diet of all
Position / Heart Disease / Cholesterol
/ Saturated Fat / Clogged
Arteries / Blood Pressure / Strokes
/ Cancer / Diabetes
/ Gallstones / Obesity
/ Osteoporosis / Anemia
/ Protein Deficiency / B12
Deficiency / Zinc Deficiency / Eating
Disorders / Rickets / Free
Radicals / Antioxidants / Folate
/ Fiber / Dairy / Mother
& Babies / Children / Conclusion
In the American Dietetic
Associations 1997 Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets, they stated
that, "scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian
diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions,
including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus,
and some types of cancer.
The better health
statistics for vegetarians and vegans (a vegan diet consists of no animal
products) aren't peripheral - a percentage point advantage here or there
- but are quite profound. The usual argument put forward to explain these
dramatic improvements in health - often by doctors with little nutritional
training or by those with a vested interest in the meat industry - is
that veggies are non-drinking, non-smoking, self denying, puritans so
no wonder they live longer. And who wants to be like that?
Studies that have
controlled for lifestyle variables still show that a vegetarian diet is
more healthy than a non-vegetarian diet. It is this solid, reputable science
that will be quoted throughout this guide, much of it obtained from some
of the world's most authoritative and prestigious health advisory bodies.
Why is diet so important?
Well, if you live an average life span of about 72 years, you will plow
your way through an astonishing 30 tons of food. It's the fuel that keeps
you going and it's the nutrients in food that make you what you are. Your
heart beats on them, your muscles, kidneys and liver depend upon them.
Food keeps you warm, repairs the bits of damage that inevitably occur
and it even helps you think. Food is pretty important stuff- but not just
any old food.
If you were to eat
the same diet as a lion - mostly meat and no fruit and vegetables - you
would die and probably quite quickly. Similarly, a lion would be unable
to survive on the average vegetarian diet. The reasons for the difference
is that, after millions of years of evolution, all animals have adapted
to their different environments. Meat contains no vitamin C so lions have
the ability to manufacture (synthesize) it internally. We, on the other
hand, are higher apes and have evolved to eat fresh fruit and vegetables,
shoots, seeds, nuts and leaves - a diet rich in vitamin C - on a daily
basis. Throughout our evolution there was an abundant supply of vitamin
C in virtually everything we ate so our bodies have never had to manufacture
"But chimps eat
meat", is the usual cry. Chimps' eating habits have been closely
studied over many years and the amount of meat they eat is minuscule -
about the size of half-a-pea a day, mostly made up of insects. Indeed,
they eat so little that their hands and nails, teeth and digestive tract
are those of a predominately vegan animal. The genetic difference between
a chimp and a human is only 1.5%.
Some people claim
our teeth are those of a carnivore, which is obvious nonsense and a quick
look inside the mouth of a cat or dog will show you why. Our teeth, with
their predominantly flat surfaces, are designed to grind and crush tough
vegetable matter and are incapable of eating meat unless it's cooked first.
And we haven't got the canines of a killer - we'd all look like Dracula
if we had! Human teeth are not designed for holding or killing prey and
they certainly couldn't bite through the hide of a large animal.
Why does all this
matter? Because sensible eating is about distinguishing between healthy
and potentially unhealthy foods - for us! Take lions, for instance. No
matter how much meat they eat, no matter how fatty it is, their arteries
don't clog up. Ours, on the other hand, do and the damage can start as
young as two or three years old. The result is high blood pressure and
heart attacks later in life. These deadly diseases are at epidemic proportions:
For example, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), coronary
heart disease is the single leading cause of death in the United States
today (1). Moreover, they are almost all diet related - caused by animal
products. And some people still claim we're meant to eat meat!
Dr. T. Colin Campbell,
of Cornell University, organized a massive piece of dietary research called
the China Study - one of the most important ever undertaken. When its
findings were published, he said: "We're basically a vegetarian species
and should be eating a wide variety of plant foods and minimizing our
intake of animal foods. Animal foods are not really helpful and we need
to get away from eating them (2).
The world's most important health advisory bodies are now in complete
agreement - a vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest possible. And it
seems the fewer animal products it contains, such as milk and cheese,
the healthier it is. In other words, the closer it is to being vegan,
the healthier it becomes. These are some of the health statements that
have been made over the past few years. We will expand on each of the
terms used later in the guide.
- The British
Medical Association (BMA)
The BMA was one of the first to distill the growing volume of research
on diet and health in its 1986 report (3). It said:
have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure,
large bowel disorders, cancers and gall stones. Cholesterol levels
tend to be lower in vegetarians.
It went on to
say that when meat eaters change to a vegetarian diet it can actually
lower their cholesterol levels. It concluded by saying that vegetarians
obtain all the minerals they need and that folate levels are higher
- The China Study
The initial results of this combined Chinese -U.S. - British study,
which began in 1983, were announced in 1989 (4). It was a massive piece
of work which looked at the health and eating habits of 6,500 people
in real life situations. Its conclusions were accurately summed up a
New York Times headline on May 8, 1990: Huge Study of Diet Indicts
Fat and Meat. In short, it found that the greatest single influence
on the growth of degenerative diseases such as coronary heart disease,
cancer and diabetes was the amount of animal fat and protein eaten -
the more you eat, the greater your risk.
some extraordinary dietary differences between affluent and not so
affluent societies. Animal protein itself raises the risks of cancer
and heart disease.
These are the
two biggest killers in the West but there are others, such as diabetes,
strokes, obesity and high blood pressure which are associated with
the West's affluent lifestyle. They are degenerative diseases and
the China study found that they increased alarmingly as people changed
from a more simple, predominantly vegetarian or vegan diet, to a Western
diet based on meat and dairy products.
