Breast cancer prevention: the importance of choosing the right plants


Women who reduce their intake of animal products in favor of plants have a lower risk of breast cancer. However, this protection is not seen when meat is replaced with ultra-processed vegetarian or vegan foods.

• Also read: Should you ban some cold cuts?

More and more people, especially young people, are deciding to limit or even eliminate the consumption of meat and other animal products to reduce their carbon footprint.

Food production alone is responsible for approximately 25% of all greenhouse gases emitted annually, and half of these greenhouse gases come from animal husbandry, primarily in the form of methane.

All climate experts agree that the current level of meat consumption is not sustainable if we are to limit the catastrophic impact of climate change.

In addition to being good for the planet, the decision to reduce meat intake can be very positive for health if it is compensated by increasing the consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains.

These foods have been associated time and time again with a reduced risk of many diseases, including those responsible for several million premature deaths (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer).(1).

Vegetarian fast food

However, for many people, reducing meat intake does not necessarily lead to increased consumption of plants, but rather to consumption of many processed “plant” products that do not contain animal products.

These products, developed by the food industry in response to the new meatless trend, aren’t healthy: like all ultra-processed foods, they’re mostly made with poor-quality ingredients and many contain loads of sugar, fat, salt, and various food additives.

These are, for example, fake sausages, vegetable meats, soy protein extracts, such as soy milk, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins and any product whose ingredient list indicates an abundant presence of elements that have undergone industrial processing.

Industrial extraction processes remove the majority of the plant molecules (Phytochemicals) beneficial to health, to retain only the protein fraction from the plants, indicating that these products are healthy and equivalent to the raw food.

In practice, the studies conducted so far indicate that the consumption of these products is far from offering a healthy alternative to meat, because they increase rather than reduce the risk of certain diseases.(2).

Impact on the risk of breast cancer

The superiority of a plant-rich diet over one based on ultra-processed foods was confirmed by two recent studies of the incidence of breast cancer in women who ate little or no meat.

In the first, conducted on 170,000 women followed for nearly 20 years, researchers saw an 11% reduction in breast cancer risk in those who regularly consumed a variety of plants, a protection that reached 23% for certain types. of carcinomas (ER negative)(3).

Conversely, a low-quality diet, based on the consumption of processed plant foods (sweetened beverages, refined flour, and sweets), did not reduce and even significantly increased the risk of cancer (28%) for the ER-negative subtype.

The other study, conducted in France on 66,000 postmenopausal women who were followed for 21 years, had similar results, with a 14% reduction in breast cancer risk (all types combined) for women who ate a plant-rich diet, while the Those who regularly consumed ultra-processed plant foods, on the contrary, had a 20% increased risk of developing cancer(4).

These results show that if eating less meat is a laudable goal for the health of the planet, then it is imperative that this reduction be accompanied by a higher intake of plants so that this approach can also have a positive impact on human health.

There is no place for ultra-processed foods.

(1) Hemler EC and FB Hu. Vegetarian diets for individual, population and planet health. case. Nutr. 2019; 10: S275–S283.

^ (2) Satija A et al. Healthy and unhealthy vegetarian diets and risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. J.Am. call. Cardiol. 2017; 70: 411-422.

^ (3) Romanos-Nanclares A et al. Healthy and unhealthy vegetarian diets and risk of breast cancer in American women: results from the Nurses’ Health Studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Ex. 2021; 30: 1921-1931.

^ (4) Shah S et al. Adherence to healthy and unhealthy plant-based diets and risk of breast cancer in general, hormone receptor, and histological subtypes among postmenopausal women. in currency. Develop. feed 2022; 6: Appendix 1, p. 253.


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