, or fish (1.8% of participants)
Compared to those who ate meat regularly, those who ate meat 5 times per week or less had a 2% decrease in overall cancer risk; those who ate only fish had a 10% decrease; and those who never consumed meat had a 14% decrease in overall cancer risk. Other meaningful findings included:
- Those who ate the least amount of meat had a 9% lower colorectal cancer risk when compared to regular meat-eaters.
- In men who ate only fish, prostate cancer risk was 20% lower, and in those who never ate meat, this risk plummeted to 31% lower than regular meat-eaters.
- Breast cancer risk was 18% lower in postmenopausal women who never ate meat.
Further research is needed to determine the influences of other factors like weight and lifestyle habits that can influence cancer risk.
While these findings are meaningful and support previous research showing that a diet high in processed meats increases cancer risk, and diets high in whole, plant-based foods reduce cancer risk, researchers stress the importance of building upon this study to help address some important considerations. Questions that need further clarification include whether other factors such as weight, lower vegetable consumption in meat-eating populations, differences in cancer screening, types of meat eaten (organic vs. conventional) also influence cancer risk.
But no matter how you slice it, we know that food talks to your genome and in the end, we are what we eat. So, while further studies may help us better understand more about how different diets and lifestyle characteristics can affect the risk for specific types of cancers, the overall scientific consensus is telling us that a diet low in meat and high in microbially-rich plant foods is the diet of choice for lowering cancer risk.