The study also
found that the West's preoccupation with promoting meat as the main
source of iron was wrong. The Chinese diet was predominantly vegetarian
and yet adults consumed twice as much iron as an adult in the U.S.
The Chinese diet also contained three times more fiber than a U.S.
diet but there was no evidence that these high levels interfered with
absorption of iron or other essential minerals.
were unequivocal - that a plant-based diet is more likely to promote
good health and reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.
- The World Health
Next came an even more detailed report from the WHO in 1991. It was
interpreted by many as a call for the world to go vegetarian - and that's
precisely what it was (5). It stated that a diet rich in animal products
promotes heart disease, cancer and several other diseases. It confirmed
the BMA's and China Study's list of degenerative diseases and added
others - osteoporosis, and kidney failure as being related to meat eating.
It said that diets
associated with increases in chronic diseases are those rich in sugar,
meat and other animal products, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol,
and added: If such trends continue, the end of this century
will see cardiovascular (heart) disease and cancer established as
major health problems in every country in the world. And, of
course, its predictions have been proved true.
But it went even
further and condemned the years of public urgings by governments to
eat animal products. It went on to say that in future: Policies
should be geared to the growing of plant foods, including vegetables
and fruits, and to limiting the promotion of fat containing products.
The large quantities
of cheap meat, which have adversely affected health, are only available
because of intensive, factory farming and the WHO also had plenty
to say about that:
policies which do not rely on intensive animal production systems
would reduce the world demand for cereals. Use of land could be reappraised
since cereal consumption by the population is much more efficient
and cheaper than dedicating large areas to growing feed for meat production
and dairying. That advice has also been ignored.
In fact, as development
takes place in previously undeveloped countries there is a shift towards
a more affluent diet, the report says. As a consequence, there is
a dramatic increase in the incidence of diet related diseases.
- The Oxford
In early 1995, an interim report was issued by Oxford University scientists
working on another huge piece of research, commonly known as the Oxford
Study (6). It is ongoing and is examining the diets of 11,000 people
over a period of 13 years. The interim report confirmed lower rates
of cancer and heart disease among vegetarians but added a new twist
- 20% lower premature mortality.
- Physicians Committee
for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) PCRM is a highly-respected group
of 5,000 doctors. It includes William Roberts, editor of the American
Journal of Cardiology, as well as the late Benjamin Spock (7). In 1995,
PCRM confirmed the lower rates of disease among vegetarians and urged
the government to recommend a vegetarian diet to U.S. citizens. Before
this, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines had never made any mention of vegetarianism.
The following year they did so for the first time, stating:
enjoy excellent health: Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary
Guidelines and can meet Recommended Daily Allowances for nutrients.
Protein is not limited in vegetarian diets ... (8).
The PCRM report
reviewed over 100 pieces of published work from across the world and
was in no doubt about what we should be eating: The scientific
literature supports the use of vegetables, fruits, legumes (peas,
beans, chick peas) and grains as staples. Meats, dairy products and
added vegetable oils should be considered optional. It was another
clear and unequivocal statement that humans do not need to eat meat
and are healthier for not doing so.
- American Dietetic
The ADA is probably one of the most respected health bodies in the world
and, in its most recent report on vegetarianism, it kicked off with
the words: Studies indicate that vegetarians often have lower
morbidity and mortality rates from several chronic diseases than do
non vegetarians (9). It confirmed that vegetarians are less at
risk from the major degenerative diseases, including kidney disease
and diabetes, and states that a vegetarian diet can arrest coronary
The ADA spells out the reason for this by saying that vegetarian diets
offer disease protection benefits because of their lower saturated fat,
cholesterol and animal protein content and often higher concentrations
of folate, antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids (vitamin
A) and phytochemicals (plant nutrients).
The combined conclusions
of this huge volume of research from these different sources is overwhelming.
Vegetarian diets are the healthiest possible and the most natural for
the human race. So why isn't the fact more widely known? Government silence
on the subject speaks volumes about the power and advertising spending
of the meat industry and the government cowardice. Politicians are terrified
to tackle the vested interests of a huge industry, just as for decades
they were terrified to effectively tackle the tobacco industry. You, of
course, don't need anyone's permission to change your diet.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
The numbers associated with it are staggering: Almost one of every two
Americans will die from heart disease, and approximately 1.5 million a
year suffer heart attacks. An important factor in this epidemic is our
consumption of animal products. In a 1990 report, the American Heart Association
stated that The evidence linking elevated serum cholesterol to coronary
heart disease is overwhelming (10). A 1990 study in Lancet
and a 1995 study in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
both showed that a low-fat vegetarian (almost vegan) diet was part of
an effective treatment for reversing heart disease. Other diets, including
eating low-fat meats, have not been shown to reverse heart disease (11).
The heart is a pump
that circulates blood around the body; to stay healthy it needs a generous
supply of oxygenated blood, supplied by the coronary arteries. If any
of the coronary arteries become blocked and the supply is interrupted,
permanent damage to the heart can occur - in fact the affected part can
die (myocardial infarction). In the following weeks this dead muscle is
replaced by scar tissue which, unlike the rest of the heart, can't contract
and the heart becomes less efficient. If the damage is severe enough it
can be fatal. Heart attacks can be silent and painless or they can be
painful and deadly.
With angina, the artery
is narrowed to a degree where it will allow enough blood to the heart
when a person is resting but not enough to provide sufficient oxygen for
physical activity, which can result in acute pain (12).
How arteries become
blocked is explained in the following sections -
Just about every large-scale study of people and their day-to-day living
(epidemiological studies) have found vegetarians to be considerably less
at risk of heart disease. The percentage by which the risk drops varies
from study to study but many estimate it between 25 and 50% (13, 14, 15).
