The world’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), states that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” It adds that “[w]ell-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” ((“Vegetarian Diets”, Position Papers, American Dietetic Association, Volume 109, Issue 7, July 2009, pp. 1266-1282.))
New studies and reports are continually being published recommending we move towards a plant-based diet in order to help prevent heart disease, diabetes, strokes and some forms of cancer. In 2010, for example, research performed by Oxford University found that 45,000 lives a year (and £1.2 billion in NHS costs) would be saved in the UK by people reducing their meat intake: 31,000 from heart disease, 9,000 from cancer, and 5,000 from stroke ((Healthy Planet Eating, Friends of the Earth, October 2010.)).
In addition, vegetarians generally have stronger immune systems ((www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=128)), live longer than meat-eaters ((“Benefits Of Vegetarianism: Vegetarians Live Longer”, Huffington Post, 21 June, 2008.)) and they are less likely to be overweight or obese ((“Vegetarian Diets May Protect Against Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes”, Medscape Medical News, 14 May, 2009.)).
Heart Disease, Diabetes and stroke
A 2010 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that as little as 50 g of processed meat a day (e.g. one sausage) increases the risk of diabetes by 19 per cent and coronary heart disease by 42 per cent ((Hu FB et al, Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women, NEJM, 1997, 337, p.1491.)).
According to 2011 research from Loma Linda University, vegetarians experience a 36 percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome than non-vegetarians. Because metabolic syndrome can be a precursor to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, the findings indicate vegetarians may be at lower risk of developing these conditions ((“Vegetarians May Be at Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes and Stroke”, Science Daily, 13 April, 2011.)).
A study comparing the diet and blood pressure of 4,680 men and women aged 40 to 59 in four countries, by Professor Paul Elliott of Imperial College, London, found that those who ate more vegetable protein tended to have lower blood pressure than those who ate meat ((“Vegetable protein helps in fight against strokes and heart disease”, The Guardian, 10 January, 2006.)).
Professor T Colin Campbell PHD of Cornell University, author of the world’s largest ever epidemiological study into nutrition, The China Study, linked eating meat with accelerated cancer. He also found that consuming dairy products can increase the risk of breast cancer ((www.tcolincampbell.org/courses-resources/article/avoiding-breast-cancer-with-diet/?tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=76&cHash=4af0558305)).
The American Cancer Society refers to studies which link eating large amounts of processed meat to increased risk of colorectal and stomach cancers ((www.cancer.org/Healthy/EatHealthyGetActive/ACSGuidelinesonNutritionPhysicalActivityforCancerPrevention/acs-guidelines-on-nutrition-and-physical-activity-for-cancer-prevention-diet-cancer-questions)).
The World Cancer Research Fund recommends we “choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat” ((http://www.wcrf-uk.org/cancer_prevention/diet/)).
As far as good health goes, reducing one’s meat intake or cutting it out altogether and turning vegetarian appears to be the best way forward.