The Silent Ark
11: An Apple A
For generations we have been brought up with the belief that eating
meat and fish is synonymous with good health. During the Second
World War, the Ministry of Food provided children with cod liver
oil and malt free of charge and mothers would impoverish themselves
in order to get a bit of extra meat ‘off the ration’.
However, there wasn’t much to be had. The meat ration at the
end of the war was the few ounces that 1s 6d (6p) could buy per
person per week while the butter ration was 2oz per person plus
4oz of margarine. Cheese was limited to 2oz, as was bacon (or ham).
Sugar was also on ration, as were sweets, while fresh fruit and
vegetables were not. There was also not much fish around. Strange,
then, that people increasingly look back with nostalgia to this
time and talk about it as one of the healthiest periods of our history.
On the basis of this experience you would think that a simple
correlation is in order - less meat and fewer fish and dairy products
means a healthier life! It’s true, but vested interests have
purposely blurred that message for decades.
As a campaigner and now as Director of the Vegetarian Society,
I was better placed than most to get at the truth, as I had access
to much of the scientific research which showed conclusively that
a vegetarian diet was healthier than one based on meat.
The publication which first opened my eyes to the wealth of evidence
linking meat with disease was a book by Peter Cox. Peter’s
Why You Don’t Need Meat (Thorsons, 1986) made the health arguments
accessible and easy to understand for the first time. He goes into
even more detail in his latest book, Peter Cox’s Guide to
Vegetarian Living (Bloomsbury, 1995). But health had never been
the motivating factor behind my vegetarian beliefs. It took a personal
tragedy in 1988 to make me reexamine that position.
The sister of an extremely close friend was diagnosed as having
stomach cancer and the prognosis was saddening - only weeks to live.
She had three teenage daughters and a very close family and the
scale of the collective grief was enormous. The sense of injustice,
of impotence and of disbelief was all-powerful. There was a need
to apportion blame, to seek out a culprit, as if by so doing a magical
key would be unearthed which would reverse the relentless progress
of the disease. I was present when the surgeon was asked, almost
imploringly, whether there was anything known about the causes of
cancer. It was the compassionate but matter-of-fact way he replied
that I found almost disturbing. One thing they knew for certain,
he said, was that there was an inescapable correlation between eating
meat and stomach cancer. Other factors played a part, such as stress
and smoking, but there was a clear link with diet.
I felt as though a massive deception had been perpetrated, not
by him but by someone, somewhere. I asked myself why this wasn’t
public knowledge, why it wasn’t emblazoned across the front
pages of tabloid newspapers, why the official line was still one
of denial - and still is. The woman who lay dying had fed her family
meat as frequently as possible, genuinely believing that she was
doing the best she could for them.
Unfortunately I have now learnt to be much more cynical about
the motivation of the Government as a result of my search for the
truth about diet and health. Almost every political decision concerning
agriculture places meat in the ascendancy. In May 1990, for example,
the then Minister of Agriculture, John Gummer, declared in his speech
at the International Meat Trade Association, which was reported
on the front page of The Times, that vegetarianism is ‘wholly
unnatural’ and explicitly anti-God:
I consider meat to be an essential part of the diet. The bible
tells us that we are the masters of the fowl of the air and the
beasts of the field and we very properly eat them. If the Almighty
had wanted us to have three stomachs like grass-eating cattle [sic;
they have four], I am sure he could have arranged it.
Meanwhile, an array of posters and expensive press and TV advertising,
partly paid for by the Government-backed Meat and Livestock Commission,
proclaimed: ‘Meat to Live’- giving a pretty clear message
in defiance of the truth.
In 1995, the propaganda continued, with millions of pounds being
spent on the cloyingly sentimental advertising campaign: ‘Meat
- the language of love!’ And the MLC is still going into schools
with expensively produced materials, including an interactive computer
programme based around four young people setting up in business
to - yes, you’ve guessed it - open a hamburger restaurant.
None of the information in these promotions gives even the slightest
indication that meat is linked with the two biggest killers in the
Western world - cancer and heart disease. It also fails to mention
the essential nutrients which are completely absent from meat. Confusion
and public relations gloss are being used to obscure the truth for
the benefit of vested interests. And it is costing lives.
