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The World Health Organization has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries. A number of hypotheses have been advanced to explain the connection between meat consumption and cancer risk.
Heterocyclic AminesHCAs, a family of mutagenic compounds, are produced during the cooking process of many animal products, including chicken, beef, pork, and fish.
Countries with a higher intake of fat, especially fat from animal products, such as meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer.13,14,15 In Japan, for example, the traditional diet is much lower in fat, especially animal fat, than the typical western diet, and breast cancer rates are low. The consumption of high-fat foods such as meat, dairy products, fried foods, and even vegetable oils causes a woman’s body to make more estrogens, which encourage cancer cell growth in the breast and other organs that are sensitive to female sex hormones.
Harvard researchers recently conducted a prospective analysis of 90,655 premenopausal women, ages 26 to 46, enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II and determined that intake of animal fat, especially from red meat and high-fat dairy products, during premenopausal years is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. In addition, researchers at the Ontario Cancer Institute conducted a meta-analysis of all the case-control and cohort studies published up to July 2003 that studied dietary fat, fat-containing foods, and breast cancer risk. As with breast cancer, frequent consumption of meat, particularly red meat, is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.25,26 Total fat and saturated fat, which tend to be substantially higher in animal products than in plant-derived foods, and refined sugar, all heighten colon cancer risks. Cooking methods that promote the formation of HCAs are believed to play a significant role in colorectal cancer risk. A new review published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics assessed whether certain modifications in diet have a beneficial effect on the prevention of prostate cancer.
Although not as extensively studied as breast, colon, and prostate cancer risk, a number of studies have concluded that meat consumption may play a significant role in kidney and pancreatic cancer risk. Red meat and high glycemic index foods could be risk factors for kidney cancer, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.В  Researchers studied food questionnaires for 335 people with renal cell carcinoma, the most common form of kidney cancer, and 337 healthy controls. Pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon, yet it is frequently fatal, with fewer than 20 percent of cases surviving for one full year. According to a new study, fat from red meat and dairy products is associated with increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Two themes consistently emerge from studies of cancer from many sites: vegetables and fruits help to reduce risk, while meat, animal products, and other fatty foods are frequently found to increase risk. Vegetarian diets and diets rich in high-fiber plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits offer a measure of protection.5 Fiber greatly speeds the passage of food through the colon, effectively removing carcinogens, and fiber actually changes the type of bacteria that is present in the intestine, so there is reduced production of carcinogenic secondary bile acids. Our digestive systems are well equipped to make full use of the healthy fats, proteins and nutrients found in animal foods.
The truth is that humans are omnivores, despite what some vegan proponents would have you believe. Humans also have canines, with big brains, opposing thumbs and the ability to make tools to hunt.
Unprocessed meat is also loaded with healthy fats, but meat from grass-fed animals contains up to 5 times as much Omega-3 as meat from grain-fed animals (7, 8, 9). But the nutrient composition of meat goes way beyond all the macro- and micronutrients that we are all familiar with. DHA and EPA are the active forms of Omega-3 in the human body and found primarily in animal foods. Bottom Line: Meat is highly nutritious and there are many nutrients in there that can not be gotten in any amount from plants. There are many claims about meat being able to contribute to serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In a massive study from Harvard that looked at data from 20 studies with a total of 1,218,380 individuals, they found no association between unprocessed red meat, cardiovascular disease and diabetes (22).
The EPIC study from Europe didn’t find any association either and this study included almost 450 thousand people (23). Proteins are like long strings of amino acids that are linked together and folded into complex shapes.
In this regard, animal proteins are excellent… they contain all the amino acids that we need, while most plant proteins have a suboptimal amino acid profile (24). Not surprisingly, consumption of animal protein is associated with increased muscle mass and people who eat an omnivorous diet have more muscle than people eating a vegetarian diet (25, 26).
Studies also show that vegetarians have much lower testosterone levels than their meat-eating counterparts. If you want to gain (or maintain) muscle, as well as prevent osteoporosis and fractures in old age, then animal protein should be a regular part of your diet.
