Yes, and Steve Jobs was one of them—but not all vegans are equal.
If you do an internet search, you will find a wide range of opinion and a great deal of confusion on this subject. The problem is with the definition of the terms vegetarian and vegan. They mean different things to different people.
The word vegan only partially explains what a person is “not” eating—and does very little when it comes to clarifying what someone is eating. Just avoiding all animal products is not necessarily going to afford you with much protection against cancer or any other chronic disease. The key is deriving more and more of your calories from the healthiest of foods—whole plants: lots of greens, legumes, vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts and seeds.
While mainstream sources like Dr. William Sears (see link below) strongly endorse a mostly plant-based diet, there are many other sources who disagree. Here’s an excerpt from the Dr. Sears website:
Are vegetarians really healthier in the long-run? Absolutely, positively, yes! Even though nutritionists seem to disagree on many topics, all agree that plant-eaters and fish-eaters tend to live longer and healthier lives than do animal eaters. In every way, the brocolli-munchers tend to be healthier than the beef-eaters:
Vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancer, especially colon, stomach, mouth, esophagus, lung, prostate, bladder, and breast cancers. The protection against intestinal cancers is probably due to the fiber in a plant-based diet.
Dr. Sears goes on to quote a number of large studies that back up his claims about vegetarians being healthier overall, including a lower risk of cancer. So the answer is yes, some vegans get cancer—but less frequently than do the meat-eaters. We all know that Steve Jobs (self-described vegan) died of pancreatic cancer but we don’t know what version of the vegan diet he followed.
My observation is that most vegans and vegetarians eat far too much processed foods, they consume too much fat and sugar, and they regularly consume vegetable oil.
And even though they may be consuming zero animal products, they’re deriving less than 20% of their calories from whole, plant-based foods–still in nature’s package. I doubt that many of them consume enough whole, plant-based foods to afford them much protection against chronic disease.
On the other hand, there are a number of cultures in the world that have a near zero incidence of cancer—or any other chronic disease. And unlike the typical “vegetarian” in the USA, they all derive the vast majority of their calories from whole plant-based foods—just like someone who eats at the 4Leaf level on our scale. We featured five of these peoples in our book: Abkasians, Vilcabamba, Hunza, Papua Highlanders and finally, the Tarahumara of Mexico.
When I administer our 4Leaf Survey at vegetarian gatherings, I routinely see vegans who are getting less than ten percent of their calories from whole plants.
They’re eating too much processed foods, too much bread and pasta, too much sugar and too much oil. Whereas, by including more whole plants in their diet, they may give themselves the best possible chance of completely avoiding all chronic deceases.
As Dr. Sears said:
In fact, vegetarians have a lower incidence of nearly all intestinal diseases and discomforts, especially constipation and diverticulosis. The phytonutrients in plant foods, especially antioxidants, flavanoids, and carotenoids, may also contribute to protection against cancer.
On the Dr. Sears website: 12 Frequently Asked Questions About the Vegetarian Diet
The bottom line. Since our “mainstream” system still does not tell us exactly how we can prevent, slow, stop or reverse chronic disease, we must all decide for ourselves. My preference is well-documented on this site and follows the mountain of scientific and clinical evidence for a whole foods, plant-based diet. Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Barnard, Dr. McDougall and others make it very clear in the Forks Over Knives movie and in their books.
Handy 5-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com
- The movie that’s changing the lives of millions: Forks Over Knives DVD
- Healthy Eating, Healthy World, The “big picture” about food (our book)
- An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- Dr. McDougall’s latest book, The Starch Solution, with lots of great recipes
- Dr. Campbell’s new book: WHOLE, Rethinking the Science of Nutrition
Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.
Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes 2 or 3 minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to email@example.com
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—J. Morris Hicks, board member since 2012; click banner for more info: