Can Vegetarian Diet Prevent Cancer?

It is reasonable to suggest that a vegetarian diet has health-promoting features because of low saturated fat, high in fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals. It’s not only for cancer prevention. The overall evidence suggests that eating high amounts of vegetables and fruits may also help to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.

Some studies have linked eating high amounts of processed meat to increased risks of colorectal and stomach cancers. Vegetarian diets do not include processed meat and red meat, therefore it may be helpful in lowering the risk of certain cancers.

However, strict vegetarian diets such as a “vegan” diet that avoids all kinds of animal products including milk and eggs, might have insufficient intake of protein, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and calcium. Kindly consult with your healthcare provider before you begin to have “restrictions” on your diet.   

For cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, strict vegetarian diets may not be suitable to follow. Cancer patients usually need more protein than healthy people. After surgery, during chemotherapy and radiotherapy, extra protein is needed to heal tissues and to help reduce the risk of infection. Insufficient intake of protein may lead to involuntary weight loss and reduce the efficacy of treatment. Cancer patients on vegetarian diets should take protein supplements during their treatment.

You can always seek your dietitian’s advice if ever you feel unsure about your diet.

Further reading:

American Cancer Society: Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012; Vol 62(1):30–67.

Marcus Lee, Dietitian