Bottom Line: Consumption of animal protein leads to increased muscle mass and bone density. However, all of these studies are so-called observational studies, which tend to be unreliable.


While it is true that processed meat strongly correlates with increased cancer risk, the same is NOT true for unprocessed red meat. In so-called meta-analyses, which are studies that analyze the data from many studies at the same time, the link between red meat and cancer is found to be very weak (34).
These studies only find a very small increase in risk for men, and zero increase for women (35). Bottom Line: The association between unprocessed red meat and cancer has been vastly exaggerated, but overcooking meat may have adverse effects. True… there are observational studies showing that vegetarians have a lower risk of several diseases (37). However, these results are fully explained by the fact that vegetarians are more health conscious overall and more likely to exercise, less likely to smoke, etc.
When vegetarians are compared to meat eaters that are also health conscious, no difference is found (38). It is also important to note that most vegetarian and vegan diets DO recommend that people eat unprocessed, whole foods and avoid added sugars, refined grains and trans fats. If vegetarian diets really have health benefits, then this is the true reason, NOT the fact that they eliminate perfectly healthy animal foods. As you may know, scientific evidence suggests adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet can improve your overall health.
Scientific studies have shown that macrophages, one type of immune cell, slowed down in people with higher cholesterol levels. It would seem that an effective way to lower cholesterol and avoid the pitfalls associated with processed and refined foods is to switch to a vegan diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eliminating all animal products from your diet can actually increase the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies.
Along with the tips above, you may seek additional information about maintaining an overall healthy diet and immune system by consulting your doctor.
MeMD provides online doctor consultations with physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can write prescriptions when medically needed. When cancer researchers started to search for links between diet and cancer, one of the most noticeable findings was that people who avoided meat were much less likely to develop the disease.
For cancers of the oesophagus, lung, pancreas, stomach, collorectum, endometrium, and prostate, it was determined that red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meat consumption possibly increased cancer risk. IQ-type compounds and PhIP are formed from creatine or creatinine, specific amino acids, and sugars.10 All meats (including fish) are high in creatine, and HCA formation is greatest when cooking meat at high temperatures, as is most common with grilling or frying. In the late 1940s, when breast cancer was particularly rare in Japan, less than 10 percent of the calories in the Japanese diet came from fat.16 The American diet is centered on animal products, which tend to be high in fat and low in other important nutrients, with 30 to 35 percent of calories coming from fat.
The usual dietary intake of 73,223 Chinese women during adulthood and adolescence was assessed after a mean follow-up of 7.4 years. Case-control and cohort study analyses yielded similar risk results, with a high total fat intake associated with increased breast cancer risk.
These include dietary fat, saturated fat, dairy products, and meat, as well as dietary factors that may decrease risk, such as the consumption of carotenoids and other antioxidants, fiber, and fruit.
Results suggest that a diet low in fat, red meat, dairy, and calcium, yet high in fruits and vegetables is beneficial in preventing and treating prostate cancer. Three of eight case-control studies examining the relationship between renal cell carcinoma and meat consumption found a statistically significant increase in risk with a high consumption of meat. They found that men and women who ate red meat five or more times a week were more than four times as likely to develop the disease, compared to those who consumed red meat less than once a week.В  The study also found that white bread, white potatoes, and other high glycemic index foods increased the cancer risk threefold. As part of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study, researchers followed and analyzed the diets of more than 525,000 participants to determine whether there is an association between dietary fat and pancreatic cancer.
Consumption of dietary fat drives production of hormones, which, in turn, promotes growth of cancer cells in hormone-sensitive organs such as the breast and prostate. Plant foods are also naturally low in fat and rich in antioxidants and other anti-cancer compounds. Studies show that out of vegans who don’t supplement with B12, 92% are deficient in this critical nutrient (6).
