Plant-based foods offer a variety of healthy benefits, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Eating fruits and vegetables regularly might even reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
A new study of 79,952 men in the United States has found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is associated with a 22% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer than those who eat the least. of plant-based foods.
The research is observational only, meaning scientists still don’t know why certain foods are linked to better gut health, although they do have some ideas.
That said, the results suggest that generally reducing the consumption of animal foods, refined grains and sugars could provide lifelong benefits.
Interestingly, researchers did not find a link between plant-based diets and colorectal cancers in 93,475 women in the United States.
“We speculate that antioxidants found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by suppressing chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer,” says researcher Jihye Kim. nutrition and dietetics at Kyung Hee University. in South Korea.
“As men tend to have a higher risk of colorectal cancer than women, we propose that this may help explain why consuming greater amounts of healthy plant-based foods was associated with a reduced risk of cancer. colorectal in men but not in women.
Women also consume more plant foods than men in general, so eating more fruits and vegetables won’t necessarily increase cancer protection noticeably. This particular cohort of women may have already maximized the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Previous studies in other countries have also noticed similar gender gaps.
In a United Kingdom Biobank study, for example, men who ate relatively little meat were 9% less likely to develop colorectal cancer than typical meat eaters. Similar benefits were not seen in women.
As a population-level study, the research was very comprehensive, but it focused on levels of meat in the diet, not consumption of specific plant-based foods. A reduction in meat consumption does not necessarily coincide with an increase in healthier options.
Some plant-based foods are more nutrient dense than others. Previous studies, for example, have shown that whole grains, vegetables, and cereal fiber can reduce cancer risk, while refined grains have health drawbacks.
Unfortunately, the current study didn’t distinguish between different types of animal foods, which is a bit limiting given that some foods, like fish and dairy, might actually be good. for you. Additionally, the diets of long-term study participants were assessed using a questionnaire, which does not include lifetime dietary intake.
Where this study excels, however, is in incorporating a multi-ethnic cohort from Hawaii and Los Angeles.
Worldwide, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, yet not everyone is equally at risk. The researchers found that a plant-based diet is associated with the greatest improvements in colorectal cancer risk in Japanese American and white men, as opposed to African Americans.
Among white men, those who ate the healthiest plant-based foods were 24% less likely to develop colorectal cancer later in life than those at the other end of the food spectrum. Among Japanese American men, the risk was reduced by 20%.
“This pattern of association may be attributable to differences in non-dietary lifestyle risk factors between racial and ethnic groups,” the authors write.
“In the [multiethnic cohort]African-American men had higher obesity and smoking rates and less physical activity than Japanese-American and white men. »
Further research is needed to explore the different genetic and environmental factors that might play in colorectal cancer rates, and where diet might fit into the mix.
The study was published BMC Medicine.
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