One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found it to be
60% less, the Oxford study found it to be 25 percent, Englands Imperial
Cancer Research Fund puts it at 24% (16).
All the main researchers
are in agreement that animal products are the principal cause of degenerative
diseases. What is surprising is how quickly the health advantages of a
plant-based diet disappear once people start to consume animal products
as their national prosperity grows. Heart disease and cancers are nearly
as great in newly developing countries as they are in wealthy, developed
countries with national incomes three times higher. The country of Mauritius,
an island nation in the Indian Ocean, is a good example . In the 1940s,
only two% of the population died from heart disease, but by 1980 it had
dramatically increased to 45% (WHO).
Despite the astounding
nature of these findings and their implication for the health of the nation
- and all nations - governments still refuse to act on them with any real
There are other factors
involved in heart disease, so if you wish to avoid one, as well as changing
to a predominantly plant-based diet, there are other actions you should
take. Cut down or cut out alcohol, begin an exercise program, stop smoking,
cut down on salt (sodium) - which essentially means to cut down on processed
foods - and increase magnesium intake (found in green vegetables, nuts,
whole grains and yeast extract). Exercise is important not just for the
workout it gives the heart and lungs but because the lymph system, the
bodys self-defense mechanism, works far more efficiently when the
pulse rate is raised.
In a statement which
should worry everyone in the West, the WHO says that most coronary heart
disease happens to people in the medium risk category. So, in the wealthy
countries of the world, virtually the whole population can be considered
at risk. Such a situation, they say, begs for mass intervention designed
to protect the entire population rather than just treating individuals
at very high risk. The only way that can be achieved is through diet.
But unfortunately, that isn't happening.
Cholesterol is manufactured by the liver and is present in every cell
in an animal's body, including human animals. Animal products, including
dairy, are the only source of cholesterol and the main source of saturated
fat in the average U.S. diet. Plant foods contain none. It is not the
body's ability to manufacture cholesterol that creates health problems
but the saturated fat and the cholesterol in the food we eat. These raise
cholesterol levels in the blood, and this is the primary cause of heart
disease. There is no need to include cholesterol in the diet (WHO) and
vegetarians have much lower levels than meat eaters (17,18,19,20).
According to the American
Heart Association, 99.5 million American adults have total cholesterol
levels above recommended levels (21).
is particularly prolific in the fatty parts of animal products - lard,
fat on meat, and the range of dairy products. Although it is easy to cut
away obvious white fat from meat, there is still a proportion of fat laced
with cholesterol marbled throughout the meat. The WHO and many leading
heart researchers now believe that the ideal amount of cholesterol in
the diet is zero, which can only be achieved on a vegan diet (22,23).
The process through
which cholesterol damages arteries is thought to be caused by oxidation
- the action of molecules called free radicals. They can be stabilized
by other molecules called antioxidants, found largely in fruit and vegetables.
Taking vitamin supplements and looking for magic cures to counter high
cholesterol levels hasn't worked. According to Dr. Lori Mosca of Michigan
University (and many other researchers): The best scientific evidence
we have is that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is protective
against heart disease. (24).
the large amount of evidence that a vegetarian diet is the best way to
avoid high cholesterol levels and the diseases which go with them, the
official advice is not to go vegetarian but to switch to a lower fat diet
- avoiding fatty cuts of red meat, favoring white meat and fish and swapping
butter for margarine. Research from the U.S. shows this advice to be largely
ineffective. Cholesterol levels of people on this 'official' diet tend
to drop by only about five% while changing to a vegetarian diet reduces
levels to a much greater degree (25,26,27,28).
The official name is atherosclerosis. It can begin in childhood and starts
when certain fats stick to the lining of the artery, gradually building
up plaque and constricting the flow of blood through the artery. Over
time they grow and form what's called plaques by collecting droplets of
fatty substances, in particular tiny particles of cholesterol (low density
lipoproteins). The more cholesterol in the blood, the faster the plaques
grow. As they swell, they protrude into the artery restricting the flow
of blood. If a chunk of plaque breaks off it could form a clot in the
already narrowed artery causing a heart attack or stroke.
As with all heart-related
diseases, vegetarians and vegans tend to suffer less than meat eaters
and the more meat you eat, the more likely you are to end up with clogged
arteries. It's a very serious condition, but fortunately, recent research
shows that an animal-free diet can actually heal some of the damage done
to the arteries. A low-fat, vegetarian (almost vegan) diet is part of
the only program that has been shown to reverse heart disease and that
can actually reverse blockages, resulting in an improved blood flow (29).
If you still doubt
that simple fruit and vegetables can have such a dramatic effect, it's
worth listening to William C. Roberts, distinguished editor-in-chief of
the prestigious American Journal of Cardiology:
human beings eat meat we are not natural carnivores. No matter how much
fat carnivores eat they do not develop atherosclerosis. When we kill animals
to eat them, they end up by killing us because their flesh, which contains
cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings who
are natural herbivores. (30).
The scientific term is hypertension and the condition is directly linked
to heart disease and clogged arteries and the higher the pressure the
greater the risk. One in five U.S. citizens has high blood pressure and,
according to the American Heart Association, the condition caused or contributed
to the death of about 210,000 people in 1997 (31). Blood pressure is measured
both when the heart is actually beating (systolic) and between beats -
the resting rate (diastolic) - and hence is always quoted as two figures;
Blood pressure rises
as we get older but some people defy this seemingly inevitable development.
Good physical activity, not getting overweight, low levels of animal fat
in the diet, and limiting the amount of salt eaten all have an effect.
But even allowing for all that, the blood pressure of vegetarians does
not increase as much as meat eaters - in fact it goes up little with age.
