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Vegetarian and Vegan Diets for Cancer Patients

People usually choose vegetarian or vegan diets to either support animal rights or to improve their health. Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet for health reasons is gaining ground as researchers discover more benefits.

One of the most compelling findings is that a diet without animal products may actually prevent cancer In addition, a vegetarian diet may promote healing in cancer patients. If you are living with mesothelioma, a vegetarian or vegan diet may improve your quality of living.

Vegan and Vegetarian Diets Defined

Both vegan and vegetarian diets limit animal products. However, a vegan diet is more strict, and many consider it a lifestyle rather than a diet. Vegans do not eat meat, fish, or products that come from animals, including dairy, eggs, and honey. A vegan also does not use animal products in other areas of life. This means they do not wear leather clothing or use certain personal care products. On the other hand, a vegetarian diet excludes meat but still allows limited animal products. There are several types of vegetarian diets:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian. The most common vegetarian diet is lacto-ovo. This diet excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but includes dairy and eggs.
  • Ovo-vegetarian. An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes mean and dairy products but includes eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarian. A lacto-vegetarian diet excludes mean and eggs but includes dairy.
  • Pescatarian.  Under the strictest definitions, this is not considered a vegetarian diet. A pescetarian does not eat meat or poultry but does eat fish and shellfish.

In order to reap all the benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is important to limit processed foods. One should also eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. Simply living on meat-free junk foods will not provide the same health benefits as a consciously healthful vegetarian or vegan diet.

Vegan and Vegetarian Diets and Cancer Prevention

A review of multiple studies that examined health outcomes of vegetarians revealed a very important finding. This study found vegetarians have significantly lower rates of cancer. A smaller, single study discovered vegans fare even better. Even after controlling for factors like family history of cancer and smoking, the study found women following a vegan diet had 34 percent lower rates of cancer than women who ate a healthful diet that included meat.

There are many ways a vegan or vegetarian diet can be healthier than a diet that includes meat. However, reducing cancer risk is a big one. One reason these diets may prevent cancer is by increasing the amount of consumed fiber. Plant-based diets generally include more fiber. Multiple studies have revealed that fiber protects against several types of cancer.

Another reason avoiding meat may protect against cancer is related to fat consumption. Most animal products contain a significant amount of dietary fat, specifically saturated fat. Research has shown that fat consumption increases cancer risk. Although vegan and vegetarian diets may contain fat, it is more often unsaturated fat. Saturated animal fat is the type of fat specifically associated with cancer risk.

Finally, the high intake of vegetables in the vegan and vegetarian diets is important for preventing cancer. A diet high in vegetables includes more nutrients, including those that fight cancer. Several substances in vegetables, like beta-carotene, flavones, and anti-oxidants, have been proven to have anti-cancer properties.

A Healthier Diet for Mesothelioma and Cancer Patients

All the reasons vegan and vegetarian diets reduce cancer risks, also make them good for cancer patients. A healthier diet high in plant-based foods with fewer animal products promotes overall health. These healthier diets can help cancer patients feel better and help them better tolerate cancer treatments. There are also specific reasons these diets are useful for cancer patients, as evidenced in studies.

For example, studies have shown that dietary animal fat can negatively impact cancer survival rates. If you already have cancer, cutting back on animal fats could boost your survival time and life expectancy.

Also, studies have found that vegetarians have stronger immune systems than non-vegetarians. One study found nearly doubled immune cell activity in vegetarians as compared to people who ate meat. It is a logical conclusion that a stronger immune system will help cancer patients fight off cancer cells. Another study used the blood of cancer patients, some who ate a standard diet and the rest who were vegan. These samples were used in the laboratory to see which could better suppress the growth of cancer cells. The blood from vegan patients was eight times better at suppressing cancer cell growth.

Risks of a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

While there are many health reasons to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, there is also a risk that you may lack certain nutrients. For individuals who choose a diet limited in animal products, it is important to understand necessary nutrient and which foods or supplements provide them. If you are concerned about potential nutritional deficiencies, you can choose to work with a nutritionist to get you started. Vegetarians and vegans may be at risk for deficiencies in:

  • Protein. Although there are many sources of plant-based protein, vegetarians and vegans need to put more thought into getting an adequate amount. Vegetarians can get protein from dairy and eggs. In both vegan and vegetarian diets, protein is available in legumes, nuts, whole grains, and soy products.
  • Vitamin B12. Because vitamin B12 is only found naturally in meat, dairy, and eggs, vegans can have difficulty getting enough of this essential nutrient. Fortunately, B12 supplements are available to fill this gap.
  • Iron. Meat is the main source of dietary iron for most people. For those who do not eat meat, iron is available in leafy vegetables, raisins, seeds, fortified cereals, and supplements.
  • Calcium. Dairy products contain a significant amount of calcium. However, green vegetables and fortified tofu and soy milk also contain this essential mineral.

If you are fighting mesothelioma or any other cancer, healthy lifestyle choices can assist you in your battle. A diet rich in vegetables, high in fiber, and low saturated fats has many proven health benefits over a more traditional diet. Not least of these benefits is a greater ability to fight cancer. A dietary change is just one more weapon to add to your arsenal for fighting mesothelioma.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

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Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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