In the British Medical Journal in 1994, the interim results of
a massive piece of research were published. It is known as ‘the
Oxford study’ and it looked at 11,000 people over a 13-year
period with the simple purpose of investigating the health consequences
of a vegetarian diet. In brief, the findings were that vegetarians
stand around a 40 per cent less chance of developing any kind of
cancer, have about 30 per cent less coronary heart disease and have
a 20 per cent lower premature mortality than meat eaters - in simple
language, they live longer!
However, despite being one of the largest and most thorough studies
undertaken, with unequivocal results, the Oxford study still states:
The results do not justify advice to exclude meat since several
features of a vegetarian diet, apart from not eating meat, might
reduce the risk.
That is to say, it’s not certain what it is that’s
making the difference. It might not be something in the meat that
causes disease but something in the vegetarian diet that prevents
Our data do not provide justification for encouraging meat eaters
to change to a vegetarian diet. However, they do confirm that those
who have chosen to do so might expect reductions in premature mortality
due to cancer and possibly ischaemic heart disease.
Then there is this little conclusion:
Dietary change may be a key determinant of the reduction in total
mortality. Current recommendations in most Western countries advise
people to adopt many of the attributes of a vegetarian diet but
not to advise excluding meat. This advice seems appropriate in the
light of our results.
And long live the status quo!
The fact remains that thousands of lives could be saved and incalculable
suffering could be ended right now by advising people to change
to a vegetarian or vegan diet - not tomorrow or next week, but now.
There is a mass of other research to support this recommendation.
The study didn’t look at the effects of simply cutting down
on meat, but it didn’t stop them from recommending that option
as the way forward. There was no justification for such a recommendation.
Does it really matter if there is some hidden ingredient, some
obscure nutrient which no one has identified, lurking behind the
eyes of a King Edward potato?
In a letter to the Minister of Health in August 1995, a Viva!
contact asked why, in view of current knowledge, they were not promoting
vegetarianism and she quoted the Oxford study. The reply was fascinating.
It said that the study had not made allowances for the difference
in people’s lifestyles and the fact that vegetarians are less
likely to drink and smoke. Because of this, the findings were not
In fact, the study did make allowances for this:
In this study, the 40 per cent reduction in cancer mortality in
non-meat eaters ... could not be explained by differences in smoking
habits, obesity and socioeconomic status.
There are two conclusions that can be drawn from the Government’s
reply: either it is incompetent or it is wilfully misleading people
over matters of life and death.
Increasingly, when I appear on radio or television, a nutritionist
from a supposedly independent body is asked for an opinion as to
whether a vegetarian or vegan diet is healthy. Their answer usually
starts: ‘A vegetarian diet can be healthy but...’ In
those few words all the doubts necessary to discredit it are sown
in the mind of the audience.
The nutritionist is often from the British Nutrition Foundation,
which is, in fact, not independent but a food industry body whose
chairman, Mr David A. Tate, has made it quite clear, in the BNF’s
annual report, what he thinks of scientific findings which link
cancer and other health scares to meat:
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the future will see an end
to the publication of views which seem calculated to give the impression
that food is ultimately life threatening. Statistics and league
tables of premature deaths from heart disease or cancer linked to
some dietary attribute tend to omit a reminder of other possible
BNFs members include hamburger giants McDonald’s Restaurants
Ltd, turkey producers Bernard Matthews Plc, the Meat and Livestock
Commission, Mars Ltd, Whitbread Plc, British Sugar Plc, Cadbury
Ltd, Coca Cola Great Britain Ltd, Trebor Bassett Ltd and Tate &
Lyle Plc - meat, meat, meat, sugar, beer, sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar
I give this account to illustrate the difficulty in obtaining
accurate, objective information about food and its links with health.
The vested interests are extremely powerful and use techniques polished
to perfection by the tobacco industry. The health risks of tobacco
have been known since the 1950s and it is now the biggest avoidable
killer in the world. Yet little is done to deter young people from
taking up smoking - not even the banning of all advertising - and
you can’t get more cynical than that.
So, just what is the link between vegetarianism and health? There
is overwhelming research to prove that vegetarians are infinitely
healthier than meat eaters and live longer. Conversely, there are
no diseases which afflict vegetarians but not meat eaters. That’s
a pretty powerful starting-point.
In the 1940s, the prevailing view was that animal protein held
the answer to health and the more you ate the better. Nutritionists
have been backpedalling from that piece of misinformation ever since.