It's not surprising, then, that a vegetarian diet can be used to treat
high blood pressure (32).
There is an inescapable
link with meat, and a Californian study as long ago as 1926 showed this.
The blood pressure of vegetarians was raised by 10% simply by feeding
them meat - and it happened in only two weeks (33). Other studies have
produced similar results and a whole range of studies have shown vegetarians
to have considerably lower blood pressure than meat eaters (34,35,36).
It is also the finding of the WHO and ADA. Perhaps just as importantly,
many studies have found that changing to a vegetarian diet can significantly
lower blood pressure (37, 38, 39, 40). A Swedish study found that blood
pressure could not only be lowered with low fat vegetarian diets but the
distressing symptoms associated with it could be reduced or totally eliminated.
At the end of the trial period it was found that most patients had been
able to give up their medication: 50% felt 'much better, 15% felt
'better' and 30% felt 'completely recovered' (41).
The lower risk to
vegetarians is considerable and can be anywhere between 33-50% and evidence
shows that it is the totality of the vegetarian diet that works, not any
Salt also plays an
important part in causing high blood pressure. In the U.S. we consume
about 4 to 7 grams of salt a day.
There is also strong
evidence that a substance called plasma homocysteine increases the risk
of high blood pressure and consequently death. Because vegetarian diets
tend to be higher in folate, which reduces homocysteine levels, vegetarians
may be protected.
Constant high blood pressure has the ability to weaken blood vessels,
which can eventually rupture and hemorrhage (aneurysm) and this can kill
nerve cells in the brain. Similarly, a blood clot (thrombus) or the detached
fibrous cap of an arterial plaque (embolism) may cause a blockage in the
brain. The outcome can be loss of speech, memory or movement or, frequently,
death. The higher the blood pressure the higher the risk of stroke, and
pressures at the top of the range can increase that risk tenfold (WHO).
All the advantages of a vegetarian diet in reducing blood pressure may
apply to reducing the risk of strokes.
There are three separate factors which contribute to causing cancer -
heredity, environmental pollution and diet. It's difficult to put percentages
on them, but diet ranks high and accounts for possibly 30-50% of all cancers.
One thing is certain, cancer is very much a Western disease. One half
of all cancers in the world afflict just one-fifth of the population -
the fifth that lives in the industrialized countries (42).
One set of figures
which illustrates this is for colon cancer. People in the U.S. are four
times more likely to develop it than Japanese. But when researchers looked
at Japanese people who had moved to the U.S., they found that their risk
of colon cancer shot up to near that of people in the U.S. The main difference
between the two groups was identified as diet - a traditional Japanese
diet is low in animal products while a typical U.S. diet is very high
in them. Japanese Americans tended to adopt the U.S. style of eating once
they moved to our country (43).
One scientific method
of looking at diseases such as cancer is to establish how different foods
affect them, both good and bad - those foods that may cause the disease
(positive) and those that may prevent it (negative). They're called correlation
One of these studies
looked at 37 countries
and established a strong positive link between meat and meat protein and
intestinal cancer while vegetable protein was negative - it provided protection
(44). Another correlation study carried out in Israel followed the growth
of the population from 1.17 million to 3.5 million. Over this period,
meat consumption increased dramatically by over 400% and cancers doubled
Two other studies,
one of breast cancer and one of cancer of the uterus, found similar links
between animal protein and fat and cancers. When complex carbohydrates
- starchy vegetable foods - were considered, the result was negative (protective)
(46, 47). In 1981, a massive study looked at cancer in 41 different countries
and found that diets based on beans, maize and, to some degree, rice were
good at preventing both breast and colon cancer while meat promoted both
In 1990, the diets
of 88,000 women were examined and it became clear that those who eat beef,
pork or lamb as a main dish every
day are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop colon cancer than
those who eat meat only once a month (49). In 1994 came the Oxford Study
(mentioned earlier) and its conclusion that vegetarians have a 40% less
chance of dying from cancer than do meat eaters. There are many other
studies that show vegetarians are less at risk (50, 51) by between 25
and 50 percent. The ADA and BMA have both found that vegetarians are less
likely to develop cancer.
studies have found that eating increased amounts of fruit and vegetables
contributes to vegetarians' better chances but doesn't fully account for
it. In other words, there appears to be something in meat which actually
causes cancer (52, 53).
The WHO has produced
a list of dietary pluses and minuses which affect cancer. Fat, it says,
plays a part in breast, colon, prostate and rectum cancer while fruit
and vegetables offer protection from lung, colon, bladder, rectum, oral
cavity, stomach, cervix and esophagus cancers. On breast cancer it says
there is a direct association between the numbers who die and the intake
of high quantities of calories and dietary fats such as milk and beef.
In a test carried
out in the U.S., researchers investigated the cancer forming compounds
(carcinogens) produced in cooking. All foods when heated to cooking temperatures
produce these agents but some produce more than others. Researchers compared
soy-based burgers, beef burgers and bacon, which were all cooked until
well done. The beef burger produced 44 times more carcinogens than the
soy burger and the bacon produced 346 times more (54). According to predictions
by the American Cancer Society, a third of the 563,000 cancer deaths in
1999 will be nutrition related (55).
Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the mechanism that allows the
body to use sugar for energy no longer functions properly. The outcome
is that the body can't control the amount of sugar in the blood. In virtually
every developing country in the world, diseases associated with affluence
are becoming the new health problem. As processed and fat-rich animal
foods are increasingly seen as desirable foods so the diseases develop.
And they follow a pattern, according to the WHO. One of the first to show
itself is diabetes, followed several decades later by heart disease and
gallstones, then cancer, and finally chronic disorders of the gastrointestinal
A major risk factor
is obesity and about 80% of non-insulin dependent diabetics are obese.
