I decided last week to do the vegetarian thing, and it went fine but i found it way too easy. So vegan it is.
Basically I wanted to challenge myself in a different way than I have done in the past. I don’t have any moral or ethical reason for doing this, though I have to admit the more I read about it the more sense it makes. Plus the food recipes I have been looking at all sound pretty tastey, my only limitation is haricot beans which I can’t eat due to an allergy.
Some of the things i have read like:
The Healthiest Diet of All
Vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters and live years longer than the general population. No argument, no dispute – these are the simple facts – although you’d be excused for having doubts if you rely on the daily press for your health info.
The better health statistics for vegetarians and vegans 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 no nutritional training or by those with a vested interest in the meat industry – is that veggies are puritanical, non-drinking, non-smoking, self-denying, hair-shirt-wearing bores so no wonder they live longer. And who wants to be like that?!
Of course, all good scientific research makes allowances for the differences in people’s life-styles and only compares like with like. And it is this solid, reputable science that will be quoted throughout this guide, much of it obtained from 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 scoff your way through an astonishing 30 tonnes 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. Pretty important stuff is food – but not just any old food.
If you were to eat the same diet as a cat – lots of meat and dairy products and no fresh fruit and veg – you would die and probably quite quickly. Similarly, a cat would be unable to survive on the average vegetarian diet. The reason for the difference is that after millions of years of evolution, all animals have adapted to particular diets and environments. Meat contains no vitamin C so cats have the ability to synthesise 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 it.
Those humans who lived in societies that relied heavily on animal products have paid a high price for it. The Inuit (sometimes referred to as Eskimos) traditionally relied largely on meat and fish, obtaining their vitamin C from mosses in the stomachs of dead animals. They rarely lived beyond their early 30s. One major cause of death was bleeding of the brain – cerebral haemorrhage. One possible cause of this is the thinning of the blood – a well known property of fish oils (137).
“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. So little do they eat that their hands and nails, teeth and digestive tract are those of a strictly vegetarian – vegan – animal.
The genetic difference between a chimp and a human is only just over one per cent (138). They are our closest living relative; so close that we share the same haemoglobin (found in our red blood cells). Our digestive tract, hands and teeth are also very similar. 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 cow, sheep or pig!
Why does all this matter? Because sensible eating is about distinguishing between healthy and potentially unhealthy foods – for us! Take cats, 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, heart attacks and strokes later in life. One in five men and one in six women die from coronary heart disease in the UK – the single most common cause of death. The risks factors for heart disease are almost all diet related – caused by animal products. And some people still claim we’re meant to eat meat!
Professor T. Colin Campbell, of Cornell University, organised a massive piece of dietary research called the China Health Study (see later) – 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 minimising our intake of animal foods. Animal foods are not helpful and we need to get away from eating them.” (1)
It seems to make a lot of sense to me. As does:
The Official Position
The world’s most important health advisory bodies are now in agreement – a balanced vegetarian diet can be 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.
1. The British Medical Association
The BMA was one of the first to distil the growing volume of research on diet and health in its 1986 report (2). It said:
“Vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, large bowel disorders, cancers and gallstones. 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, that folate levels are higher and as a consequence it is a diet suitable for infants.
2. The China Health Study
The initial results of this combined Chinese-British-American study, which began in 1983, were announced in 1989 (3). It was a massive piece of work which looked at the health and eating habits of 6,500 real people in real life situations. Its conclusions were accurately summed up in a New York Times headline on 8 May, 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 animal protein eaten – the more you eat, the greater your risk. It highlighted some extraordinary dietary differences between affluent and not so affluent societies. For example, Chinese people are long living yet eat one-third less protein than Americans and only seven per cent of it comes from animal foods compared to Americans’ 70 per cent. Past dietary advice would probably have cheered this as a good thing but the study found the opposite. ‘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 clearly associated with the West’s affluent lifestyle. They are referred to by the general name of degenerative diseases and the China Health Study found that they increased alarmingly as people changed from a more simple, predominantly vegetarian or vegan diet, to a Western diet obsessed with meat and dairy products.
The study also found that the West’s preoccupation with promoting meat as the best source of iron was wrong. The Chinese diet was predominantly vegetarian and yet adults consumed twice as much iron as an American adult. The Chinese diet also contained three times more fibre than a US diet but there was no evidence that these high levels interfered with absorption of iron or other essential minerals.