Now, the 100 leading health bodies from around the world, including
Britain’s Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy
(COMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), offer very different
advice - cut down on animal fats (which includes meat of all kinds
and dairy products) and eat more complex carbohydrates (bread, pasta,
potatoes, rice), fibre, fresh fruit, vegetables, cereals and pulses.
The eminent British Medical Association clearly states in its
1986 report Diet, Nutrition and Health: ‘Vegetarians have
lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, large
bowel disorder and cancers, and gallstones. Cholesterol levels tend
to be lower.’ It goes on to say that vegetarian and vegan
diets provide all the nutrients required for a healthy diet.
Some of these bodies have got as close as they can to saying ‘Go
vegan’ but none has had the courage to actually say it. Why?
Because it would be rubbished by Governments and food industries
who are simply not prepared to jeopardize revenues with such a radical
piece of advice.
But still the myth about animal protein hangs on. Tell someone
you’re about to turn vegetarian and they’ll immediately
become an expert on nutrition: ‘What about protein? You’re
going to be seriously short of protein!’
Let’s be absolutely clear. Protein is important because
it’s responsible for growth, for repairing tissue and protecting
against infection. Fortunately, it’s present, to a greater
or lesser degree, in most foods and those with high concentrations
include soya products such as tofu, soya milk, veggieburgers and
textured vegetable protein (TVP). It is in cereals such as rice
and pasta, some dairy products including cheese, milk and eggs,
and in nuts and seeds. Don’t worry about protein - it is almost
impossible to go short. In fact you have a much better chance of
winning first prize in the National Lottery than you do of meeting
a vegetarian or vegan suffering from protein deficiency.
Protein is made up of different amino acids and some foods contain
all the body needs while others contain only some of them. Meat
contains them all, while eating a combination of vegetable foods
combines different amino acids into a ‘complete’ form.
The different foods can be eaten over time and don’t need
to be combined in one meal.
Far from worrying about lack of protein, there’s much more
reason to worry about too much of the stuff - animal protein, at
any rate. It can damage your health. The most obvious example is
that of the disease osteoporosis. It is also another example of
industry’s misinformation - in this case the dairy industry.
Osteoporosis is a condition which results in a loss of bone mass
- the calcium which forms bones is reduced and weakened by being
excreted out of the body in urine. It can result in easily broken
bones and what used to be known as ‘widow’s stoop’,
where the chin drops lower and lower, eventually touching the chest,
while the back becomes humped. There is some truth in the name -
osteoporosis, or porous bones, tends to affect older, post-menopausal
women, the category in which, I suppose, most widows fall. Many
will not even know they have it until they break a bone, but every
year in the UK, over 50,000 women break a hip because of osteoporosis
and many of them die. In fact more women die from this cause than
from cancers of the cervix, uterus and breast combined.
The causes of osteoporosis are complex and involve changes in
the hormonal levels responsible for making new bone and absorbing
old bone. Oestrogen is part of this balancing act and following
the menopause less is produced.
In order to avoid osteoporosis, women are encouraged to consume
lots of calcium-rich milk and dairy products. This advice ignores
world-wide evidence. Eskimos have one of the highest intakes of
calcium in the world, yet also have one of the highest incidences
of osteoporosis. For the Chinese, on the other hand, the situation
is reversed - they have one of the lowest intakes of dietary calcium
and osteoporosis is rare.
The missing link is animal protein. Eskimos eat huge amounts of
animal protein and their high calcium intake comes largely from
fish bones. The Chinese eat comparatively small amounts of animal
protein and almost no dairy products. There is a direct correlation
between the intake of animal protein and a loss of calcium. The
same link does not exist with vegetable protein. The process is
complex, but what is thought to happen is that animal protein produces
an acid overload which is neutralized by the release of stored calcium
from the bones before being excreted in urine. The same acid overload
does not happen when the protein is from a vegetable source.
Most people in the UK have heard of osteoporosis for the simple
reason that the milk marketing industry produced a series of huge
street posters which stated that milk could prevent it. This campaign
played on people’s fears, but milk, instead of being part
of the cure, was part of the problem.
