The American Dietetic Association released a statement in July of 2009 "The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians." (Craig et al. 1)
Correlation between diet and chronic disease is strong enough not to ignore. The World Health Organization argues that, "This rapid rate of change, together with the increasing burden of disease, is creating a major public health threat which demands immediate and effective action." (WHO 5) People around the world are consuming a diet comprised of densely fat, high caloric, low nutrient foods to the point to toxicity, to the point of causing costly chronic diseases. The diet and lifestyle patterns of cultures that lack the epidemic chronic diseases give a baseline for healthy living.
Moderation is a relative word. The recommendation to eat meat and dairy in moderation could mean once a day to one person and to 3-5 times a day for others. When, really, it could be an ounce once a day, a cup a day. There is a strong need for clearer, braver recommendations. Removing or reducing refined foods will take education and a cultural shift. The need for a better public intervention is beyond great and as the study in Finland proves is achievable.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) information sheet on Diet and Diabetes mentions, "Animal products contain fat, especially saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, and certain forms of cancer. These products also contain cholesterol and, of course, animal protein…animal protein can aggravate kidney problems and calcium loss. Animal products never provide fiber or healthful carbohydrates." (PCRM 2) The PCRM is a vegan-promoting organization but I don't think their views are not justified.
For over 30 years Dr. John McDougall has been a pioneer in associating diet with chronic disease. A the age of 18 Dr. McDougal suffered a stroke after years of eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). Dr. Campbell author of the China Study interviewed Dr. McDougall and retells his story.
"Many of his patients' health problems were a result of chronic illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer heart disease and arthritis. John would treat them as he was taught, with the standard sets of pills and procedures, but very few of them became healthy. Their chronic disease didn't go away, and John quickly realized that he had severe limitations as a doctor. He also started to learn something from his patients: the first and second generation American's from Asia, the ones who are more traditional Asian staple diets of rice and vegetables, were trim, fit and not afflicted with chronic disease that plagued John's other patients. The third and fourth generation Asian American's, however, had fully adopted American's eating habits and suffered from obesity, diabetes and the whole host of other chronic diseases." (Campbell & Campbell Campbell 330)
Through his continuing his education into medical graduate school Dr. McDougall started to question more experienced doctors about the role of diet into chronic disease prevention and treatment. Even 30 years later diet in relation to health is still a controversial topic in the medical field. One mother, when speaking to her son's oncologist, inquired about the role of nutrition and diet (along with chemo and radiation) in helping her seven year old son overcome the cancerous brain tumor he had been just diagnosed with, the renowned Oncologist brushed off anything more than tracking calories as important for the moment.
A comparison of diet recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association reveal that all put fruits, vegetables and whole grains at the their top dietary recommendations for prevention and management of their prospective diseases.
"There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants". The Plant–Based Foods part of the chart below is based on equal parts of tomatoes, spinach, lima beans, peas, and potatoes. The Animal-Based Foods part is based on equal parts beef, pork, chicken, and whole milk. It is used to demonstrate that there is a distinct nutritional difference in plant based foods and animal based foods. It also shows that a person gets more nutritionally out of a plant based food diet and, really, only gives of the cholesterol that one gets from an animal based food diet. (Campbell & Campbell; Campbell 230).
Vitamin C (mg)
Vitamin E (mg_ATE)
Table 8 Plant vs. Animal Nutrients (Campbell & Campbell; Campbell 230)
Overall, fruits and vegetables offer low-energy density (fewer calories relative to volume) and for a more sedentary lifestyle of industrialized and developing nations may offer a healthier choice with less chance of chronic disease.
Correlation between diet and chronic disease is strong enough not to ignore. The World Health Organization argues that, "This rapid rate of change, together with the increasing burden of disease, is creating a major public health threat which demands immediate and effective action." (WHO 5) People around the world are consuming a diet comprised of densely fat, high caloric, low nutrient foods to the point to toxicity, to the point of causing costly chronic diseases. The diet and lifestyle patterns of cultures that lack the epidemic chronic diseases give a baseline for healthy living. Moderation is a relative word. The recommendation to eat meat and dairy in moderation could mean once a day to one person and to 3-5 times a day for others. When, really, it could be an ounce once a day, a cup a day. There is a strong need for clearer, braver recommendations. Removing or reducing refined foods will take education and a cultural shift. The need for a better public intervention is beyond great and as the study in Finland proves is achievable.
Dr. Campbell says,
In a publication from the famous Framingham Study, researchers conclude that for every three addition servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the risk of stroke will be reduced by 22%....If every three servings lower the risk by 22%, the benefits can add up fast (risk reduction can not exceed 100%) (Campbell & Campbell 221).The vegan or plant based dietary practices offer the most hope right now for future generations to avoid this epidemic of chronic disease plaguing the populous of European descendants and currently finding its way into all populations. The need for a more plant based food system in urban areas is apparent. Though there is still room for meat and dairy on our plates, but perhaps once a week as opposed to every day would be enough to make a big initial impact to chronic disease.
The fact that diet can affect which genes get expressed during the life-cycle clearly demonstrates the need for as much cell protection as possible. There are no promises that diet alone will allow one can avoid disease completely. There are other factors such as physical activity and having a strong, supportive social environment that allows a person to process stress in a healthy manner that also play a part into health that were not addressed in this paper. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges that diet is the one input most people have control over (WHO 4-5).
It is my curiosity if a city with a population the size of Manhattan reduced their meat and dairy consumption to once a week and replace it with low-fat, real, plant based options what would the global health benefits be? Could it be enough to change the epidemic? Would it be enough to start to wipe out chronic disease in a few generations? It is through understanding food and having social programs in place that our culture can stop consuming a diet comprised of densely fat, high caloric, low nutrient foods to the point to toxicity thus becoming healthier and more productive.
In Michael Pollan's book in Defense of Food one of his recommendations is to "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves." (Pollan 162) but he also mentions that research has shown Flexitarians also to be as healthy as vegetarians. So to eat meat and other animal products on occasion has shown to be just as healthy as a vegetarian diet.
Ultimately, "..plants are apt to be more than the sum of their nutrient parts." (Pollan 165)
Barnard, Neal. et al. A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes 29.8 (2006). Aug. 2006. Web. 7 Apr. 2010.
Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M. Campbell. The China Study: the Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Dallas, Tex.: BenBella, 2005. Print.
Craig, Winston J., et.al "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets" American Dietetic Association. July 2009 Volume 109 Number 7 Web
World Health Organization. Diet , Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Rep. The World Health Organization, 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food, London.: Penguin Press, 2008. Print