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Can a vegetarian diet improve or restore health?

Can it prevent certain diseases?

Advocates of vegetarianism have said yes for many years, although they didn’t have much support from modern science until recently. Now, medical researchers have discovered evidence of a link between meat-eating and such killers as heart disease and cancer, so they’re giving vegetarianism another look.

Since the 1960s, scientists have suspected that a meat-based diet is somehow related to the development of arteriosclerosis and heart disease. As early as 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association said: Ninety to ninety-seven percent of heart disease can be prevented by a vegetarian diet. Since that time, several well-organized studies have scientifically shown that after tobacco and alcohol, the consumption of meat is the greatest single cause of mortality in Western Europe, the United States, Australia, and other affluent areas of the world.

The human body is unable to deal with excessive amounts of animal fat and cholesterol. A poll of 214 scientists doing research on arteriosclerosis in 23 countries showed almost total agreement that there is a link between diet, serum cholesterol levels, and heart disease. 4 When a person eats more cholesterol than the body needs (as he usually does with a meat-centered diet), the excess cholesterol gradually becomes a problem. It accumulates on the inner walls of the arteries, constricts the flow of blood to the heart, and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.

On the other hand, scientists at the University of Milan and Maggiore Hospital have shown that vegetable protein may act to keep cholesterol levels low. In a report to the British medical journal The Lancet, D.C.R. Sirtori concluded that people with the type of high cholesterol associated with heart disease may benefit from a diet in which protein comes only from vegetables.

What about cancer? Research over the past twenty years strongly suggests a link between meat-eating and cancer of the colon, rectum, breast, and uterus. These types of cancer are rare among those who eat little or no meat, such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Japanese, and Indians, but they are prevalent among meat-eating populations.

Another article in The Lancet reported, People living in the areas with a high recorded incidence of carcinoma of the colon tend to live on diets containing large amounts of fat and animal protein; whereas those who live in areas with a low incidence live on largely vegetarian diets with little fat or animal matter.

Rollo Russell, in his Notes on the Causation of Cancer, says, I have found of twenty-five nations eating flesh largely, nineteen had a high cancer rate and only one had a low rate, and that of thirtyfive nations eating little or no flesh, none had a high rate.

Why do meat-eaters seem more prone to these diseases? One reason given by biologists and nutritionists is that man’s intestinal tract is simply not suited for digesting meat. Flesh-eating animals have short intestinal tracts (three times the length of the animal’s body), to pass rapidly decaying toxin-producing meat out of the body quickly. Since plant foods decay more slowly than meat, plant-eaters have intestines at least six times the length of the body. Man has the long intestinal tract of a herbivore, so if he eats meat, toxins can overload the kidneys and lead to gout, arthritis, rheumatism, and even cancer. And then there are the chemicals added to meat. As soon as an animal is slaughtered, its flesh begins to putrefy, and after several days it turns a sickly gray-green. The meat industry masks this discoloration by adding nitrites, nitrates, and other preservatives to give the meat a bright red color. But research has now shown many of these preservatives to be carcinogenic. 9 And what makes the problem worse is the massive amounts of chemicals fed to livestock. Gary and Steven Null, in their book, Poisons in your Body, show us something that ought to make anyone think twice before buying another steak or ham. The animals are kept alive and fattened by continuous administration of tranquilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and 2,700 other drugs. The process starts even before birth and continues long after death. Although these drugs will still be present in the meat when you eat it, the law does not require that they be listed on the package.

Because of findings like this, the American National Academy of Sciences reported in 1983 that people may be able to prevent many common types of cancer by eating less fatty meats and more vegetables and grains. But wait a minute! Weren’t human beings designed to be meateaters?

Don’t we need animal protein? The answer to both these questions is no. Although some historians and anthropologists say that man is historically omnivorous, our anatomical equipment teeth, jaws, and digestive system favours a fleshless diet. The American Dietetic Association notes that most of mankind for most of human history has lived on vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets.

And much of the world still lives that way. Even in most industrialized countries, the love affair with meat is less than a hundred years old. It started with the refrigerator car and the twentieth-century consumer society. But even in the twentieth century, man’s body hasn’t adapted to eating meat. The prominent Swedish scientist Karl von Linne states, Man’s structure, external and internal, compared with that of the other animals, shows that fruit and succulent vegetables constitute his natural food. The chart on the next page compares the anatomy of man with that of carnivorous and herbivorous animals.

As for the protein question, Dr. Paavo Airola, a leading authority on nutrition and natural biology, has this to say: The official daily recommendation for protein has gone down from the 150 grams recommended twenty years ago to only 45 grams today. Why? Because reliable worldwide research has shown that we do not need so much protein, that the actual daily need is only 30 to 45 grams. Protein consumed in excess of the actual daily need is not only wasted, but actually causes serious harm to the body and is even causatively related to such killer diseases as cancer and heart disease. In order to obtain 45 grams of protein a day from your diet you do not have to eat meat; you can get it from a 100 percent vegetarian diet of a variety of grains, lentils, nuts, vegetables, and fruits.

Dairy products, grains, beans, and nuts are all concentrated sources of protein. Cheese, peanuts, and lentils, for instance, contain more protein per ounce than hamburger, pork, or porterhouse steak.

Still, nutritionists thought until recently that only meat, fish, eggs, and milk products had complete proteins (containing the eight amino acids not produced in the body), and that all vegetable proteins were incomplete (lacking one or more of these amino acids). But research at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Max Planck Institute in Germany has shown that most vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains are excellent sources of complete proteins. In fact, their proteins are easier to assimilate than those of meat and they don’t bring with them any toxins. It’s nearly impossible to lack protein if you eat enough natural unrefined food. Remember, the vegetable kingdom is the real source of all protein. Vegetarians simply eat it direct instead of getting it second-hand from the vegetarian animals.

Too much protein intake even reduces the body’s energy. In a series of comparative endurance tests conducted by Dr. Irving Fisher of Yale University, vegetarians performed twice as well as meateaters. When Dr. Fisher knocked down the nonvegetarians’ protein consumption by twenty percent, their efficiency went up thirty-three percent. Numerous other studies have shown that a proper vegetarian diet provides more nutritional energy than meat. A study by Dr. J. Iotekyo and V. Kipani at Brussels University showed that vegetarians were able to perform physical tests two to three times longer than meat-eaters before tiring out and the vegetarians fully recovered from fatigue three times more quickly than the meateaters.

Extract from 'The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking' Copyright BBT International