The primary motivation for choosing a vegetarian lifestyle is the desire to increase one’s health and wellness. It is no secret that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables decreases a person’s risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. In contrast, a diet high in red and processed meats has been shown to increase these risks. Evidence of the dangers of a meat-based diet can be found in the recent fate of McDonalds' CEOs, Jim Cantalupo and Charlie Bell.

After working for the company for 28 years, and CEO since January 2003, Cantalupo died of a sudden heart attack at age 60. Following Cantalupo’s passing, McDonalds named company president and chief operating officer, Charlie Bell, as the new CEO. One month after accepting the position, Bell was diagnosed with colon cancer and died less than a year later this past January. He was only 44 years old.

It is hard to ignore the potential correlation between these deaths and the line of work they were in. Bell had worked for McDonalds since he was 15-years-old, working his way up from burger flipper to manager (at the young age of 19), to vice president at age 27. He then went on to become the company’s president and chief operating officer and finally, chief executive officer. Bell said he ate something from McDonalds almost everyday.

Irony aside, the fact is that a meat-based diet, lacking sufficient fruits, vegetables and whole grains, increases your risk for some types of cancer, especially colon cancer. A study by Chao, Thun, et al examined the relationship between long-term meat consumption and colon cancer. The study looked at 148,610 adults over a period of ten years. The conclusions reported higher risks of colon cancer in those participants consuming higher amounts of meat, especially red meat and processed meats (commonly found in fast-food joints). A similar 20-year study showed that those with the highest levels of red and processed meat consumption were 50 percent more likely to develop colon cancer than those with low consumption. The particular danger of processed meat is its tendency to contain sodium nitrate, another cancer causing agent.

While loading up on meat certainly increases cancer risk, research also confirms that eating more fruits and vegetables can decrease the risks. Studies from the Unit of Nutrition and Cancer at the International Agency for Research report a significant reduction in the risks of cancers of the esophagus, lung, stomach, and colon associated with both fruits and vegetables. Research done at the Health Research Center at the University of Utah examined the correlation between plant foods, fiber, and colon cancer. The results showed colon cancer to be inversely proportional to fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake.

While it would be improper to directly attribute the deaths of Cantalupo and Bell to their McDonalds' diets, it cannot be denied that a diet high in red and processed meat, increases a person’s risk of colon cancer and heart disease. At Down to Earth, we promote a vegetarian diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and vegetable proteins. We encourage you to integrate these life-giving foods into your own diet. Check out our Health Tips for more information about reducing your risk for colon cancer.