What is a Plant-Based Diet?
Using evidence-based research and data, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has made new recommendations to follow a plant-based diet. These recommendations were put in place to reduce cancer risk and promote overall health1.
Research shows that a diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and other plant foods helps lower risk for many different cancer types2.
There has been confusion over what exactly entails a plant-based diet. Many misidentify this dietary pattern as a full vegetarian or vegan diet. While the plant-based diet focuses on foods primarily from plants, meat and dairy also fit in this plan. A reason this plan is so sustainable is that all foods do fit, and restriction is limited.
According to the AICR, the goal of plant based meals is to have “vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans make up 2/3 (or more) of each meal, and animal protein to make up 1/3 (or less)”1.
Evidence to Support Eating Plant-Based:
This evidence will focus on cancer-related research findings. However, this diet has been found to benefit overall health and improved lab values as well.
- Studies have found that “excess body weight, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and excess alcohol consumption are related to 1 in 5 cancer cases”3.
- Evidence advises that a plant-based diet with high fiber foods like whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, and fruits reduce the risk of a wide range of cancers1. A comprehensive body of evidence links specific plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, fiber, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals, to a reduced risk of cancer diagnosis and recurrence4. Furthermore, evidence also supports maintaining a healthy weight to reduce risk as well.
- In laboratory studies, plant foods composed of a variety of nutrients and compounds, have been found to change the expression of tumor suppressor and other genes, and also, influence cell signaling pathways, inflammation, and self-destruction of abnormal cells1.
- AICR recommends that “dairy products, poultry, fish or red meat should be kept to no more than 1/3 of each meal”1. Recommendations also state that “red meat (pork, beef, and lamb) is limited to no more than 12-18 ounces (cooked) per week because excess amounts increase risk of colorectal cancer”1. Furthermore, processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, kielbasa, hot dogs, and deli meat, can increase cancer risk at even smaller amounts. Try and save these foods for special events or celebrations.
Steps to Alter your Diet to Plant-Based:
- Use your plate as a guide: Try to ensure that half of your plate at each meal contains fruits or vegetables! This will allow you to visually see if you are on track filling your plate with plants.
- Plan the Meal Around Plants: Rather than building your plate around the animal protein or meat, think about building your plate around what vegetables you have! This will ensure that the focus does not always surround the meat portion.
- Start with One Vegetarian Meal A Week: While going plant-based does not mean giving up on animal protein, eating at least one vegetarian meal a week can help you reach your goals of eating more plants. Focus on vegetarian proteins like tofu, nut butters, legumes, beans, and quinoa.
- Make a salad bowl or grain bowl: Creating a bowl is an easy way to ensure you are getting plant foods in. Either start off with a bowl of romaine/spinach/kale or quinoa/amaranth/brown rice depending on your preference. Top your bowl with more vegetables, healthy fats, fruit, and protein.
- Include a plant food at breakfast: Start off your day strong with including plant foods at breakfast. Oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat are all great warm breakfast ideas. Add a nut butter and fruit for protein and micronutrients.
- Mix it up! Try adding a variety of fruits and vegetables into your week. If you normally eat spinach, try butter lettuce or dinosaur kale. While regular cauliflower can get boring, try purple cauliflower to get the whole family excited for vegetables! This way you will be more excited to eat vegetables and you will be getting a variety of micronutrients.
While one diet does not fit everyone, a plant-based diet shows benefits for cancer reduction and overall health promotion.
A plant-based diet can be initiated slowly and can become a sustainable change in health habits. Eating more plant foods will allow you to eat more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. All of which have been researched to show benefits not only in cancer risk reduction, but in chronic disease risk reduction.
Work with a Registered Dietitian to start your journey to eating more plant based!
- AICR’s New American Plate: A Plant-Based Diet. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed September 30, 2021. https://www.aicr.org/cancer-prevention/food-facts/aicrs-new-american-plate/
- Food Facts Archive. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed September 29, 2021. https://www.aicr.org/cancer-prevention/food-facts/
- Infographic: Diet and Activity Guidelines to Reduce Cancer Risk | American Cancer Society. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nutrition-physical-activity-cancer-prevention/infographic.html
- Lanou AJ, Svenson B. Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Manag Res. 2010;3:1-8. doi:10.2147/CMR.S6910
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