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Less Meat, Less Prostate Cancer?

People often have questions about whether specific foods—such as meat—might increase their risk of prostate cancer or other diseases.

A new study of more than 200,000 men in the U.K. found that men who were vegetarian, and men who ate fish (but no meat), were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to men who often ate meat.

People who signed up for the study answered questions about their diet and were classified as regular meat-eaters (eating meat, including poultry, more than 5 times per week), low meat-eaters (5 or fewer times per week), eating fish but no meat, and eating no meat (vegetarian/vegan). They also provided blood samples and other physical data. They were followed for several years, and any cancer diagnosis was recorded.

About 60% of men were regular meat-eaters. Vegetarians/vegans were 31% less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer during the follow up-period vs regular meat-eaters. Men who ate fish, but no meat, were 20% less likely to get prostate cancer. Being a low meat-eater did not affect risk of prostate cancer.

It’s important to note that the study found a connection (or association) between diet and prostate cancer risk, and does not prove cause and effect. Men who often ate meat may differ from men who were vegetarian and men who ate fish in other ways that affect health, such as smoking, exercise, and body mass index (BMI). The researchers considered this, and accounted for it as much as possible in their analysis, but there may be other factors that could not be measured.


What You Can Do

It can feel discouraging to limit your diet by making a list of foods to avoid. Instead, focus on the positive: filling your plate with foods that boost your overall health, such as brightly-colored vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. In fact, a study by PCF-funded researchers Dr. Stacy Loeb and Dr. Lorelei Mucci investigated the benefits of  “healthful plant-based diet.” While not vegetarian per se, it is rich in whole, plant-based foods, while minimizing animal products, refined grains, and sweets. This type of diet is linked to a lower risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer, especially in men younger than 65. (See Dr. Mucci’s presentation on the study here.)

If you do eat meat, consider using it as a flavor-enhancing condiment rather than the “main event.” Or, if you enjoy a steak on a special occasion, pair it with generous serving of roasted broccoli instead of scalloped potatoes.

Download PCF’s guide, The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer, for more science-based nutrition tips.