This treatment modality is thought to promote wellness and optimize overall health. Vegetarianism should be used with, not in place of, standard cancer therapy.
What does being a vegetarian involve?
Vegetarianism is the adoption of a diet that consists mostly of plant products. However, vegetarians differ in the extremes to which they eat only plant products. Generally, vegetarians fall into the following major categories:
- Vegans - eat no meat, dairy or fish products at all
- Lactovegetarians - eat dairy products but not eggs, meat or fish
- Ovolactovegetarians - eat eggs and diary products but not meat or fish
- Part-time vegetarians - eat white meat and fish but not red meat
While some choose to follow a vegetarian diet because of religious and ethical beliefs, most people choose to become vegetarians because it is known to be healthier.
How is vegetarianism thought to promote wellness and optimize overall health?
There are many health benefits associated with a diet high in fiber and low in fat. While following a vegetarian diet is not thought to cure cancer, it may protect you from developing certain types of cancer. The traditional American diet includes large amounts of meat, poultry, dairy products and fast foods that are typically high in fat, sodium and calories. By eliminating animal products from the diet, saturated fat and cholesterol are reduced or eliminated. Fat derived from plant products is typically unsaturated, an adequate and healthier substitute because it does not contain, and actually reduces, cholesterol.
What has been proven about the benefit of vegetarianism?
For many years, the US Government has urged citizens to reduce consumption of animal fat because excessive fat is known to contribute to poor health in several ways, including an increased risk for some cancers. Scientific data has shown that vegetarian diets reduce the risk of obesity, constipation, coronary artery disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, gallstones and several types of cancer including cancer of the breast and colon. As research progresses, scientists are continuing to find components called "phytochemicals" in plant products that protect good health and help prevent cancer. Some include:
- Sulforaphane - found in broccoli; neutralizes enzymes that may trigger cancer
- Glucobrassicin - found in cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, swiss chard, bok choy and kale); helps the body form indoles, compounds that may help prevent breast and other cancers
- Beta-carotene - found in orange and dark green vegetables; an antioxidant that reduces the risk of cancer and hardening of the arteries
- Phytate and protease inhibitors - found in beans; play a role in cancer prevention
- Allicin - found in garlic and onions; may help prevent cancer
What is the potential risk or harm of vegetarianism?
The American Dietic Association reports that vegetarian diets are healthy and nutritionally complete when properly planned. However, vegetarians limit their selection of foods, and this increases the risk of nutritional deficiencies. The most common deficiencies associated with vegetarianism are vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. Most dieticians recommend that strict vegetarians supplement their diets with a daily multivitamin. Vegetarians must also be sure to include adequate amounts of protein, which can be found in beans, nuts, whole-grains and soy products. Switching to a vegetarian diet quickly can result in intestinal problems due to the rapid increase in dietary fiber. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients should discuss plans to become a vegetarian with a trained nutritionist.
How much does becoming a vegetarian cost?
Plant foods tend to be less expensive than animal foods. While some patients seek professional consultation when planning vegetarian diets, others form vegetarian meal plans on their own. Holistic health centers, health food stores and the Internet provide plenty of information on becoming a vegetarian and how to plan balanced and nutritional meals.
For additional information:
Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish: 150 Easy, Low-Fat, High-Flavor Recipes by Dean Ornish. Harper Collins Publishing, 1997.
The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
Telephone: (410) 366-8343
Web site: www.vrg.org
Note: Information about therapies is intended to help you make informed choices, not to endorse any particular therapy. The information is courtesy of "Integrating Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients," a handbook written as an independent study project by Heather Morein. For more information, see the full text of the handbook (PDF), including all references and appendices.