People who are moderately overweight are twice as likely to develop the
disease as people of normal weight (WHO).
In a little over a
generation, diabetes mellitus has increased six-fold and there are factors
at work other than obesity - including heredity. However, heredity wouldn't
account for the fact that almost all Sumo wrestlers are diabetics - but
their weight and extraordinarily high-fat diet might.
Diabetics can benefit
from a high-fiber, vegetarian diet and people who are already eating this
kind of diet have a 45% reduced chance of developing the disease. Heavy
meat eaters on the other hand - those who eat meat six or more times a
week - are nearly four times as likely to develop diabetes (56). The ADA
states that diabetes is much less likely to be a cause of death in vegetarians
than it is in meat eaters and puts it down to vegetarians' higher intake
of complex carbohydrates (starchy foods) and the fact that they tend to
be lighter. Again, the science consistently shows that diabetes is up
to 90% higher in meat-eating men and 40% higher in women. Even allowing
for the fact that vegetarians tend to be lighter than meat eaters, they
still face less risk (57, 58, 59).
Diabetes usually begins
in middle age and strongly increases the risk of developing coronary heart
disease, kidney failure, eye and neurological (nerve) damage (WHO). More
good news for vegetarians is that plant-based diets often eliminates or
reduces a diabetic's need to take medication and reduces the chance of
developing both nerve and eye (retina) damage (60, 61, 62, 63, 64). According
to the AHA, in 1997 diabetes killed 62,636 people in the U.S (65).
Gallstones are formed when bile becomes saturated with cholesterol - they
are, in fact, composed of cholesterol crystals. They can go undetected
for years but can also lead to serious conditions - infection, inflammation,
colic, peritonitis and even gangrene. They are much more common in women
than in men. The WHO states that the condition affects meat eaters considerably
more than it does vegetarians. A study of 800 women established that meat
eaters are two-and-a-half to four times more likely to have gallstones
than vegetarians (66).
It isn't just a question of being overweight; obesity is linked with many
diseases, according to the WHO. It is, in fact, the same string of degenerative
conditions associated with meat eating. Obese women face an increased
risk of cancers of the gallbladder, breast and uterus, and in men, the
cancer risk increases in the prostate and kidneys. Most worrying of all
is when fat is deposited around the abdomen.
Obesity is much less
common among vegetarians than it is among meat eaters (67, 68). In fact,
vegetarians tend to be approximately 10% leaner (69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74,
75) and most overweight people shed pounds when they change to a veggie
diet (76, 77). According to the Department of Agriculture, one-third of
adults and one-fifth of adolescents in the U.S. are overweight, and the
rate has increased across all race and sex groups since the
All kinds of names have been given to this condition, including widow
stoop and brittle bones. It is, in fact, the loss of bone mass - essentially
calcium - leading to more fragile bones. It is a very serious disease
and accounts for more deaths - mostly from fractured hips - than cancers
of the cervix, breast and uterus combined (79).
The advice that you
must drink milk in order to prevent osteoporosis has more to do with marketing
than good dietary advice, because preventing osteoporosis isn't that simple
and some studies have shown eating dairy products did not protect against
osteoporosis in women (80). Acid-forming foods cause the body to excrete
calcium, while alkaline-forming foods allow the body to conserve calcium.
Fruits and vegetables are the foods which are significantly alkaline-forming.
A diet containing large amounts of fruits and vegetables should significantly
decrease urinary calcium excretion (81).
The ideal scenario
for improving bone mineral density is to have a good intake of calcium
in the diet paired with a minimal excretion rate. On the intake side,
kale, broccoli and collards are excellent sources of calcium, and the
calcium is absorbed at about the same rate as from milk (82, 83, 84, 85).
Legumes, figs, and fortified foods are also good sources of calcium. Fruits,
vegetables, and fruit juices are good for bones because they are the most
alkaline-forming of all foods. Of course, these plant foods sources also
provide other important minerals, antioxidants and complex carbohydrates.
medical advice concentrates only on the intake side of the equation and
ignores the reasons for calcium loss. These include salt, caffeine, tobacco,
lack of exercise, and possibly alcohol and animal protein. Dr. Colin Campbell,
of the China Study, says: Osteoporosis tends to occur in countries
where calcium intake is highest and most of it comes from protein-rich
dairy foods (86). However, sufficient calcium can be obtained from
plant foods (87).
A recent study showed
that a trace element called boron plays an important part in helping to
prevent calcium loss. When a group of menopausal women included it in
their diet, calcium losses were cut by 40% (88). The natural sources of
boron are not dairy products but apples, pears, grapes, nuts, leafy vegetables
Vegans just like everyone
else, need to make sure that they get an adequate amount of calcium in
their diet and engage in weight bearing exercises to keep their bones
The myth that you can only get iron from meat has been so prevalent that
the public unquestionably believes that you need to it to obtain iron.
So successful have they been that it has almost entered the public's consciousness
that to avoid iron deficiency you must eat meat. It's simply not true.
Vegetarian diets which include vegetables, legumes, fruits and grains
provide all the iron necessary (89, 90, 91, 92,
Iron deficiency is,
however, the biggest nutritional problem facing the world and the WHO
estimates that 750 million people have it - most of them women and most
of child-bearing age. The cause is therefore fairly obvious - blood loss
and not just diet (95). The proportion of Western women who experience
it is around 20% - and it occurs with the same frequency in meat eaters
All the main health
bodies - ADA, BMA, WHO, PCRM - agree that vegetarians are no more likely
to suffer deficiency than meat eaters. However, that doesn't alter the
fact that it is a problem for many women, and all should ensure they have
good sources of iron in their diet, particularly during and shortly after
A criticism sometimes
leveled at vegetarian diets is that plant-based iron (non-heme) is poorly
absorbed by the body. It may be more slowly absorbed, but studies show
that vegetarians have high intakes of iron and their hemoglobin levels
are normal (96). Plant foods rich in vitamin C help absorption and vegetarians
tend to eat more of these vital fresh fruit and vegetables. Iron intakes
are particularly high in vegetarians and vegans whose staple food is wholemeal
bread (97), so this is another reason for sticking to whole products rather
than eating processed, mass-produced foods.
