A diet without meat and, therefore, a greater quantity of vegetables, has already been shown to decrease a person’s risk of developing colon cancer; now research from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford has revealed that a vegetarian diet is also good for preventing diverticular disease, a common bowel disorder.
In diverticular disease pressure builds inside the colon (the large intestine) causing pockets of tissue to bulge outwards – these are called diverticula. In itself this may not be a problem but, if a diverticulum ruptures, infection may set in – this is when the condition is called diverticulitis. Among its symptoms are abdominal pain, tenderness and fever. It is more common in the Western world and rare in areas such as Asia and Africa, indicating that diet or other lifestyle choices may play a role in the disease.
Earlier research suggested that diverticular disease could be a result of a low-fibre diet but now a team from the University of Oxford has found a significant link between choosing to eat a meat-free diet and a 30% lower risk of developing the disease. This would also explain the difference between prevalence of the disease in Western countries, where a lot of meat is eaten, compared to Asia and Africa.
Using data from more than 47,000 generally health-conscious British men and women, the researchers found that around a third ate a vegetarian diet.
When the researchers followed up the study participants around 10 years later, they found that 812 individuals had been diagnosed with diverticular disease. After adjusting for other potential contributing factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and body mass index, the researchers found that vegetarians did indeed have a lower risk of the disease. They also found a significant link between a higher intake of dietary fibre, with those eating around 25g per day having a lower risk than those who ate less than 14g per day. The recommended daily intake is 18g per day.
Adapt your diet
Eat less meat and add more fibre, and you’ll have more regular bowel movements, lower your cholesterol levels, maintain healthy weight more easily and control blood sugar levels.
*Wholemeal breads Look for 100% whole grain or whole wheat. Many breads say ‘made with wholemeal’ but they may not contain as much fibre as the real deal. Choose those with whole grains too, many loaves contain whole oats, sesame seeds or other grains.
*Cereals Look for those containing bran, whole oats or brown rice, wild rice, barley, wholewheat pasta and bulgar wheat Vegetables. Add them to soups, snack on them between meals.
*Fruit Eat an orange instead of drinking a glass of juice and you’ll add instant fibre to your diet. Be sure to munch on apples and pears with their skins too, which adds fibre. Fruits are great in smoothies or as a snack, you can also add high-fibre fruits like prunes or apples to pork dishes, sliced pear in a salad with cheese, or simply in a fruit salad as dessert.