By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter
St. Louis (KSDK) - Eating more fruits and vegetables can help cut your risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke, but do you ever worry about getting enough protein if you eat that way?
It's the subject of this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment.
Five percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, and just two percent say they don't eat any meat or dairy products at all. That compares to 60 percent of people who say they eat red meat and 71 percent who eat dairy regularly.
So if you were to cut down on foods from those two categories, and shift to a more plant-based diet, would you need a protein supplement?
"The reality is with most of our diets we get more than enough protein," said Dr. Graham Colditz, Associate Director of Prevention and Control at the Siteman Cancer Center, and the Niess-Gain professor at Washington University School of Medicine.
According to Dr. Colditz, there are many sources outside of the traditional servings of meat and dairy to rely on.
"Nuts, legumes, beans actually provide adequate protein," said Dr. Colditz." "So in some sense America, high income countries in general, are consuming substantially more protein than is needed and most of the evidence shows a plant-based diet will still give a mix of amino acids and nutrients that we need."
Dr. Colditz believes many people worry needlessly about their protein consumption when cutting back on eating meat and dairy products.
So, what makes a plant-based diet healthier in terms of preventing cancer and heart disease?
"Probably a mix of both the fiber and the healthier fats," said Dr. Colditz. "Different cancer sites, there's different levels of evidence as to how strong the benefits are for the more vegetable fats, the olive oils, tropical oils."