Healthier than Meat-Eaters?

We often hear that vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters! Research studies consistently show that people who consume a diet high in meat and other foods of animal origin have a higher mortality and morbidity rate (death and disease) as compared to vegetarians. But why?

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): When excess dietary cholesterol is consumed, it accumulates on the inside walls of coronary arteries (major arteries in the heart) to form a "lesion" or "plaque." In addition to cholesterol, plaque consists of saturated fat, also called the "bad fat." As plaque continues to get thicker and spreads outward, blood that normally flows freely through the arteries becomes blocked. This condition is known as atherosclerosis and eventually leads to arteriosclerosis. The end result is a heart attack.

Plants don't make cholesterol, and therefore, don't contribute to atherosclerosis. But plants do produce fat! Corn contains 10% fat, peanuts 90%, soybeans 40%, olives 96%, and avocados contain 90% fat. However, the fat produced by plants is predominantly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, the good kinds of fat that help prevent CAD (with the exception of coconuts containing 85% of mostly saturated fat). We need a small amount of fat in our daily diet, but bad fat should be eliminated and replaced with good fat, nicely provided for by Mother Nature.

Another contributor to plaque is "hydrogenated" fat also referred to as "trans fatty acids." The process of hydrogenation occurs when a polyunsaturated liquid oil is pumped with hydrogen atoms to make the product solid at room temperature. The most common example of this process is the use of liquid corn oil to make soft tub margarine. Although the finished product contains no cholesterol, it's highly saturated and equally as unhealthy for your coronary arteries. (For the chemists out there, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated bonds become saturated by pumping in hydrogen atoms.)

Stroke: The same process that causes CAD and heart attacks can cause blockage of blood flowing to the brain. Stroke can cause death or leave its victim with partial or complete paralysis.

Osteoporosis: Meat, because it's high in sulphur, causes loss of calcium from bones. Over a span of 20 to 30 years, this loss can be significant leading to weak, brittle bones that break easily. As with other nutrients, Mother Nature provides us with protein from plant foods that are low in sulphur, so it's not necessary to eat meat as a source of protein.

Gout is caused by the build-up of uric acid, the end product of protein metabolism in the body. Uric acid is deposited in joints beginning with the large toe on one foot (Podagra) and can spread to the knees and upper leg. Because meat, cheese, and eggs are a concentrated source of protein, these foods contribute to gout while fruit, vegetables, and grains do not.

Obesity: When studying the typical diet of obese persons, one factor that's clearly evident is that their diet is overly abundant in meat, cheese, eggs, and fatty foods, and lacking in fruit and vegetables. Many overweight people eat no fruit or vegetables at all - others obtain a smidgeon from the lettuce and tomato on their Big Mac or the olives on their double cheese and pepperoni pizza - and still others prepare vegetable dishes with added fat, like greens soaked in pork fat and a baked potato smothered in sour cream. If you're trying to lose weight, the recommendation is to cut down on consumption of fatty foods and consume more fruit, vegetables, and grains.

Diabetes is a disorder of the metabolism of food - the primary cause of Type II Diabetes is obesity. The combination of these two conditions leads to development of other diseases like heart disease, gout, blindness, high blood pressure, kidney disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and stroke. Gangrene of the toes and feet, common among diabetics, is due to poor blood circulation and requires amputation of the infected limbs.

High Blood Pressure: The major concern of high blood pressure, or hypertension (HTN), is that it can lead to a stroke. When HTN is caused by obesity, weight reduction will bring blood pressure to within normal limits.

Cancer: Nutritionists have known for a long time that a diet high in plant foods provided protection from many kinds of cancer, especially colon cancer. We now know that, in addition to fiber, phytochemicals, found only in plant foods, also contribute to this protection. Click Here to learn more about phytochemicals.

Osteoarthritis, commonly experienced by obese persons, is a condition that afflicts the knee joints. When the knees are overloaded with too much body weight, inflammation develops and walking becomes painfully difficult. Osteoarthritis inevitably leads to a sedentary lifestyle and additional weight gain. Gout is a form of arthritis.

High Blood Lipids: This condition is known as "high triglycerides" or "hypertriglyceridemia" and is directly linked to dietary consumption of fat. High triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease. (Familial hypertriglyceridemia is a genetic disorder, not caused by dietary intake, but sometimes can be improved with dietary regulation.)

Lifestyle: Research shows that people who are concerned about what they eat are also concerned about other factors affecting their health such as smoking, drinking, and exercise. When comparing to meat-eaters, vegetarians smoke less, exercise more, and drink less alcohol, and therefore, tend to have an overall healthier lifestyle.

Note: All of the diseases mentioned in this article can also be caused by genetic and non-dietary related factors.

-A high fat diet causes the liver to produce excess cholesterol. Therefore, high fat foods that contain "no cholesterol" still contribute to coronary artery disease.

-When following a weight loss diet that's high in saturated fat, total cholesterol may decrease along with total body weight, however, LDL's increase, the major contributors to heart disease.

-Coronary artery disease(CAD) can sometimes be stopped or slowed down by changing dietary intake to a low fat, low cholesterol diet.

Where do you get your nutrition information? Most states now have licensure laws for Dietitians and Nutritionists. Be sure your nutrition advisor is "Licensed" by the State as a Licensed Dietitian (LD) or Licensed Nutritionist (LN), or in states that don't have licensure laws, a Registered Dietitian.


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Barbara Herondorf, L.D.