Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Top 7 Health Reasons to Bypass Animal Products

Nicci and Sadie chop onions for a vegan stew. Photo: Kneidel

Previous post: Top Five Ways Livestock Wreck the Planet

1. Protect your heart. Multiple studies report that the consumption of beef, pork, and lamb increase the risk of heart disease. Cardiologist Caldwell Esselstyn, in a 20-year-study, found that patients who adhered to his plant-derived diet reduced their cholesterol from an average of 240 mg/dL (high risk) to below 150 mg/dL - the total cholesterol level seen in cultures where heart disease is essentially nonexistent. In addition, Esselstyn's patients who had already experienced heart attacks or bypass surgery, etc., had virtually no further cardiac events after adopting his diet. His work is featured in the new documentary PLANEAT.

2. Vegetarians are 40% less likely to get cancer compared to meat-eaters, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Colon cancer is one of several cancers linked to meat consumption. Total fat and saturated fat, which tend to be higher in animal products than in plant-derived foods, increase colon-cancer risks. The same is true for breast cancer. Countries with a higher fat intake, especially fat from meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer. In Japan, for example, the traditional diet is much lower in fat, especially animal fat, than the usual western diet, and breast cancer rates are low. In the 1940s, when breast cancer was very rare in Japan, less than 10% of the calories in the Japanese diet came from fat.

3. Milk is a "stew of hormones"
Recent studies in adults have linked cow's milk with an excess cancer risk in the prostate, and to a lesser extent in the breast and ovaries, notes oncologist Michael Pollak of McGill University. Researchers suspect milk's "natural stew of hormones, growth factors and other biologically active chemicals" to be causative agents, reports Janet Raloff in Science News. Scientists at the National Cancer Institute analyzed grocery-store milk and found that whole milk contains the smallest quantity of estrogens; skim and buttermilk contain the most. Here's a quandary: although whole milk may contain the least estrogens, it contains the most saturated fat. And saturated fat has been associated with colon cancer for some time. What to do? Jettison the milk. See my previous post about milk and cancer.

4. Diabetes and obesity associated with meat-eating
An August 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating as little as 1 daily serving of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. In the study, one daily serving of unprocessed red meat raised the diabetes risk about 20%. Worse, "one serving per day of processed meat like a hot dog or sausage was associated with a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. “That’s pretty high.” In addition, those who ate the most red meat were less likely to eat fruits and vegetables and more likely to be obese and to smoke. “I think we should change our mindset in terms of protein sources in our diet,” said Dr. Hu. For the summary article, click here. For my previous post about fast foods and health, click here.

5. Fish infused with mercury
U.S. coal-fired power plants release over 48 tons of mercury into the air annually; Asia releases even more. All this airborne mercury winds up in freshwater and oceans - and in fish. The EPA says a mercury blood level below 5.8 mcg/L is safe for pregnant women; the agency estimates that at least 8% of U.S. women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels higher than that. In the Northeast, 20% of such women do. In NYC, 25%. One San Francisco physician found that 89% of patients who said they often eat fish had elevated levels. Symptoms are neurological, ranging from loss of balance to cognitive problems. Says Dr. Nicholas Fisher of Stonybrook, "95 to 100% of the methylmercury in our bodies comes from eating seafood." When the EPA tested predatory and bottom-dwelling fish from 500 lakes, they found mercury in every single one; half were unsafe to eat. Another study by the USGS found mercury-contaminated fish in all 291 streams and rivers they tested. Are any fish safe to eat? If you want to check it out, go to gotmercury.org or epa.gov/ost/fish. For more info, see Sierra Magazine's Nov/Dec 2011 article "This much mercury...how the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich."

6. One egg has twice the cholesterol of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese
Aside from the periodic salmonella outbreaks, even uninfected eggs can be a hazard to your health. According to Susan Levin, writing for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 70% of the calories in an egg are fat calories. Eggs also have "a surprising load of saturated fat, which causes the liver to produce more cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk for cardiovascular disease." A typical egg contains 212 milligrams of cholesterol, more than the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends for an entire day. An egg contains more cholesterol than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese, which sports a hefty 94 milligrams of cholesterol. There is no recommended minimum intake of cholesterol, but 200-300 mg is the recommended daily max.

7. Chicken is "one of the most dangerous...."
Time magazine has called chicken one of the most dangerous items in the American home. Recent studies report that more than 30% of U.S. chicken is contaminated with Salmonella, and 62% is contaminated with Campylobacter. According to the USDA, these two pathogens cause 80% of the illnesses and 75% of the acute deaths associated with meat consumption. Regarding the saturated fat issue: many consumers have replaced red meat with chicken, believing chicken to have less fat. But chicken is not low-fat. According to The George Washington University Health Plan, "Three ounces of lean top round has 5 grams of fat, while three ounces of roasted chicken thigh has 13 grams of fat. Even without the skin, the roasted thigh has 9 grams of fat." For more info and sources about human health and poultry, click here.

What to do?
Avoiding animal products is no longer difficult, given the profusion of substitutes in today's grocery stores and farmers markets. For ideas on family meals, check out some of the menus and cookbooks reviewed on this site.
 Sadie peruses local produce at a farmers market. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Coming soon: Top 5 Humane Reasons to Choose a Plant-based Diet and Skip the Animal Flesh

Keywords: vegan health animal products vegetarian health health hazards of meat health hazards of eggs health hazards of milk health hazards of animal products healthiest diet healthy diet


Michael@noflournosugardiet said...

Hi Sally and Sadie,

Thank you for spreading the word. I appreciate all efforts to get the general eating public to be more conscious of where their foods come from. Though your list is solid, I don't find the egg point terribly convincing; eggs in moderation remain an excellent source of protein for some. I only get free-range, non-factory farm eggs, and try to avoid them when out since I know they will likely be sourced from factory farms.
True- one doesn't need eggs, but they are a very solid breakfast from time to time.
thanks again,

Bonnie said...


This post is amazing. We went meatless two months ago and absolutely love the way it makes us feel. I am very proud of not being part of our community pollution. We live in Spring, tx close to the woodlands and was wondering if you can guide us where to go for fresh produce farmers shopping. We are currently shopping at the local markets but we want to support our local farmers. I have a list but they are all in Houston, tx and none in spring or conroe. Also I was wondering, do you have a facebook page? Thanks! Bonnie Serrano

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

Thanks for your comment Bonnie (and Michael). We don't have a facebook page. I guess we should! Thx for asking. About finding local farmers, I would start by asking around at the nearest farmers markets, and at natural-food stores that sell fresh produce. I think if you ask enough at nearby farmers markets, you'll get some info. I hope so! Good luck!