The real prevention, according to new US research, has nothing
to do with the milkman. It identifies boron, a trace element, as
being extremely active in preventing calcium loss. By introducing
it into the diet of a group of post-menopausal women, their calcium
loss was reduced by 40 per cent. No boron is found in meat or in
dairy produce, but it is in apples, pears, grapes, nuts, leafy vegetables
A possible lack of calcium also often worries mothers when their
children give up meat. Strange, since meat contains little or no
calcium. Vegans get all the calcium they need from leafy green vegetables,
pulses, nuts and seeds - particularly almonds and sesame seeds.
Also, some soya products, such as soya milk, can now be obtained
fortified with calcium. Vegetarians obviously obtain calcium from
milk, but it is these vegan foods which are the healthiest and which
Apart from protein and calcium, it is often claimed that a vegetarian
diet lacks vitamin B12. B12 is an important vitamin, essential for
the development of blood cells and nerve function, and a lack of
it can lead to a collapse of the nervous system and eventually death.
However, the liver can store it for years and only minute traces
are needed - the equivalent to one-millionth of a gram per day.
So you can pig out one day and eat none for days after.
Vegetarians get all the B12 they need from dairy products, while
vegans are amply supplied by fortified foods such as soya milk,
TVP and most breakfast cereals. Yeast extract such as Marmite, Vecon
and Vegemite is also a good source, as is the large range of yeast-based
spreads and patés. Vegans do not need to take vitamin B12
supplements - or go on about them ad nauseam.
The vitamin is produced by micro-organisms such as yeasts, bacteria,
moulds and algae and it is widely present in the soil. The reason
why it is found in meat is because of the ingestion by animals of
small amounts of soil containing B12 when they are grazing or rooting.
It was in exactly this way that our ancestors obtained the vitamin,
before the supermarkets started sanitizing their carrots and before
a touch of soil in cabbage became reason for contacting the Environmental
In fact, every vitamin you need can be obtained from a vegetarian
and vegan diet, while meat is lacking several of the most important.
Even those it does contain are not necessarily of the right kind.
Take vitamin A, for example. It is one of the important protectors
against disease - but only the vitamin A obtained from vegetable
foods. It is present in meat as retinol, which can be extremely
toxic in high concentrations, such as in the liver of cattle, and
can even damage the human foetus, which is why pregnant women are
now advised to avoid eating liver. The vegetable version is converted
by the body from a substance called beta-carotene, which is found
in a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene, together
with vitamins C and E, has such a huge and positive impact on human
health that it ranks as one of the great medical discoveries and
I’ll come on to that later (see pp. 136-138).
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) grows in importance the more we find
out about it and its central role in the functioning of the human
body and its immune system. We are one of the few species whose
bodies cannot synthesize it and because we can’t store it
either, a regular intake is vital. Fortunately, it occurs in a huge
range of fruits and vegetables, so vegetarians and vegans are better
placed than most to get their daily intake. Interestingly, there
is no vitamin C in meat and dairy products.
Other essential vitamins almost absent from meat are D, K and
E. They are all present in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Because Viva! has such a big youth interest, I am often asked
questions about teenage girls and their susceptibility to anaemia
due to lack of iron in the diet. The view of some ‘independent’
nutritionists is that meat is the best source of iron because the
iron from vegetables is more difficult for the body to absorb and
therefore adolescence is not the best time to change to a vegetarian
diet. However, iron is present in a whole range of plants and is
made more easily absorbable by the vitamin C in fruit and vegetables
- something which vegetarians and vegans tend to eat a lot of!
The truth is that iron deficiency is largely a female condition,
linked to menstruation and affecting one in five of all women of
childbearing age, regardless of their diet. One of the most respected
medical bodies in the world, the British Medical Association, categorically
stated in their report Diet, Nutrition and Health that ‘iron
deficiency is no more common’ in vegetarians and vegans than
in meat eaters. Research on British vegans by the Department of
Biochemistry at the University of Surrey also concluded, in a paper
published in the British Journal of Nutrition, that iron levels
‘were normal in all the vegans’ and that ‘pregnancy
in Caucasian vegans and the health of children reared on vegan diets
appear to be essentially normal.’
Apart from natural loss of iron through menstruation, it is often
a problem of absorption, for meat eaters as well as vegetarians,
that causes a deficiency. Good sources of iron include dark green
leafy vegetables, tofu, wholemeal bread, pasta, dried fruit, pistachio
and cashew nuts, pulses (e.g. baked beans, peas, butter beans, broad
beans, chick peas), fortified breakfast cereals, pumpkin seeds,
hummus, lentils, sesame seeds, jacket potatoes, molasses, oats and
cocoa (a good excuse to eat plain chocolate!) Remember to eat foods
containing vitamin C (in most green veg., potatoes, tomatoes, citrus
fruits and juice) at the same time for considerably better absorption.