So misguided have
been the concerns over iron deficiency that they have diverted public
attention away from the problems of iron overload, more common and possibly
more dangerous (98). If you have too much iron in your diet, the body
has no way of getting rid of it. The only control over it is how slowly
or quickly it is absorbed from the intestines into the blood (99, 100).
Heme iron (from meat) is absorbed quickly and easily, whether the body
needs it or not. This encourages iron overload. Non-heme iron (from plants)
is absorbed more slowly (101) and as a result, vegetarians' stores of
iron tend to be lower than meat eaters. Meat-based (heme) iron has been
linked with heart disease (102, 103) and high iron stores have been linked
with cancer (104, 105, 106) and poor responses to infection (107, 108).
This is not a problem for vegetarians. If you eat a variety of foods and
enough calories you will automatically obtain enough protein.
You occasionally still
see references saying that meat is a complete protein and that plant protein
is incomplete. What it means is that meat contains all the necessary amino
acids that make up protein, while a vegetarian diet obtains its amino
acids from a variety of plant sources. Vegetarians obtain more than enough
of all the amino acids and all the world's health bodies agree on this
- it is not necessary to eat specific combinations of foods at the same
The real problem is
not too little protein but too much, particularly for meat eaters. Animal
protein is associated with many of the degenerative diseases while vegetable
protein isn't. Meat protein is also believed to play an important part
in causing osteoporosis and kidney disease, according to the WHO.
This is a very important vitamin - made by bacteria - essential for the
development of blood cells and for nerve function. A lack of it can lead
to collapse of the nervous system and eventually death. However, the liver
can store it for years and only minute traces are needed - two micrograms
per day. Vegans should be sure to get a daily supply from fortified foods
such as soy milk, mock soy meats (TVP), and breakfast cereals.
bacteria live mainly in the colon, past the point where it can be absorbed
(110). However, some may possibly be absorbed and this may be why the
incidences of B12 deficiency among vegans who do not supplement with B12
is somewhat rare (111).
Vegetarian diets provide enough zinc even though plants tend to contain
less than meat (112). Partly it's because people on plant-based diets
lose less zinc in their urine. (113, 114). Slightly lower levels of zinc
in the blood have been identified in vegetarians and vegans and may be
due to lower absorption, caused by their higher intake of fiber (115)
- but it is unlikely that this has any medical significance. Studies have
consistently failed to show that they are any less healthy because of
it. According to the ADA, zinc levels in hair, blood and saliva of vegetarians
and vegans are all within the normal range. There is strong evidence that
people with low zinc intake simply adapt to the situation (116). Zinc
can be obtained from rice, corn, oats, peas, potatoes, spinach.
When researchers talk
about normal levels, its important to remember that
this is an average range in a meat-eating society. In fact it may well
be the vegans who have a normal level and meat eaters whose levels are
Because a vegetarian diet excludes common foods, it can be used as an
excuse to avoid eating by some people suffering from anorexia nervosa.
However, there is no link between becoming a vegetarian and subsequently
developing anorexia nervosa as a result. The ADA has looked for such a
link and has found none. Research from the U.S. and Australia shows that
prior to the onset of anorexia the number of patients claiming to be vegetarian
is no more than the national average.
A disease in children where softening of the bones is caused by a deficiency
of vitamin D. This is not a problem in vegans as long as the child gets
plenty of sunlight and/or vitamin D fortified foods and soymilks, or in
supplements. (118). Humans make vitamin D from the action of sunlight
on the skin. It has been calculated that exposure of hands and face to
sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes a day is enough to prevent rickets for light
skinned people and people living in cloudy climates and dark-skinned people
need up to six times this amount of sun (119). Extra amounts are stored
over the winter.
More accurately, these are saturated fatty acids and their main source
is animal products! They have a direct and major impact on blood cholesterol
and therefore promote heart disease. Saturated fats have also been linked
with cancers of the colon and breast, according to the WHO, which states
that they are not needed in the diet.
They weren't discovered until the early 1980's. They're thought to play
a part in causing some 60 diseases and are capable of wreaking havoc on
healthy cells. Free radicals are unstable molecules, a product of oxidation
and, in a sense, the rust of the body. In stable molecules, electrons
normally associate in pairs, providing a balance. Everyday functions such
as simply breathing, digesting food or moving about can remove one electron
from a molecule, creating a free radical. This now unstable molecule tries
to regain an electron by snatching one from another molecule. When it
succeeds, another free radical is created and a chain reaction is set
up in which the DNA, the body's vital genetic information, may be damaged.
Then the damaged DNA
can produce cancer or other disease causing cells. The Solgar Nutritional
Research Center puts it this way: Imagine if someone scrambled all
the area codes in your telephone book; all your calls would result in
wrong numbers. In the same fashion, jumbled genetic codes in your cells
make you vulnerable to any one of the 60 different serious physical illnesses
As well as bodily
functions, cigarette smoke, pollution, ultraviolet light and stress can
create free radicals; but so can cooking - in particular meat. Researchers
in the U.S. cooked beef burgers, bacon and soy-based burgers and found
that both the beef burgers and bacon produced significant amounts of the
most damaging free radicals while the soy burger produced none (121).
