in a nutshell
Diet / Wrong / Meat
Based Diet / Variety / Protein
/ Carbohydrates / Fats
& Oils / Vitamins & Minerals
/ Calcium / Iron / Types
vegetarian? But what about your PROTEIN? What about your HEALTH? It cant
be good for you!? Or, so say some people. Wrong!
two of todays most common diets and see which one appears better
for your health.
typical Western diet:
This diet, packed with animal products like hot dogs, sausages and cheeseburgers,
has been described by a top nutritionist as the most atrocious diet
in the world. There are scientific facts to support that opinion.
There is a great deal
of evidence indicating that eating too much meat and dairy products, as
well as consuming too little fruit, vegetables and cereal foods, are major
factors in promoting the development of heart disease and many forms of
cancer. In other words, the typical Western diet is a big-league culprit
in killing off the majority of people in the United States before their
A Western vegetarian
Vegetarians rely on fruits, vegetables, legumes, pastas, breads, cereals
and whole grains as well as other kinds of plant foods to provide most
of what they eat. Vegans eat no animal products of any kind and exclude
all dairy products - as many progressive health authorities now advise
us to do.
Many scientific studies
comparing vegetarians with typical Western diet eaters have found that
vegetarians are considerably healthier and less likely to suffer from
a wide range of illnesses than meat eaters, and they tend to live longer.
Whats more, there apparently are no illnesses to which vegetarians
seem more prone to develop than are meat eaters. Since 1898, nutritionists
have been telling us that: No single factor is more important in
determining the outbreak of cancer in the predisposed than high feeding.
Many indications point to gluttonous consumption of meat as likely to
be especially harmful. (Scientific American, December 1898).
Many more modern studies
have now confirmed this early finding and have added a significant number
of other diseases to the list that afflict meat eaters more than vegetarians.
In their position paper on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association
(ADA), notes that vegetarian diets are associated with reduced risk for
a number of chronic diseases, including obesity, coronary artery disease,
hypertension, diabetes, mellitus, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and
kidney disease. (Position of the American Dietetic Association:
Vegetarian Diets, Journal of the American Dietetic Association,
Messina, V. & Burke, K., V97 No. 11, 1997, p. 1317.) In many countries
of the world - developing countries where few animal products are eaten
- such diseases are virtually unknown.
why have some people got it wrong - including a lot of doctors and journalists,
for that matter?
Since the beginning
of the twentieth century, nutritionists advocated large protein intakes
to assure good health. Since the 1980s it has become
evident that more protein is not better. In fact, too much protein can
damage the kidneys, bones, and significantly increase the risk for colon
cancer. Now, leading health authorities in the USA, Britain, Australia,
and other countries are agreeing on the need to shift away from animal
products towards plant-based diets.
Despite all this,
there is confusion, and not all of it is accidental. When a piece of research
that suggests that meat-based diets are healthy makes the news, it is
often found out later to be poorly done, unreliable, and paid for by companies
that sell animal products. Nevertheless, as physician and nutritionist,
John McDougall, M.D., states, People love to hear good news about
their bad habits, and It is used as a justification to continue
consuming the disease-inducing, standard American diet.
It is no secret that
food is a very political issue. Big companies make huge amounts of money
from animal products and wield enormous power - so governments are not
very willing to challenge them. There hasnt been the political will
to change the national diet, even though the World Health Organization
says thats what urgently needs to happen.
some people say, were meant to eat a diet based around meat.
No were not!
Over millions of years, human beings have evolved to eat a diet based
upon plant foods. From the very earliest times right up to the middle
of this century, the vast majority of people obtained most of their nutrition
from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, roots, seeds, nuts, and other plant-derived
foods. According to William C. Roberts, M.D., the distinguished editor-in-chief
of the prestigious medical publication, the American Journal of Cardiology:
Although human beings eat meat, we are not natural carnivores. No
matter how much fat carnivores eat, they do not develop atherosclerosis
(clogged arteries). When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing
us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat,
was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores.
Not only did early
humans eat many times the plant food we eat today, they ate only a fraction
of the animal food. So when both nature and cardiologists are in agreement,
it makes sense to listen to what they say. Whatever fears parents may
have about a vegetarian diet, the really unhealthy way to eat is to continue
consuming the typical Western diet.
A vegetarian diet
is an excellent way of nourishing your body which will not only leave
you pleasantly full but positively glowing with good health! (Vegetarian
food tastes great, too!)
is the key to a healthy, well balanced diet.
All food contains
a mixture of nutrients in different quantities known as protein, carbohydrates
(including fiber), fat.
Protein is needed for growth, repair of tissue and protection against
infection. Protein is made up of small building blocks called
amino acids. Vegetable-based foods contain all the amino acids the body
needs. By eating a range of whole, plant-based foods you will get all
the different amino acids you need - and in the right proportions. Especially
good sources of high quality protein include soy products (e.g. tofu,
soy milk, veggie burgers), cereals (e.g. rice, pasta, wholemeal bread),
legumes (e.g. baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans), nuts and seeds.
