Virtually the whole of the West’s public education on diet has encouraged people to consume increasing amounts of animal-based nutrients – go to work on an egg, drink more milk, slam in the lamb, lean on pork etc. 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 certainly not designed to protect people from the over-consumption of meat, dairy, sugar and fat.
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.
According to many press reports, you would believe that a vegetarian diet is a finely balanced and difficult exercise in nutrition which, if you get it wrong, will result in everything dreadful – from protein deficiency to death of the first born. Just to show how wrong they are, a diet of wholemeal bread, margarine, Marmite and oranges would probably meet all the nutritional requirements of an adult (134). Of course, vegetarians consume a far wider variety of foods than this!
So what does the WHO believe we should be eating? Fat should be reduced to 15 per cent of total energy instead of the nearly 40 per cent it is at present – most of it animal fat. There need be no 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 55 and 75 per cent of all calories. Sugar contributes no nutrients and can be omitted. Protein should provide between 10-15 per cent but can readily be met by a varied diet based predominantly on cereals (wholemeal bread, wholegrain rice and pasta etc) and pulses (peas, beans and lentils).
The key component of a healthy diet is, therefore, starchy carbohydrates – with as wide a range of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, seeds and nuts as possible – in other words, a sensible vegan diet. There is a welter 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 gut 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 vegetarian. It dismisses those who are constantly harping on about vegetarians having a ‘restricted’ diet. In fact, British vegans and vegetarians consume a very wide variety of plant foods and their diets tend to contain a far greater choice than meat eaters (135).
There is little doubt that the WHO’s report in 1991 is a profound study of diet and health and its ramifications are enormous. It calls for a complete revision in agricultural policy to promote fruit and vegetables instead of meat and to grow cereals instead of 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. Even the WHO’s own 2003 update to its 1991 report on diet and health is far less radical in its call to cut back on animal products and embrace plant-based diets. The 1991 report can literally be seen as the last piece of truly independent thinking on diet and health by the WHO. Since this time it would seem that the mighty food industry has tamed even this august body. Meanwhile the promotion of unhealthy, disease-causing foods continues apace.
Make no mistake, you and your diet are being manipulated by the vested interests of a consumer society which has no real interest in health but a preoccupation with profit. You don’t have to be part of it and can start right now by taking responsibility for your own health and go vegetarian. In the process you will help to bring an end the obscenity of factory farming, help to diminish the onslaught which is killing the world’s oceans; you will begin to offer hope to the world’s starving and the environment will start to recover. It is one of the most important actions you can take in a world which is in frighteningly rapid decline, much of it caused by livestock production, fishing and fish farming. Your health is in your hands!