Vegetarians are deficient in creatine, leading to reduced physical and mental performance (10, 11, 12, 13). Low testosterone is associated with reduced strength, less muscle mass, more fat gain, depression and reduced self-esteem (27, 28). The studies show that consumption of protein, especially animal protein, is associated with increased bone density in old age and a lower risk of fractures (29, 30, 31, 32). Vegetarians have lower testosterone and less muscle mass than their meat-eating counterparts.


Such diets appear to positively impact heart health, lower blood pressure, and can be helpful in preventing certain types of cancers. And, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, which can be found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains, are essential for your immune system.
Micronutrients of special concern for those who adopt a plant-based diet include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and the long chain n–3 (omega-3) fatty acids. To ensure sufficient vitamin D intake, you should regularly consume vitamin D fortified foods such as soymilk, rice milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals that are fortified with vitamin D. As part of your plant-based diet, you should regularly consume foods naturally rich in the n–3 fatty acid ALA, such as ground flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, soy products, and hemp seed based beverages.
Because of the high phytate content of a typical vegan diet, it is also important that you consume foods that are rich in zinc, such as whole grains, legumes, and soy products, to provide a sufficient zinc intake. Large studies in England and Germany showed that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.1-3 In the United States, researchers studied Seventh-day Adventists, a religious group that is remarkable because, although nearly all members avoid tobacco and alcohol and follow generally healthful lifestyles, about half of the Adventist population is vegetarian, while the other half consumes modest amounts of meat. Consumption of well-done meat and PhIP has been associated with increased risk of breast cancer and colon cancer, as discussed in greater detail below.
When Japanese girls are raised on westernized diets, their rate of breast cancer increases dramatically. Those with the highest intake of soy protein or isoflavone versus those with the lowest had about half the risk of premenopausal breast cancer regardless of age at time of consumption.
A 2003 study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that when girls ages eight to ten reduced the amount of fat in their diet—even very slightly—their estrogen levels were held at a lower and safer level during the next several years.
The increase may be tied to rising rates of obesity, a major risk factor for colorectal cancer.
As with breast cancer risk, a man’s intake of dietary fat, which is abundant in meat and other animal products, increases testosterone production, which in turn increases prostate cancer risk. Meat is devoid of the protective effects of fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other helpful nutrients, and it contains high concentrations of saturated fat and potentially carcinogenic compounds, which may increase one’s risk of developing many different kinds of cancer.
So, switching from a cholesterol rich animal based diet to a nutrient rich plant based diet can help better maintain the strength, health, and overall function of your immune system. Also, in some cases, iron and zinc levels could become deficient when adopting a plant-based diet. In addition, you should consume foods that are fortified with the long chain n–3 fatty acid DHA, such as some soymilks and cereal bars. HCAs, formed as meat is cooked at high temperatures, and PAHs, formed during the burning of organic substances, are believed to increase cancer risk.
Increased consumption of meat (especially in fast food) over the past three decades could also be a key factor. Consequently, replacing an animal-based diet with a plant-based diet can support a healthier and better functioning immune system. In addition, the high fat content of meat and other animal products increases hormone production, thus increasing the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
The most comprehensive dietary cohort study on diet and prostate cancer risk reported on nearly 52,000 health professionals in Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which completed food frequency questionnaires in 1986.33 The report, based on 3 to 4 years of follow-up data, found a statistically significant relationship between higher red meat intake and the risk of prostate cancer, with red meat as the food group with the strongest positive association with advanced prostate cancer.
High concentrations of the carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo-[4,5] pyridine [PhlP] occur in chicken but are dependent on the cooking method.
Meat Consumption patterns and preparation, genetic variants of metabolic enzymes, and their association with rectal cancer in men and women.
Environmental factors and cancer incidence and mortality in different countries, with special reference to dietary practices. International comparisons of mortality rates for cancer of the breast, ovary, prostate, and colon, and per capita food consumption. Breast cancer in Argentina: case-control study with special reference to meat eating habits.
Associations between diet and cancer, ischemic heart disease, and all-cause mortality in non-Hispanic white California Seventh-day Adventists. Heterocyclic amines, meat intake, and association with colon cancer in a population-based study.



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