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Tumours consist of fast-growing tissue that can invade surrounding organs. They are the main target in cancer treatment, and some studies suggest diet can hinder their growth. Plant-based foods, for instance, are reputed for their anticancer effects. The findings of a new study, however, suggest some plant-based dietary patterns could be putting our health on the line.
A new scientific discovery has challenged the widely held belief that plant-based alternatives offer optimal protection against cancer.
The new study, spanning 21 years, looked at a cohort of 65,574 postmenopausal women to assess the link between plant-based diets and cancer risk.
All participants were grouped on the basis of how healthy their diets were, using self-reported food questionnaires.
Generally speaking, plant-based diets encompass foods that have not been derived from animals.
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This criterion was not applied to the latest study, however.
Although some of the respondents’ diets included meat products, the emphasis was mostly on plant-based foods.
A total of 3968 women were diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of the study.
Results showed that a plant-based diet that was higher in whole grains, fruits and vegetables appeared to offer the most protection against cancer.
The findings also revealed that those who adhered to a more healthy plant-based diet had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
In contrast, those who followed a less healthful plant-based diet, saw their risk of cancer increase by 20 percent.
The researchers said the findings, presented only at the Nutrition 2022 annual meeting, highlight how nutritional quality varies across different bland-based foods.
They suggest opting for quality plant-based foods is critical in cancer prevention.
A healthful plant-based diet should comprise food risk in iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12, noted the study’s lead author, Sanam Shah.
The doctorate candidate in epidemiology at Paris-Saclay University, France, said: “Results suggest that the best plant-based diet for breast cancer prevention could be a healthy plant-based diet comprising fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
“In contrast, an unhealthy plant-based diet comprising higher intakes of primarily processed products of plant origins such as refined grains, fruit juices, sweets, desserts and potatoes would be worse for breast cancer prevention.”
The findings chime with a number of recent studies pointing to the dangers of ultra-processed plant-based foods.
In fact, there is evidence that certain ultra-processed plant-based foods can be just as harmful to health as the typical Western diet, which is high in animal-derived products and saturated fats.
These types of foods are inextricably linked with a higher risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Megan McCrory, research associate professor of nutrition at Boston University, added: “The study by Shash and co-workers underscores the importance of considering more global aspects of the diet rather than a single component when examining relationships between diet and health.
“As the study illustrates, plant-based diets as a whole are not always healthy and may also contain less desirable nutrients and foods.”
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