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Plant-Based Diets: Why all the hype?

Contributed by: by Nancy Burke, R.D.; Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D. and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., C.S.O.
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program

Foods high in dietary fiber show:

1. Convincing evidence that it lowers the risk of colorectal cancer
2. Limited and mixed evidence that it reduces breast cancer
3. Consistent link to lower body and abdominal fatness –which can decrease the risk of six other types of cancer.

High Fiber Foods

collage of seeds and grains

You may be asking, “"What is a plant-based diet?" It is a diet that focuses on minimally processed foods of plant origin including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. For all those meat lovers out there, not to worry. Your diet does not need to be vegetarian or vegan. It’s simply that the majority of your diet comes from these foods.

Now that you know the definition, why is a plant-based diet important? In terms of cancer prevention, the nutrients found in plant-based foods -- including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber -- have been shown to reduce risk of several types of cancer. In fact, eating 6 oz of wholegrain foods each day may decrease your colorectal cancer risk by 21%.

Instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t eat or foods to avoid, start including more whole grains and legumes in your diet and, in turn, decrease your risk of cancer and improve your health.


  • Beans
  • Kidney
  • Pinto
  • Great Northern
  • Black
  • Yellow
  • Split Peas
  • Red Lentils
Other Healthful Compounds with Potential Anti-Cancer Activity: Lignans and saponins; Resistant starch; Antioxidants from flavonoids, inositol, sterols and other phytochemicals.


  • Brown Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Kasha
  • Millet
  • Faro
  • Quinoa

*Keep in mind, processed grains with dietary fiber added back in, such as fiber-rich white bread, have not shown the same, if any, level of protective effect. These refined grains lack the nutrient-packed bran and germ.

Other Healthful Compounds with Potential Anti-Cancer Activity

  • Resistant starch
  • Polyphenols including lignans
  • Protease inhibitors


Needs to be ground to be digested.

Other Healthful Compounds with Potential Anti-Cancer Activity

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Lignans
  • Gamma-tocopherol

See our cancer-friendly list of recipes for ideas on incorporating a plant-based diet into your lifestyle.

Read Thrive, Spring 2015

Learn more about nutrition and cancer prevention

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Thrive Issue: 
Spring, 2015