Another big misconception surrounds carbohydrates. At one time
they were popularly seen as the slimmer’s enemy, one of the
primary causes of obesity and to be avoided. That couldn’t
have been more wrong. Carbohydrates are one of the most essential
ingredients of our diet.
They break down into three groups - simple, complex and dietary
fibre. The least valuable are the simple carbohydrates - sugars
found naturally in foods such as fruit and milk or as the refined
version in table sugar, sweets and so on.
Complex carbohydrates are the ones that we are now being encouraged
to include as the basis of our diet and they are entirely plant-based
- rice, bread, pasta, pulses, wheat, barley, millet, oats and buckwheat.
The other big source, of course, is potatoes - or yams, sweet potatoes
and casava. Complex carbohydrates are the primary source of our
The third carbohydrate, dietary fibre, is the indigestible part
of all the different plant foods we eat. It contains no nutrients
but is the vital element which allows the bowels to function properly,
reducing the chances of colon cancer. With wonderful visual imagery,
fibre is often referred to as the broom which sweeps the bowels
clean. It puts a whole new light on the song ‘Hey ho, hey
ho, it’s off to work we go...’! Critical to human health,
it is another vital dietary component which is completely lacking
Fats and oils are another important part of the diet, responsible
for repairing tissue, manufacturing hormones, providing essential
fatty acids and carrying some vitamins. However, not all fats are
desirable or necessary and the least needed and most harmful is
saturated fat, the type found in meat (even the lean parts), lard
and dairy produce.
Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature such as butter
and lard - and unsaturated fats tend to be liquid - such as olive
or sunflower oil - but too much of either makes you fat.
Saturated fats are linked with a whole range of diseases, in particular
heart disease and cancer, and we do not need them in the diet. Something
else we don’t need to eat is yet another product of meat,
fish and dairy produce: cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a sterol and despite the bad press it has received
in recent years, it is essential for life. It is used for making
cell walls, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids, but we don’t
need to eat it. It is manufactured by the liver and intestinal cells
and, according to a growing number of medical authorities, no other
source is necessary. In fact, eating foods high in cholesterol and
saturated fats increases blood cholesterol to dangerous levels.
Excess cholesterol furs up the arteries, which can eventually lead
to a total blockage which cuts off the blood supply. If the arteries
supplying the heart are blocked, a heart attack is the result; if
the arteries supplying the brain are blocked, you suffer a stroke.
Cholesterol levels are considerably lower in vegetarians.
Gallstones are another problem. Made mainly of solidified cholesterol,
they can lead to inflammation and gangrene of the gall bladder,
causing great pain. The British Medical Journal states that gallstones
occur twice as frequently in meat eaters as in vegetarians.
As we in the West have elevated meat eating almost to a religion
and the majority of the rest of the world, for reasons of culture
or poverty, simply doesn’t eat meat on anything like the same
scale, we provide an excellent human laboratory. We, the privileged,
the principal users of the world’s resources and consumers
of animal flesh, account for only one fifth of the world’s
population, yet we have a half of all the world’s cancers.
One in three of us will be diagnosed as having cancer at some time
in our lives. And the situation is worsening.
A huge amount of time and money has been spent in trying to find
an explanation for this disturbing statistic and, if possible, develop
a cure. In a commercial world, a cure which involves a pill, a potion
or a treatment is always preferable to a change in lifestyle, because
pills can be patented, packaged and sold. However, not only has
the magical cure proved elusive, but also the search for it has
blinded people to the way in which they can take control of their
own lives and reduce their own risks.
The Oxford study finding that vegetarians get 40 per cent fewer
cancers was only one of many studies from around the world which
have come to similar conclusions. They provide a huge incentive
to take up a vegetarian - or, better still, vegan diet because all
the evidence is now one way, building a conclusive picture of animal
protein as a cause of cancer.
Every five years, the US Government’s Dietary Guidelines
are revised and in 1995, the Physicians Committee for Responsible
Medicine (PCRM) made representation to the Federal Advisory Committee,
the body charged with the task. As part of their submission that
a vegetarian diet is important in reducing the risk of many diseases,
they carried out a review of research and published work from around
the world. Their findings were little short of staggering.