Meat contains all
the amino acids that comprise protein, but that doesnt mean it is
better for us than plant protein. As stated previously, eating large amounts
of animal products, even lean-looking meats, means eating saturated animal
fats and cholesterol. It is these artery-clogging fats which are believed
to be a main cause of heart disease as well as diet-related cancers. Meat
also contains little carbohydrates, no fiber or calcium, and few vitamins
- but frequently contains dangerous microbes like Salmonella and E. coli.
The problem of food-borne infections - including the lethal Mad
Cow Disease (in humans known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) is a
growing one. In view of all the foregoing, it is a comfort to know that
well-balanced vegan diet can supply all the protein you need, whether
you are a growing child or a mature adult.
How much protein
do we need?
Not as much as we think - recommended amounts have more than halved in
the last 20 years as several chronic diseases have been linked to eating
too much animal (not plant) protein. The average adult needs to consume
between 40 and 70 grams of protein per day.
To give you a comparison
between some meat and vegetarian products, a standard 50 g beef burger
contains 10.2 g of protein and three (90 g) fish sticks 12.l g; half a
can of 225 g baked beans contains 11.5 g of protein; an average serving
of pasta (190 g cooked) contain 8.5 g, an average serving of kidney beans
(160 g cooked) 12.4 g, and a small packet (25 g) of peanuts contains 6.1
Carbohydrates are our main and most important source of energy and most
carbohydrates are provided by plant foods. There are three types of carbohydrates:
(1) fast releasing, (2) slow releasing and dietary
fiber. Fast releasing carbohydrates (simple sugars) are found
in fruit, sweets, syrups, and many processed foods. Much of it is refined
sugar - the kind you sprinkle on your cereal - and it is best avoided,
as it provides energy but no fiber, vitamins or minerals. Slow-releasing
carbohydrates (starches) are found in whole grain cereals and grains (e.g.
bread, rice, pasta, oats, barley, buckwheat, rye etc.), some root vegetables
such as potatoes, and most fresh fruit. The World Health Organization
recommends that 50-70 percent of our diet (as energy) should come from
slow releasing carbohydrates, as they are vital to good health. Typical
meat eaters dont get enough complex carbohydrates while vegetarians
and vegans tend to get plenty.
Dietary fiber is the
indigestible part of vegetable foods (whole fruits, vegetables, nuts,
seeds, cereals and beans). Despite its indigestible nature, fiber is essential
for the digestive system to work properly. It acts like a broom in the
intestines, sweeping away toxins and helping prevent diseases such as
colon cancer - which is a significant 40 percent less common in vegetarians
than meat eaters. While a vegetarian diet high in plant foods contains
plenty of fiber, meat contains none. Carbohydrate-rich foods should be
consumed in as unrefined a form as possible; for example, brown rice,
whole grain pastas and breads, whole beans, etc., are more health enhancing
as they contain more fiber and vitamins.
We need a little fat (essential fats) in our diet every day to repair
tissue, manufacture hormones, and to carry some vitamins. Good sources
of essential fats are pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flax seed oil, hemp seed
oil, and soy products, as well as other nuts and seeds like almonds, Brazil
nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds. Fats can either be saturated or unsaturated
(which includes mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated).
A rough guide is that
saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature and they include
animal fats such as lard and butter. Unsaturated fats are normally liquid
at room temperature, such as sunflower or olive oil. There are few vegetable
fats that contain saturated fat - coconut oil and palm oil are the most
common ones. Since your body can create saturated fats from unsaturated
fats (but not the other way around), you dont need to eat saturated
fat in your diet, according to the WHO.
Cholesterol is a fat-like
substance called a sterol. It is found in animal foods but is completely
absent from plant foods. The body can make all the cholesterol it requires
so we do not need to include it in our diet - at all! Saturated fats increase
the level of cholesterol in blood while unsaturated fats can help to lower
However, too much
fat of any kind is linked to cancers and other diseases. The single biggest
dietary cause of clogged arteries, high blood pressure, heart attacks,
and strokes is our animal fat and refined sugar-laden diet. The more of
these there are in your blood, the greater your risk of getting one or
all of the above diseases. At the moment, one in three boys and one in
four girls can expect to die of heart disease later in life - thats
how huge an epidemic there is. And it looks set to get worse as young
people consume ever greater amounts of fat - mostly animal fats - and
Vitamins in fresh fruit and vegetables actually protect us against some
60 or more diseases, including the big killers, cancer and heart disease.
Especially valuable are the vitamins known as antioxidants. This group
is composed of beta-carotene (vitamin A) and vitamins C and E - the so
called ACE vitamins. They are found abundantly in plant foods.
A recent discovery at Glasgow University in Scotland has identified another
family of powerful anti-oxidants - flavenols, including lycopenes, found
only in red fruits and vegetables. Again, there are none in meat.
The reason why antioxidants
are so important is that they are our main defense that we have against
damaging molecules called free radicals, which are thought to play a major
role in causing over sixty major diseases related to aging. Free radicals
are molecules that have become unbalanced by losing an electron. To try
and regain their missing electron, these molecules crash around like back-alley
muggers, trying to steal an electron from other molecules. This theft
can create a chain reaction in which DNA - the human genetic blueprint
-becomes damaged and begins to produce diseased cells, which can lead
to cancer and other health catastrophes.
