Compared to normal meat eatersthose who eat smaller amounts of meat have a 2% lower risk of cancer.
Meanwhile, pescatarians – who eat fish and vegetables – have a 10% reduced risk and vegetarians have a 14% lower risk of developing cancer.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine and co-funded by the World Cancer Research Fund and Cancer Research UK, saw researchers from the University of Oxford analyze data collected from 472,377 UK adults taking part in the UK Biobank study between 2006 and 2010.
The participants, aged between 40 and 70, were asked about their eating habits, including how often they ate meat or fish.
More than half (52%) ate meat more than five times per week, 44% of participants ate meat five times or less per week, 2% ate fish but no meat, and 2% were vegetarians or vegans .
The researchers then followed their health records for up to 11 years to see whether or not they had developed cancer.
During this period, 55,000 cases of cancer were identified among the participants.
Lead researcher Cody Watling, from Oxford Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit, said: “Previous evidence has suggested that vegetarians and pescatarians may have a lower risk of developing cancer, but the evidence of a lower risk of developing specific types of cancer have not been conclusive.
“Being overweight after menopause is known to increase breast cancer risk and so the reduced risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in vegetarian women, due to lower BMI, was not surprising – but we were surprised by the significantly lower risk of prostate cancer in vegetarians.”
Healthy eating ‘a great way’ to reduce cancer risk
Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Maintaining a healthy diet is a great way to reduce your risk of cancer and eating less processed meat reduces your risk of cancer by the intestine, in particular.
“But more research is needed to understand the link between red and processed meat and other types of cancer.
“Having bacon or ham once in a while won’t hurt much. If you eat a lot of meat most of the time, then cutting back is a good idea, but a vegetarian diet doesn’t always mean someone is eating healthy.
“It’s more important to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber, like whole grains and legumes, and low in processed and red meat and foods high in salt, sugar, and sugar. fat.”