The remedy for free radicals are molecules called antioxidants.
All the world's health advisory bodies agree that antioxidants are part
of the bodys vital self-protection mechanism, which actually defend
you against 60 or more diseases, including the big killers of heart disease
and cancer. They were almost unknown until somewhat recently and knowledge
is still growing.
The three big saviors
are vitamins - the beta carotene form of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin
E. None of them are in meat but the number of different plant foods which
contain them is enormous. A recent discovery by Glasgow University, in
Scotland, added another powerful antioxidant to the list - flavonol. It
also is not in meat but predominantly in fruits and vegetables.
The importance of folate in the diet is beginning to be appreciated, particularly
by pregnant women. Lack of folate has been linked with serious birth defects
but it is also associated with increased levels of cancer and heart disease.
Folate also has an essential role in the formation of DNA and in manufacturing
blood cells and it contributes to the formation of heme - the iron-binding
portion of hemoglobin. It's pretty important stuff!
The major sources
of folate are all plant based and so most vegetarians have considerably
higher intakes than meat eaters (122, 123). In fact, some studies show
that only vegetarians and vegans achieve the recommended intake of this
vitamin (124). A recent discovery links lack of folate with heart disease.
Most people suffering a heart attack (myocardial infarction) have normal
cholesterol levels - so what's helping to cause the disease if cholesterol
isn't the sole culprit? Inadequate folic acid intake, it seems, allows
a substance called homocysteine to prosper and contribute to carotid artery
thickening. Some 40% of the population is not consuming enough folate
to keep homocysteine levels low and this may well account for a fair proportion
of heart disease (125).
Increased levels of
homocysteine in the blood raises the risk of heart disease to levels equivalent
to smoking and increases the risk associated with high blood pressure
(126). Again, vegetarians come out well on top.
Fiber is the substance that makes up the cell walls of plants and passes
through the body without being digested. It provides the bulk that ensures
food is processed quickly through the bowels and because of the nature
of their diet, vegetarians have a higher fiber intake than meat eaters.
The fact that fiber
speeds waste products through the body it reduces the time that 'noxious
agents' - possibly cancer forming agents - spend in the intestines. It
also affects the rate at which glucose (sugar) is released and absorbed
and so helps reduce the chance of diabetes. Fiber also reduces the urge
to eat and so it helps with appetite control - according to the WHO. Not
surprisingly, diets high in fiber give a lower risk of heart disease and
Milk is largely made up of animal fats, animal protein, and lactose -
none of which is required by the body. Difficulty in digesting lactose
is extremely common throughout the World, and in Africa it can range between
65-100% of the population; in Latin Americans it ranges between 45-94%
- and is even higher among Asians. Most people can tolerate small quantities
but research is being undertaken into its possible connection with ovarian
problems and cataracts (127, 128).
Often the inability
to digest lactose goes unnoticed, particularly in children, but can lead
to iron deficiency because of the intestinal bleeding it can produce.
In an article published
in Good Medicine, the late Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote, Dairy products
contribute to a surprising number of health problems. They can impair
a childs ability to absorb iron and in very small children can even
cause subtle blood loss from the digestive tract. Cows milk proteins
are a common cause of colic, and now the American Academy of Pediatrics
has concluded that there is evidence that cows milk may well contribute
to childhood-onset-diabetes (129).
Its worth remembering
that there are about 5,000 species of mammals in the world and only humans
consume milk after weaning - and that of another species, one whose offspring
grow four times faster than children.
continually receiving reports of poor medical advice in pregnancy, particularly
from general practitioners (GP) - although fortunately they are getting
less frequent. Often women are told they should eat some meat during their
pregnancy. This poor advice possibly reflects the fact that most GPs receive
almost no nutritional education throughout the whole of their training
In fact, dietary choices
are linked to 70% of all diseases affecting people in the U.S., yet only
30 of the 125 U.S. medical schools require doctors to take a nutrition
course. In four years of school, the average physician gets only 2.5 hours
of nutritional training (130).
Vegetarian and vegan
diets can easily meet the nutrient needs of pregnancy (131). In fact,
vegetarian mothers have a much lower incidence of pre-eclampsia, a serious
convulsive disorder that occurs near the end of pregnancy, and cesarean
section than meat eaters; and, they have reduced levels of contaminants
in their breast milk (132, 133). One of the most worrying of these contaminants
is the residue from pesticides.
The ADA states that
vegetarian diets are suitable for every stage of the life cycle, including
pregnancy and lactation.
There is currently
some concern that there may be a link between the proteins in cows milk
and other dairy products and diabetes in the fetus and newborn baby.
All pregnant women
and mothers, particularly vegan, should carefully watch their intake of
iron and vitamin B12, increasing their intake of foods which contain them.
Although incidents of vitamin B12 deficiency are rare, when they are seen
it is mostly in babies. It is therefore vital for vegan mothers to eat
a good supply of fortified foods, and if they don't like those, to take
Something deeply depressing is happening to the diet of our children.
For many, fresh fruit and vegetables are completely alien, fiber is almost
unknown, and the consumption of denatured processed foods is a daily event.
We are deep into the burger, chips, and sweets culture and obesity is
booming. Effectively, children's consumption of sugar and fat - much of
it animal fat - is out of control.
These diets are far
worse than those their parents ate, and so the prognosis for future cases
of cancer and heart disease, already at epidemic proportions, is worrying.
The first signs of atherosclerosis have been identified in children -
babies - as young as three years old.