So can high-temperature
cooking - in particular, the frying or searing of meat. Researchers cooked
beef burgers, bacon and soy burgers and found that both the beef burgers
and bacon produced significant amounts of the most damaging free radicals
while the soy burger produced virtually none. Antioxidants are the heroes
who neutralize the damaging free radicals, and so protect the body against
diseases. Antioxidant vitamins are mainly found in fresh fruit and vegetables,
and vegetarians and vegans usually eat more fresh fruit and veggies than
meat eaters. This is probably one big reason why vegans are usually healthier
and tend to live longer. To assure yourself an ample supply of these valuable
vitamins, be sure that you eat a reasonably varied diet and dont
live on chips and candies! Eat a variety of foods like whole fruits, vegetables,
cereals (e.g. whole grain bread), beans, as well as healthy
snacks such as your favorite nuts or seeds.
Some of the most notable
vitamins and minerals include:
Vegetarians and vegans get plenty of vitamin A from eating foods containing
beta-carotene - in fact its almost impossible to become deficient
in this vitamin these days! We convert beta-carotene into vitamin A in
our bodies. Beta-carotene is high in green vegetables (kale, collards,
chard, bok choy, spinach, etc.) as well as red and orange vegetables (squash,
carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, etc.) - and as weve seen, it protects
you from several diseases.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
We only need tiny amounts of vitamin B12 (less than three millionths of
a gram a day to be precise!) because we store it in our liver for years.
Vegans need to obtain cobalamin from eating B12-fortified foods, such
as breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast and soy milk.
As with almost all vitamins, vegetarians and vegans get more of this from
their diet than do meat eaters. Youll find high amounts in fresh
oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, strawberries, green peppers
and other fruit and vegetables. Again, its not
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth and for the working of
muscles. It is virtually absent from meat products, and as stated, excessive
amounts of animal protein in the diet can actually leach calcium from
the bones - weakening the skeleton and leading to osteoporosis. Calcium
is found in dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, and collard greens),
legumes, dried fruits, tahini (sesame seed butter), nuts and seeds (particularly
almonds and sesame seeds). Some soy and rice beverages, as well as some
brands of orange juice, are fortified with calcium. It is wise for most
vegans to include high calcium foods in their diet.
Iron deficiency can be significant, especially in women of childbearing
age (who lose iron each month in the menstrual flow). However, all the
worlds leading health advisory bodies agree that meat-eaters are
just as likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia as vegetarians. Everyone
- especially women - should ensure a good supply of iron in their diet.
Its needed for healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen to all
parts of the body. Good sources of iron are baked beans, whole grain bread,
molasses, leafy green vegetables, dried fruit (particularly apricots and
figs), cocoa, lentils, legumes and pumpkin seeds. Vitamin C increases
the absorption of iron by a factor of six - another reason why fresh vegetables
and fruits are so important in the diet.
Many reputable health
organizations including the World Health Organization, American Dietetic
Association, and the British Medical Association, all agree that vegetarian
and vegan diets can lead to superb states of health. Any young person
who changes to a completely plant-based diet is greatly improving their
chance of avoiding a number of deadly diseases. In the process you will
help to bring an end the horrors of factory farming, and help to stop
the onslaught which is destroying the worlds oceans; you will also
begin to offer hope to the worlds starving peoples and will help
the environment start to recover.
Different Types of Vegetarians
A vegetarian eats
food that is free from any ingredients obtained from the killing of animals.
A vegan eats food free from any animal products. Because there are so
many foods that vegetarians eat, its easier to state which they
A vegetarian does not eat red meat (eg lamb, bacon, pork, beef), white
meat or poultry (eg duck, chicken, turkey), fish or other sea creatures
(eg tuna, cod, prawns, lobster) or slaughterhouse byproducts (eg animal
fat, gelatin, as it is made from crushed bones, horns etc). A vegetarian
may or may not eat eggs and dairy products (eg cows milk, cheese,
Vegetarians who choose
to eat dairy products and eggs are LACTO-OVO VEGETARIANS.
Those who eat dairy
products but not eggs are LACTO VEGETARIANS.
Those who eat eggs
but not dairy products are OVO VEGETARIANS.
Those who avoid all
animal products, including all dairy products, eggs and honey are VEGANS.
M.D. is an honors graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine
in Chicago, and has post-graduate training in internal medicine, surgery,
anesthesiology and obstetrics. He is the author of Vegan Nutrition: Pure
and Simple and Pregnancy, Children, and the
Dr. Christine Fenn
is a leading nutritionist and an international speaker. She advises athletes
and top business people on how to achieve peak performance through diet.
She specializes in nutrition for expeditions and planned the diets for
grueling expeditions to the North Pole
Chris lives in
the UK and is a regular contributor to BBC radio and TV and is the presenter
for the BBC World Service series The Good Foods Guide. Chris puts theory
into practice and eats well. She needs to - having climbed Kilimanjaro
twice and cycled across the USA from coast to coast!