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  2. Jun 10, 2020

Eat Plants, Not Meat: Dietary Guidelines Should Follow American Cancer Society Recommendations

by Susan Levin, MS, RD, CSSD

vegan food
Photo: Getty Images

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans should reflect the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) new recommendations calling for Americans to base their diets on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans and to cut out red and processed meat.

The new ACS guidelines say that a healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables (including fiber-rich legumes), fruits, and whole grains. It does not include red and processed meats.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—which will host a virtual public meeting on June 17 about its scientific report that will be used to develop the upcoming Dietary Guidelines—should follow the ACS guidelines to help protect the hundreds of thousands of Americans who die from diet-related cancers each year.

People following vegan diets have the lowest risk for cancer, compared with lacto-ovo-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, and non-vegetarian eating patterns, according to a study funded by the National Cancer Institute. Studies also show that plant-based diets help protect against breast, colorectal, prostate, and other cancers.

Red meat, on the other hand, increases the risk for breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers. So does processed meat, such as bacon and hot dogs. In 2015, after 22 experts from 10 countries assessed more than 800 epidemiological studies, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified consumption of processed meat as “‘carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1) on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.” The experts highlighted a meta-analysis that concluded that each 50-gram portion of processed meat (about one hot dog) eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Research shows that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily also increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and overall cancer mortality.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans should be clear that a plant-based diet—that avoids red and processed meat—is the best protection against diet-related cancers. 

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