The conclusions were unequivocal – that a plant-based diet is more likely to promote good health and reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.
3. The World Health Organisation (WHO)
Next came an even more detailed report from the WHO in 1991. It was interpreted by The Daily Mail newspaper as a call for the world to go vegetarian – stating forthrightly that a diet rich in animal products promotes heart disease, cancer and several other diseases. It confirmed the BMA’s and China Health Study’s list of degenerative diseases and added others – diabetes, strokes and osteoporosis. And it also flagged up kidney impairment with high protein, meat-rich diets.
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 [the 20th] 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 correct.
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.” If anything, the opposite has happened.
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:
“Farming 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.
April 2003 saw the long awaited publication of the update to this 1991 WHO report. If you analyse the 2003 version it takes the same overall view as the previous report. It shows that the worldwide dietary trend towards high saturated fat and refined carbohydrate foods, together with sedentary lifestyles are the principal causes of degenerative diseases such as heart disease and obesity.
However the championing of plant-based diets as the way forward for health – which dominated the first report – has been much watered down. It is now common knowledge that the food industry has infiltrated the WHO since its 1991 report. It would be naïve not to suspect that the meat and dairy industry, which exerts such enormous political and economical clout, has not also been at work behind the scenes of this 2003 WHO report (10).
4. The EPIC Study
In 1992 the largest ever study of diet and health was initiated – the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition – EPIC for short. More than half a million people have been studied in 10 European countries, including the UK. EPIC is what is known as a prospective study where the diets of recruits are recorded and their health is tracked over the coming years to try and establish any links with the foods eaten and subsequent health outcomes. There are two EPIC centres in the UK, at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. EPIC-Oxford includes a total of around 65,000 participants of whom around half do not consume meat, and around 2,500 are vegans. On-going analysis of the results from EPIC studies continue to provide insights into what foods protect health and what foods are harmful to health.
What is clear so far is that non-meat diets tend to reduce blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the incidence of obesity. Not surprisingly given these reductions in risk factors for heart disease, vegetarians die less from heart disease than comparable meat eaters. EPIC studies have also confirmed the importance of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as protection against the risk of an early death (139, 140). Preliminary results on the link between meat consumption and colorectal cancer suggest that frequent consumption of red meat such as beef, veal, pork and lamb is associated with a 20-40 per cent increase in colorectal cancer risk (36).
5. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
In 1995 the PCRM – a highly-respected US body which numbers the late Dr Benjamin Spock and William Roberts, editor of the American Journal of Cardiology, amongst its 5,000 doctors and scientists – issued a report to the US government (6). It confirmed the lower rate of disease amongst vegetarians and urged the government to recommend a vegetarian diet to US citizens. Until then, the US Dietary Guidelines had never made any mention of vegetarianism. The following year they did so for the first time and the section began:
“…vegetarians enjoy excellent health: Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines and can meet the Recommended Daily Allowances for nutrients. Protein is not limited in vegetarian diets …” (7).
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 clearly supports the use of vegetables, fruits, legumes (peas, beans, chick peas – pulses) and grains as staples. Meats, dairy products and added vegetable oils should be considered optional.” It was another clear and unequivocal statement, backed by unimpeachable science, that humans do not need to eat meat and are healthier for not doing so.
6. American Dietetic Association (ADA)
The ADA is probably one of the most respected health bodies in the world and in its most recent report on vegetarianism, has thrown its weight firmly behind meat-free diets, saying they are effective in avoiding or even curing some of the world’s most deadly diseases. Heart disease, strokes, some cancers and diabetes can all be effectively treated by prescribing a vegetarian diet, it says.
The ADA spells out the reason for this by saying that vegetarian diets offer disease protection benefits because of their lower saturated fat and cholesterol content as well as their higher fibre intakes. The ADA also make clear the fact that vegetarian diets can provide all the vitamins, minerals, protein and energy the body needs and provide for all stages of the life cycle including pregnancy and infancy (8).
I can’t really fault any of that, and I do like a new challenge. I’m going to print out a list of recipes over the next few days so I can sample what my new diet has to offer. (No nut roasts though, I learned that the hard way tonight heh)
I don’t really know how long I’ll continue with this but, as with everything, time will tell.
These are some of the things I intend to sample: Menu
Right, if you managed to read all that I salute you!
“I was dead for billions of years before I was born, and it never inconvenienced me in the slightest”
“Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.”
Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)