They found that the cancer rate amongst vegetarians is between
25 and 50 per cent lower than in the general population. Like any
serious study, they took account of lifestyles - drinking, smoking,
exercise, body weight - and compared like with like. In a country
where 1.2 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and
526,000 die of it, the implications of this are enormous. A national
change to a vegetarian diet could result in a reduction of over
250,000 deaths annually from this one disease alone. The economic
implications are almost as awesome - a halving of the $35 billion
direct medical costs for treating cancer.
An important feature of this detailed research was the discovery
that the increased consumption of fruit and vegetables common in
a vegetarian diet makes a big contribution to reducing risks. However,
it doesn’t fully account for it. The implication is that while
a vegetarian diet does have great health benefits, there is something
in a meat-based diet which actually increases the risk of cancer.
The benefits of vegetarianism are just as great with that other
huge epidemic - heart disease. It is now the number one killer in
the industrialized world and Britain is the capital of it. One in
three men and one in four women will die of it - 468 of them every
24 hours. The evidence is so overwhelming that vegetarians, and
particularly vegans, are so much less at risk that their diets should
be available on the NHS. One study, published in the American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition, which looked at nearly 5,000 British vegetarians
over seven years, found them to be 50 per cent less at risk from
heart disease than meat eaters. A study of lifelong vegans, this
time published in the British Medical Journal came up with a figure
of 57 per cent less risk.
In the United States the problem is hardly less acute. Approximately
one million people have a heart attack every year, 45 per cent of
whom are under 65. Again, there are enormous economic implications
for this epidemic, with the direct medical costs amounting to $40
billion. The cost in pain, discomfort, fear and grief is, of course,
In their submission to the US Government, the PCRM also examined
the link between heart disease and vegetarianism by reviewing the
available literature. Their findings are again little short of astonishing.
Vegetarians, they discovered, are between 25 and 50 per cent less
likely to die of heart disease than meat eaters. Again, all the
studies compare like with like.
Part and parcel of coronary heart disease, as well as stroke and
cerebral haemorrhage, is of course atherosclerosis - clogged up
arteries. And here again the link with meat is indisputable. The
good news is that a low-fat, vegetarian diet helps to reverse it.
It also helps with hypertension, or high blood pressure, which makes
the heart work harder to pump blood around the body.
A Swedish study, based on the simple premise of substituting the
meat-based diet of those with hypertension for a strict vegan diet,
produced some amazing results. At the end of the trial period they
found that of the 26 patients, 20 had given up their medication
entirely and six had reduced their medication - mostly by half.
Fifty per cent felt much ‘better’ and 30 per cent said
they felt ‘completely recovered’. Blood cholesterol
levels dropped by an average of 15 per cent and health authorities
estimated their savings on drugs and hospitalization at £1,000
In 1990, what must be considered a medical breakthrough took place
with a study specifically structured to evaluate the effect of a
vegan diet on reversing the effects of clogged up arteries in coronary
heart disease. Two groups were studied, the first being placed on
a diet of fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes and soya bean products,
and the second, control group, continuing with their usual diet.
The extent of the arterial blockages was measured in both groups.
After one year, the blockages of 18 of the 22 people on the vegan
diet had reduced in size, while the blockages of two thirds of the
control group had increased. Subsequent studies have confirmed this
extraordinary result - that damage caused by coronary heart disease
can be reversed simply through diet.
The studies quoted here relating to cancer and heart disease are
only a small selection of a huge and increasing volume of evidence
which consistently points to a vegetarian diet as being the prerequisite
for good health.
In 1989, initial results were announced from a huge study which
looked at real people in real life situations. Its findings were
so conclusive that you would have thought the world could not ignore
it. A combined Chinese-British-American effort, it looked at the
health and eating habits of 6,500 Chinese and became known as the
China study. Headlines in the New York Times on 8 May of that year
summed up its findings: ‘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 seemed to be the amount of animal protein eaten
- the more you eat, the greater your risk.
In an interview in the New York Times, also on 8 May, Dr T. Colin
Campbell, of Cornell University, who was in charge of the American
contribution, summed up his feelings on the findings: ‘We’re
basically a vegetarian species and should be eating a wide variety
of plant foods and minimizing our intake of animal foods.’
