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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Eat to Beat Cancer


For the past 10 years I’ve been talking about the downside of high protein, low carb diets. And cancer risk has always been high on my list. That’s because numerous studies link the exact opposite type of diet (fruits, veggies, whole grains, and minimal protein) to a reduction in cancer risk.

Well, last week, scientists at Washington University in St. Louis published a study with some very interesting conclusions. The researchers studied three groups of people. The first group consisted of lean people who consume a vegetarian, low-protein diet, rich in fruits, veggies and whole grains. The second group included regular exercisers. And the third were sedentary people (desk potatoes and couch potatoes) who consumed about twice the recommended amount of protein each day.

Of the three groups, the first (the herbivores) had the lowest levels of a chemical called IGF-1 in their blood (even lower than the regular exercisers). That’s significant because higher IGF-1 levels have been linked to an increased risk of cancer (especially premenopausal breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer). Low IGF-1 levels are also linked to a longer lifespan and slowing the aging process (hmmm, a long, healthy life and fewer wrinkles? sounds great to me!).

Another recent study conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health drew a similar conclusion. They collected data on the diets of nearly 23,000 adults and found that eating a low carb, high protein diet was linked to a higher death rate.

While important and compelling, these studies aren’t surprising. Every major health organization that publishes cancer prevention guidelines (and optimal nutrition guidelines for that matter) promote a diet rich in produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetable-based fats and low in animal protein, including the American Institute for Cancer Research (one of my very favorite resources). Their web site contains tons of consumer friendly info about the New American Plate (a visual tool for fixing a cancer preventive plate), recipes, and online brochures with titles like Simple Steps to Prevent Cancer and Moving Toward a Plant-Based Diet. To visit the site, click here.

I truly hope we will see a cancer cure in our lifetime. My family’s cancer history was one of the main reasons I became a registered dietitian. But until cancer is no longer a threat, please know that you can do a lot to significantly lower your risk – and it’s never too late to start. Ok, I’m off to enjoy my favorite cancer protective snack – fresh fruit (organic red grapes today) and a small handful of walnuts – yum!

But before I go, one last note. Eating a veggie-based diet isn’t that unusual in the animal kingdom. The following large mammals are all herbivores: bison, elephants, giraffes, horses, sheep, llama, zebra, deer, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, antelopes, mountain goats, moose, cows, and gorillas.

Photo courtesy of GeekPhilospher.com

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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