Vegetarian and Vegan Diets for Cancer Patients
People usually choose vegetarian or vegan diets for one or both of two reasons: to support animal rights and for better health. This latter reason is gaining ground as researchers find more and more ways in which a diet free of meat or any animal products is better for health.
One of the most compelling findings from modern research is that a diet without or with minimal animal products can prevent cancer and may even promote healing in cancer patients. If you are living with mesothelioma, a vegetarian or vegan diet may be able to improve your quality of living.
Vegan and Vegetarian Diets Defined
Both of these diets make minimal use of animal products, but a vegan diet is the strictest form and is also considered a lifestyle. Someone who is vegan does not eat meat or fish and does not eat any products that come from animals, including dairy, eggs, and honey. A vegan also does not use any animal products in other areas of life, such as leather in clothing and shoes. A vegetarian diet is one in which you eat no meat, but you still eat some animal products. There are a few different types of vegetarian diets:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian. The most common vegetarian diet is lacto-ovo, which means eating no meat, fish, or poultry, but including dairy and eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarian. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs, but no dairy products.
- Lacto-vegetarian. A lacto-vegetarian eats dairy products, but not eggs.
- Pescatarian. Some people do not consider this a vegetarian diet; the classification depends on how you define fish and shellfish. A pescetarian does not eat meat or poultry but does eat fish and shellfish.
It is important to note that to get the health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet it is important to limit processed foods, and to 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 looked at the health outcomes of vegetarians and people who eat meat reported a very important finding: vegetarians have significantly lower rates of cancer. This includes cancers of all types. A smaller, single study found that vegans fare even better. Even after controlling for other factors, like family history of cancer and smoking, the study found that 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 in which a vegan or vegetarian diet can be healthier than a diet that includes meat, but reducing the risk of cancer is a big one. One reason that these diets may support cancer prevention is the high amount of fiber. Plant-based diets generally include more fiber and fiber is proven to play a protective role against cancer. Fiber has been shown in multiple studies to protect against several types of cancer.
Another reason that avoiding meat may protect against cancer is related to fat. Animal products tend to have a lot of fat, specifically saturated fat. Eating fat has been shown in research to increase cancer risk. Vegan and vegetarian diets may contain fat, but it is more often unsaturated fat. Saturated, animal fat is the type of fat that is specifically associated with cancer risk.
Finally, the high intake of vegetables in the vegan and vegetarian diets is important for preventing cancer. Eating more vegetables provides more fiber and less saturated fat, but it also 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
For all the reasons that vegan and vegetarian diets can reduce cancer risks, these diets are also good for cancer patients. A healthier diet with more plant-based foods, less meat, and fewer animal products promotes overall good health and can help cancer patients feel better, be better able to fight cancer, and to bet better able to tolerate cancer treatments. There are also some specific reasons these diets are useful for cancer patients, as evidenced in studies.
For example, in addition to showing that eating animal fats can increase cancer risk, studies have shown that animal fat in the diet can negatively impact cancer survival rates. If you already have cancer, cutting back on animal fats could boost your survival time and life expectancy.
Studies have found that vegetarians have stronger immune systems than meat eaters. One study found nearly doubled immune cell activity in vegetarians as compared to people who ate meat. A stronger immune system can help cancer patients better fight off cancer cells and tumors. Another study used the blood of cancer patients, some who ate a standard diet and the rest who were vegan, to see which could better suppress the growth of cancer cells in the laboratory. The blood from began patients was eight times better at suppressing cancer cell growth.
Risks of a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet
While there are many great health reasons to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, there is also a risk that you may lack certain nutrients. It is important to understand the nutrients you need and which foods or supplements will provide them. You may choose to work with a nutritionist to get started if you are concerned about any nutritional deficiencies. Vegetarians and vegans may be at risk for not getting enough:
- Protein. There are many plant sources of protein, but more thought has to be given to getting adequate amounts as a vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarians can get protein from dairy and eggs, and in both diets, protein can come from beans, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and soy products.
- Vitamin B12. This vitamin is particularly difficult for vegans to get because it is only found naturally in meat, dairy, and eggs. Supplements or nutritional yeast supplemented with B12 can provide this vitamin.
- Iron. For many people, meat is the main source of iron. For those who do not eat meat, iron can come from green, leafy vegetables, raisins, seeds, fortified cereals, and supplements.
- Calcium. Calcium is found in high amounts in dairy, but you can also get this mineral from green vegetables and fortified tofu and soy milk.
If you are fighting mesothelioma or another type of cancer, making healthier lifestyle choices can help you in your battle. A diet rich in vegetables, high in fiber, and low in animal and saturated fats is proven to have many health benefits over a more traditional diet. Not least of these benefits is a greater ability to fight cancer. This kind of dietary change could be just one more weapon in your arsenal for beating back mesothelioma.
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