We’re left with the question of why, if giving up meat is
so effective, do Governments still steer clear of endorsing it?
The answer lies within the power structures of society and industry.
In the US, the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is
legendary and it has consistently managed to thwart any legislation
which even hints at controlling firearms. The power of the livestock
industry - and in the US that means the beef industry - is considered
by many to be only second to the NRA. The clear link between ill
health and meat eating has been so comprehensively ignored that
up until 1995 the US Dietary Guidelines, which outline those foods
which should be eaten to promote good health and those which are
optional, made no mention of vegetarianism. It is the opinion of
the PCRM that effective lobbying by meat interests was responsible
The PCRM’s submission to the US Government was accompanied
by a request to remove meat from the obligatory category and place
it in the optional category. They didn’t succeed, but at least
the Dietary Guidelines do now contain an extremely strong reference
...lacto-ovo vegetarians enjoy excellent health. Vegetarian diets
are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines and can meet Recommended
Daily Allowances for nutrients. Protein is not limited in vegetarian
This is seen as a victory by the PCRM and a first and important
step in establishing the enormous health advantages of a vegetarian
In varying degrees, vegetarians are less likely to develop 60
or more diseases which, apart from those already mentioned, include
asthma, angina, arthritis and rheumatism, constipation, diabetes,
eczema, psoriasis and obesity.
So what is it about a plant-based diet that reduces the risk of
disease and prolongs life? Low saturated fat and high fibre play
a part and recent research has identified three other important
ingredients. They are all vitamins and have been termed ‘antioxidants’.
You will know that rust can eat the paint off a car. That damage
is caused by oxidation. A similar process harms the cells of your
body. In fact, it is at least partly responsible for dozens of diseases.
Unless you have discovered how to live without breathing, you
cannot escape the consequences of oxidation. It takes place whenever
oxygen combines with another substance, as when you burn food for
energy. You need oxygen, of course, for the same reason a car needs
it - to help burn fuel for energy or power.
Whenever you breathe, exercise or digest food, your body produces
potentially harmful agents called ‘free radicals’. Not
a political group, free radicals are unstable molecules made by
your body. In stable molecules, electrons usually associate in pairs.
Normal body functions, however, can remove one electron in a pair.
The remaining molecule with an unpaired electron is a free radical.
The free radical tries to regain an electron and does so by snatching
one from another molecule. This only creates another free radical,
sparking a catastrophic chain reaction that eats away at your cells
and damages the genetic material inside them. As stated by a nutritionist
at the Solgar Nutritional Research Centre: ‘Imagine if someone
scrambled all the area codes in your telephone book; all your calls
would result in wrong numbers. In the same fashion, jumbled genetic
codes in your cells make you vulnerable to any one of the sixty
different serious physical illnesses.’
The free radical process takes place all the time, but cigarette
smoke, air pollution, ultraviolet light and emotional stress generate
more. You'll be relieved to hear that a vegetarian/vegan diet is
a powerful ally in the fight against free radicals, because it contains
a high number of antioxidants.
This newly discovered vitamin triumvirate (along with trace elements
such as selenium and zinc) neatly mops up the out of control molecules
and protects our cells against them. The three vitamins are the
beta-carotene form of vitamin A, and vitamins C and E - none of
which are in meat. But the number of different plant foods which
contains them is enormous.
Vitamin C is in a whole range of fresh fruit and veg., but particularly
citrus fruits, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and spinach. Beta-carotene
is found in green, yellow and orange fruits and in vegetables such
as broccoli, carrots and lettuce. Vitamin E is in most vegetable
oils, nuts and seeds, avocado pears, olives, wholemeal bread, wheatgerm,
garlic, dark green leafy vegetables, margarine, milk, butter and
The implications of this dramatic discovery are only really just
beginning to sink in, but it will eventually make it progressively
more difficult for the meat interests to continue to spread confusion.
In the past meat marketers have been allowed a total freedom, unrestrained
even by truth. We are now involved in the massive task of slowly
unpacking the web of deceit and misinformation which has been woven.
We can then start to improve the health of the nation and reduce
By the way, if you have wondered why doctors haven’t joined
in this condemnation of meat eating, in fact still tend to promote
meat, then here’s your answer. Of the six or more years of
training undertaken by UK doctors, nutrition accounts for only one
day. In the US it is 2.5 hours - and they are optional.
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