Two separate studies have shown the increasing benefits of plant based foods for combating two of the biggest global killers, heart disease and cancer. The first study published by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund reviewed 99 scientific studies from around the world comprising more than 29 million people. They reviewed diet, weight and lifestyle and the impact it has on colorectal (bowel) cancer and found that eating wholegrains and dietary fibre reduces the risk of colorectal cancer whereas consuming red meat and/or processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

Whole grains

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, the fourth most common cause of death from cancer and over the next 15 years the number of cases are expected to increase by 60% to 2.2 million. The study found that if you eat more than 500 grams of red meat (such as pork, beef, or lamb) every week this raises the risk of developing colorectal cancer, and this increases by 12% with every 100 grams per day more consumed. Whereas,  just 90 grams of whole grains (including brown rice, quinoa and oats) can lower the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percentThe report also found that consuming more than two alcoholic drinks every day or being overweight further increases the risk.

Alice Bender, Director of Nutrition Programs at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) says, “Replacing some of your refined grains with whole grains and eating mostly plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and beans, will give you a diet packed with cancer-protective compounds and help you manage your weight, which is so important to lower risk.” In fact, the AICR suggest that 47 percent of colorectal cancer cases in the United States could be prevented by changing your lifestyle.

A separate worldwide study, published in the Lancet, found that increased consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes, such as lentil and beans, was associated with lower rates of heart disease and lower rates of mortality. Heart disease is the biggest killer globally, claiming more than 17.7 million lives annually. The results covered 18 countries and over 135,000 participants and showed that even modest increases in plant based foods can reduce the risk of heart disease.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to report on the associations of fruit, vegetable and legume intake with CVD risk in countries at varying economic levels and from different regions,” said study investigator Dr Andrew Mente, PhD, from the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. He went on to say:

“Our findings indicate that optimal health benefits can be achieved with a more modest level of consumption, an approach that is likely to be much more affordable.”  By increasing daily consumption of plant based foods even those on extremely tight budgets can reduce their risk of heart disease and mortality.

The evidence is mounting, perhaps it’s time we all started making small changes to our daily eating habits knowing the long term significant benefits for our health, the environment and future generations