In this context, the
doom-laden warnings that some journalists give to teenagers about the
risks of a vegetarian diet are nothing short of laughable. Many, if not
most, young people eat an extremely poor diet. Of course, anyone can eat
a poor diet, including vegetarian children, but the science shows that
giving up meat and animal fats is one of the healthiest moves anyone can
make, regardless of their age.
grow and develop in exactly the way they should (134, 135) and developmental
tests show their mental age to be over a year in advance of their chronological
age (136). There is also evidence that they enter puberty later, which
has shown to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer later in life
Studies done in the
1940s, shortly after the war when little meat and dairy was available,
showed that children grow and develop quite normally on a diet consisting
of plenty of bread and vegetables with minimal amounts of milk and meat
(139). In fact, a whole string of studies have shown that vegetarian and
vegan children develop normally (140).
The BMA states that
vegetarian diets contains all the necessary nutrients and are suitable
for infants. The ADA agrees that infants, children, and adolescents all
grow and develop normally and that vegetarian diets are 'healthful' and
satisfy all their nutritional needs.
Virtually the whole
of the West's public education on diet has encouraged people to consume
increasing amounts of animal-based nutrients. We're now finding that there
is not just a minimum nutrient intake for good health but a maximum. Most
of these policies were formulated in the 1940s and are all about preventing
deficiency diseases. There was little knowledge of the damage that could
be caused by too many nutrients and so these policies are completely out
of touch with modern knowledge and modern living. They're not designed
to protect people from the over-consumption of meat, dairy, sugar and
Most affluent countries now show a high risk profile for some of the world's
biggest killers and intervention on a mass scale is needed to change dietary
patterns and make them healthier, says the WHO.
So what does the WHO
believe we should be eating? Fat should be reduced to 15% of total energy
instead of the nearly 40% it is at present - most of it animal fat. There
doesnt need to be animal fats in the diet at all as they are not
essential nutrients. Neither do we need cholesterol.
The bulk of our diet
should be complex carbohydrates, starchy foods - potatoes, bread, pasta,
rice, yams, etc. They should account for between 50 and 70% of all calories.
Protein should provide between 10-15% but can readily be met by a varied
diet based predominantly on cereals and legumes.
The key component
of a healthy diet is, therefore, complex carbohydrates - with as wide
a range of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds and nuts as
possible - in other words, a sensible vegetarian/vegan diet. There is
a wealth of evidence, according to the WHO, that foods rich in starch
are really good for health and give protection against several diseases.
They improve the chemistry of the digestive system and are a rich source
of many minerals and vitamins, including essential fatty acids, calcium,
zinc, iron, and water-soluble vitamins - all known to have a clear and
positive effect on health.
That is a pretty astounding
statement from the world's leading health advisory body and a clear call
to the entire globe to go veggie. It dismisses those who are constantly
harping on about vegetarians having a 'restricted' diet. In fact, vegans
and vegetarians often have a wide variety of plant foods and their diets
tend to contain many choices.
There is little doubt
that the WHO's report is quite profound. It calls for a complete revision
in agricultural policy to promote fruit and vegetables instead of meat
and to grow cereals instead of producing meat and dairy. It goes on to
say that its proposed nutritional objectives will have immense implications
for the economics of farming, for government, industrial and social policies
and for international trade, and can thus be expected to meet with considerable
opposition. How right they are.
By going vegan, you can take control of your own health and in the process
you will help to bring an end the horrors of factory farming, help diminish
the onslaught that is destroying the world's oceans. You will begin to
offer hope to the world's starving, and you will help the environment
to recover. It is one of the most important actions you can take in a
world that is in frighteningly rapid decline, much of it caused by livestock
production, fishing, and fish farming.
understand the vital links between nutrition and health better than ever
before. We can put this powerful knowledge to work in our lives with food
choices that keep us healthy, active and vibrant. What many of us have
become accustomed to eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner - high-fat,
high-cholesterol, convenience foods- has taken a serious toll
in the form of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers.
There is nothing convenient or easy about living with these difficult
conditions. But it is never too late to put nutrition to work.
many health care providers and their patients are taking a closer look
why this has occurred at a time when medical wisdom seems so profound.
It appears that weve simply abandoned many basic and simple truths
in favor of quick fixesthat is, prescription drug therapies,
even heart surgeries, and the like, which have proved to be neither quick
nor total fixes. Weve simply forgotten the phenomenal
power that wholesome foods can provide.
nutrients found in a variety of vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes
are the best dose of preventive medicine we can find. The worlds
leading health organizations agree. For nearly a decade, the World Health
Organization has said that a diet rich in sugar, meat, and other animal
products will cause heart disease and cancer to continue as the worlds
major health problems. It has also urged the government to bolster its
plant food industries, including vegetables and fruits and to limit those
known to contribute to chronic disease - the meat, dairy, and egg industries.
deluge of ad campaigns promoting terribly unhealthy foods, the challenge
lies in educating consumers with valuable information. The Healthiest
Diet of All is a wonderful resource that does precisely that. Supported
by scientific studies and a pleasure to read, it explains how a plant-based
diet can decrease the risk for many chronic illnesses, encourage weight
loss, promote longevity and provide the perfect balance of nutrients.
to anyone seeking to gain the most benefit possible from foods is to throw
away the animal products and embrace vegetarian mealsnot in small
steps, but entirely. Immediate changes may be apparent; long-term changes
will be significant. My work as a physician and that of my colleagues,
would be easier if all of our patients embraced healthy eating habits.
The Healthiest Diet of All will help you on your way.
Neal D. Barnard,
M.D. President Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Washington,
Neal Barnard, M.D.,
is president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and
serves on the faculty of George Washington School of Medicine. He is a
popular speaker and the author of Foods That Fight Pain; Eat Right, Live
Longer; Food for Life; and other books on preventive medicine.