Simple food swap may protect against bowel cancer – new study

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Bowel cancer has been attributed to many causes through research but teasing apart causation and correlation is an ordeal. However, studies always agree that red and processed meat increases the risk of the daunting condition. Fortunately, new research suggests that swapping the culprits for something equally meaty could lead to a significant reduction in the processes that lay the groundwork for bowel cancer.

Whether you’re a fan of Shepherd’s pie or prefer to tuck into a Thai green curry, these popular recipes wouldn’t be the same without one ingredient – meat.

However, the days of veg, pulses and tofu posing as the only meat substitutes are over.

Companies like Quorn now deliver a whole range of plant-based meaty products, ranging from mince to chicken pieces.

What’s more, a new study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that swapping the real thing for cruelty-free Quorn could help bust your bowel cancer risk.

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Quorn is a naturally sourced mycoprotein that is high in fibre, low in saturated fat and a complete source of amino acids.

Researchers from Northumbria University found that this simple swap leads to a significant reduction in intestinal genotoxins, which can cause bowel cancer.

What’s more, the first-of-its-kind study revealed that the positive impact of switching from meat to mycoprotein was seen after just two weeks.

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Commane, Associate Professor in Nutritional Sciences at Northumbria University, said: “Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 40,000 new cases each year, and data consistently associates red and processed meat consumption with increasing people’s risk.

“Our findings suggest therefore that this high-fibre protein source provides a good alternative to meat in the context of gut health and could help to reduce long-term bowel cancer risk.”

Looking at 20 healthy male adults aged between 18 to 50, the randomised clinical trial was split into two phases. 

The meat phase saw volunteers consuming 240 grams of red and processed meat, including classics like beef steaks, pork sausages and ham slices, each day for a two-week period. 

During the mycoprotein phase, the participants consumed the same weight in fungi-derived mycoprotein over a separate two-week period, with a “washout” period of four weeks between the two dietary regimens.

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Analysis of stool and urine samples from the mycoprotein phase revealed that levels of detected genotoxins like nitroso compounds (NOC) and p-cresol – chemical contaminants that have been found to be potential cancer risk markers – were significantly reduced. 

On the flip side, results from the meat phase showed that genotoxin levels had risen, potentially increasing the long-term risk of bowel cancer.

The difference between the meat and mycoprotein phases was “statistically significant”, according to the researchers.

What’s more, the mycoprotein diet also significantly improved gut health, increasing the abundance of protective bacteria such as Lactobacilli, Roseburia, and Akkermansia, which are all linked to protective effects against chemically induced tumours, inflammation and bowel cancer.

The trial was investigator blind which means the researchers did not know which group had which diet.

Furthermore, the participants were also asked to avoid consuming any other meat or Quorn mycoprotein products other than the supplied study foods, as well as any additional high protein, fibre or probiotic supplements, during the trial duration.

Tim Finnigan, Scientific Advisor for Quorn Foods, said: “This latest study adds to the growing body of evidence that the nutritious protein source that is mycoprotein offers substantial health benefits, protecting against a range of diseases and conditions.

“While many meat alternatives are plant-based, mycoprotein is fungi-based which, emerging evidence suggests, brings a range of additional benefits to metabolic health.”

However, the research team also said that further studies are currently needed to look at the impact of mycoprotein on gut health in different participant groups, disease or health states, and with other gut health outcomes.

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