I prepared this as an educational guideline to give more objective facts and to help us decide.
It is important to realize that the diet we choose to eat will have a direct effect on our state of health. Research by Dr. Colin Campbell and others shows that poor diet is directly related to poor health, and is one of the main factors for the increasing rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer in our society. One of the major contributors to these disease conditions is that today two-thirds of the adult US population is overweight, half of those are obese, and 15% of children aged 6-19 are overweight.
There is considerable evidence that a low-fat plant-based diet can prevent and reverse these conditions, and even better results are achieved with the addition of a program of activity or exercise. But what is the ‘ideal’ diet? There appears to be a continuing flow of fad diets such as Paleo Diet, Atkins Diet, South beach Diet, and many more. Rather than blindly follow these fads it is far better to consider what the research is showing us.
Consider that the typical American diet consists of the following, according to Dr. Doug Lisle, director of research for TrueNorth Health Clinic and co-author of the critically acclaimed book, The Pleasure Trap:
– 51% oil and refined carbohydrates
– 42% animal products
– 5% fruit and vegetables-
– 2% potato chips and French fries
It is clear from this, and it is also stated in the USDA Factbook, that “now more than ever, America is a Nation of meat eaters”. Many people assume that we must eat animal products to obtain optimum nutrition. However if we look at a comparison of animal versus plant-based foods it does not support such an assumption. An analysis done by Dr. Campbell, based on a mix of plant-based foods compared to a mix of animal-based foods that were equivalent in total calories showed some interesting facts, namely:
– Only animal-based foods contain cholesterol, which is not a nutrient as our body is able to produce all of the cholesterol we need. In fact cholesterol is one of the contributors to cardio-vascular diseases.
– Animal-based foods contained nine times as much fat. Mostly in the form of saturated fat, which has been implicated as a contributor to many diseases.
– There were almost equal amounts of protein in both. Plant-based foods contain all of the essential proteins that we need, and there is nothing to support that they only can be obtained from animal-based foods. However it has been shown that the consumption of animal-based proteins has very different and indeed detrimental effects on our health and the promotion of disease due to its different characteristics. Bear in mind that there is also considerable protein content in nuts and seeds.
– Animal-based foods contain no dietary fiber. Plant-based foods are filled with all of the fiber that we need.
– If we consider vitamin and mineral content, then the plant-based foods contain many times the proportions than do animal-based foods. This list of the vitamins and minerals compared shows (in brackets) the percentage of increase present in the plant-based over animal-based foods in Dr. Campbell’s comparison – beta carotene (175,894%), vitamin C (7,225%), folate (6,047%), vitamin E (2,100%), iron (900%), magnesium (975%) and calcium (116%).
So it is evident that the nutritional content of plant-based foods is far in excess of animal-based foods. The added cholesterol and increased saturated fats from animal-based foods, not to mention the practice of adding hormones and antibiotics to these foods, has the effect of promoting disease. Further evidence from Dr. Campbell’s research shows that plant-based foods are promoters of health and can even reverse disease conditions, and that “there are virtually no nutrients in animal‐based foods that are not better provided by plants” and “no evidence that we need to consume any animal‐based food to get our supply of good nutrition”. A chart produced by the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization published in 1999, showed that there is a direct relationship between eating less unrefined plant-based foods, and an increase in death rates from heart disease and cancer.
Many people may raise the issue of vitamins D and B12 as being not present, or deficient, in plant-based foods. Vitamins are considered to be nutrients we need to consume because our body cannot make them. However this is not the case with vitamin D, as we only need to be exposed to sunlight and our body can make vitamin D. So technically vitamin D is not really a vitamin, and although it has become common practice for it to be added to some milk products, we do not need to consume animal products to get vitamin D. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the digestive tract of animals and is therefore present in their products. Apart from certain plant-based foods that are fermented with bacteria (particularly Korean foods), there is no vitamin B12 in plant-based foods. In the past there may have been vitamin B12 in plant-based foods as a result of the micro-organisms present in organic soil. However today for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet it may be necessary to supplement with vitamin B12 to be sure to get an adequate supply of that nutrient.
Here are some other research papers if you are interested to read further:
1. Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and non-vegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study (https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/97/3/597/4571519 ).
Conclusion: “Consuming a vegetarian diet was associated with lower IHD [ischemic heart disease] risk, a finding that is probably mediated by differences in non-HDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure.”
2. Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC526387/ ).
Conclusion: “reductions of 60 percent in breast cancer rates have already been seen in human diet studies, and a 71 percent reduction in colon cancer for men without the known modifiable risk factors. These reductions are without taking into account many of the other factors considered in this review, such as markedly increased fruit and vegetable intake, balanced omega 3 and 6 fats, vitamin D, reduced sugar intake, probiotics, and enzymes – factors which all are likely to have an impact on cancer. Certainly cancer prevention would be possible, and cancer reversal in some cases is quite likely.”