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).
Growing Body of Scientific Evidence – Green Light to Veggie Diets!
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 for the power and advertising spend of the meat industry and the government’s cowardice. It is terrified to tackle the vested interests of a huge industry, just as for decades it was terrified to tackle the tobacco industry effectively. You, of course, don’t need anyone’s permission to change your diet.