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Can More Meatless Meals Lower Your Cancer Risk?

UMiami HealthNews

April 4, 2022

Dana Kantrowitz

Can More Meatless Meals Lower Your Cancer Risk?

As more people learn about the health benefits of eating plant-based foods, “Meatless Mondays” have grown in popularity. Now, nutrition experts and doctors promote expanding this dietary recommendation to at least two days a week. Researchers have found that men and women who eat red meats only five times a week are statistically less likely to get certain cancers.

Does red meat cause cancer?

Eating meat raises the risk of certain cancers because of the increased consumption of carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). “By reducing the amount of meat consumed, one naturally reduces the number of potential carcinogens in the diet, which may reduce the risk of cancer,” says Anna Gonzalez, RDN, LDN, oncology dietitian with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

What are carcinogens?

Carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer in living tissue. The International Agency for Research on Cancer uses a classification system to rank the risk to humans from carcinogenic compounds.

Red meats are classified as a group 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic to humans) based on limited evidence showing links to cancer. Along with tobacco and alcohol, processed meats are classified as a group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans) based on sufficient evidence.

Nitrates are compounds that plants naturally obtain from the soil.

Higher concentrations can be found in crops grown with conventional fertilizers. Both plant nitrates and synthetic nitrates are added in high concentrations to meats to help prevent the growth of bacteria.