Curbing Colorectal Cancer Through a Plant-based Diet

Photo: Person Eating a Fresh Salad

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, addressing a common type of cancer that affects both men and women. This cancer, affecting the colon and rectum at the same time, is the third most common type of cancer in the world.[1] Studies have shown that meat consumption increases the risk for this deadly disease, and vegetarian, plant-based diets are associated with decreased incidences and overall lower numbers of colorectal cancers.[2]

Eating a plant-based diet as much as possible is one of the best things you can do for your overall health; vegetarian diets are high in fiber and cancer-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, and prebiotics, and are lower in calories and richer in nutrients.

According to data collected from multiple studies, every 50 grams of processed meat ingested each day increases the possibility of contracting colorectal cancer by nearly 20 percent.[3] The World Health Organization classifies processed meat as carcinogenic to humans.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends lowering the consumption of red and processed meats and eating more plant-based meals, along with cutting out energy-dense foods like sugary drinks. In a report from 2011, the AICR estimated nearly half of all colorectal cancer cases could be prevented if people had more plant-based diets and lived healthier lifestyles, at healthy weight ranges.[4]

While it may seem difficult at first to eat a plant-based diet, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing in the beginning. Start by slowly incorporating more greens and whole grains into your diet in place of red and processed meat. Cook at home instead of eating out, and only buy what’s on your (healthy) shopping list. If you find yourself stuck in a rut, look at cookbooks and explore Down to Earth’s Recipe section for ideas. Eventually, plant-based food will just become your new normal!

  1. Bastide N.M., Pierre F.H.F., Corpet D.E.Heme, “Iron from meat and risk of colorectal cancer: A meta-analysis and a review of the mechanisms involved”, (2011) Cancer Prevention Research, 4 (2) , pp. 177-184.
  2. Orlich MJ, et al. “Vegetarian dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancers.” JAMA Intern Med. 2015 May;175(5):767-76. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.59.
  3. Medscape, “Processed Meat Increases Risk for Colon Cancer, Says IARC.” Medscape. Oct 27, 2015.
  4. World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, “Continuous Update Project Report. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer.” 2011.