Does it ever strike you as funny, that a vegetarian diet is called “health food,” and at the same time, considered somehow lacking? The very same people who look at your lunch and say, “oh, you eat so healthy!” will insist that they can’t live without meat. Hmmm.
Well, the latest study on the relationship between vegetarianism and health looked at cancer. In The British Journal of Cancer, a new pair of studies have been published that gives the veg diet a bit of a thumbs up. In the study, they tracked 61,000 vegetarians and similar numbers of meat and fish eaters for 12 years, looking for incidences of 20 different types of cancers. They figured in other risk factors, including smoking, alcohol use and obesity. Overall, among 100 vegetarians, 29 will get cancer, and among 100 meat eaters, 33 will.
Among the 20 cancers, multiple myeloma risk was 75% lower in vegetarians, and blood and lymph cancers 50% lower. On the downside, vegetarians had the same risk of bowel cancer as meat eaters, a result that surprises everyone. Vegetarians were actually more likely to get cervical cancer, which we now know is caused by a virus, and there is now a vaccine to prevent it.
The researchers were cautious, as they always should be, and suggested that we need more study. They suggested that the reasons for the difference could be the viruses and mutation-causing compounds found in meat, liked the N-nitroso that has been shown to damage DNA. As you may have read in the past post on safer grilling, charring and grilling meat is also a known way to add carcinogens to your diet.
Of course, in these kinds of studies, there is no way to find out what kind of vegetarian diet the healthiest vegetarians were eating. The Brits may well have been downing buttered potatoes and pudding, instead of kale and papayas. They also might be eating lots of vegetarian Indian food, which is very popular there.
Having written about food and health for many years, I think I can generalize about one thing. Study after study comes out about foods that prevent cancer, promote health and make you feel great, and they are usually all plant foods. You never see a headline that touts sausage as a life-extension tool, or even chicken as a great way to live to 100. Nope, it’s always pomegranates and blueberries, kale and broccoli, green tea and oatmeal.
As I have said before, I am sure that there is a way to eat small amounts of clean meat and keep your risks to a minimum. The vegetarian way just skips over the whole meat issue and sticks to plant foods, with some small amounts of dairy and eggs for ovo-lactos. Here is a breakfast that you can share with your meat-eating friends, to counteract their protein choices with antioxidants, fiber, and anti-cancer chemicals galore!
Crazy-Ugly Fruit and Protein Oat Cereal
In the spirit of an anti-cancer diet, this breakfast is composed of only high-antioxidant, fiber rich foods, all of which have been associated with lower risks. They are also pretty tasty, once you get past the oats looking purplish.
2 cups Bing cherry juice (all fruit juice)
1 cup thick rolled oats
1/2 cup dried goji berries or cranberries
2 tablespoons protein powder (rice, soy, hemp or whey, take your pick)
kefir or non-dairy milk or yogurt and sweetener to taste
In a 2 quart saucepan, bring the juice to a simmer, stir in oats and dried fruit. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring every few. When the oats are soft, take off the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the protein powder, add more juice or water if you like it thinner, then serve with kefir or non-dairy alternatives and sweetener to taste.