March 21, 2007 / 7:33 PM / 12 years ago

To avoid colon cancer, eat more fruit, study finds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - People who eat a diet high in fruit and low in meat reduce their risk of developing colon cancer, researchers reported on Wednesday.

Residents swallow watermelons during a watermelon-eating competition in Zhongmu county of Zhengzhou, central China's Henan province in this May 25, 2006 file photo. People who eat a diet high in fruit and low in meat reduce their risk of developing colon cancer, researchers reported on Wednesday. REUTERS/Stringer

Their study supports other research showing that meat can raise the risk of getting cancer, especially colon cancer, and offers details about what other factors in the diet might be important.

The team at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill interviewed 725 people who had just had colonoscopies about their diet, smoking and other habits.

Of these, 203 had learned they had adenomas, polyps that often turn into tumors and are removed during a colonoscopy.

Gregory Austin and colleagues analyzed the answers and found there were three groups — people who ate a lot of fruit but little meat, people who ate a lot of vegetables and a moderate amount of meat, and people who simply ate a lot of meat.

The people who recalled eating large or moderate amounts of meat were 70 percent more likely to have had a polyp than those who said they ate a lot of fruit but little meat.

Writing in the Journal of Nutrition, the researchers said they wanted to know if eating plenty of greens might counteract the bad effects of meat.

“Several studies have found a protective effect of fruit and vegetable consumption, but multiple other studies have found no association between fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of having or developing a colorectal neoplasm (tumor or pre-tumor),” they wrote.

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States after lung cancer, with a projected 52,000 deaths in 2007.

“The high meat cluster (345 people) was the largest of the three clusters and represented a more typical American diet,” the researchers wrote.

These people ate fewer whole grains than recommended, far fewer fruits and vegetables than they should and more fat and sugar than others.

Just 18 percent of the people who said they ate a lot of fruit but little meat had a polyp, compared to 30 percent of the moderate meat-eaters and 32 percent of people in the high meat-eating group.

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