Articles by natural health author Tony Isaacs


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The Health Benefits and Potential Dangers of Vegetarianism – Part 1

by Tony Isaacs
author of
Cancer's Natural Enemy

Author’s note: In this opening installment of a four-part series on the benefits and potential dangers of vegetarianism, we will examine “An Introduction to Vegetarianism” and “The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet”. Subsequent installments will cover “Potential Dangers of Vegetarian Diets”, “The Role of Meat in the Early Development of Humans”, “The Benefits of Consuming Meat and Dairy Products”, “The Wishful Science and Myths about Vegetarianism/Veganism”, and “Common Traits of the World's Longest-Lived and Healthiest Peoples”

(The Best Years in Life) There is ample evidence that people who eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and little or no meat have several health advantages. However, the unpleasant truth for some vegetarians and vegans is that excluding meat and dairy can have dangerous health consequences unless people plan their diets carefully and supplement carefully. Such consequences include the possibility of long-term health issues as well as unhealthy changes in DNA which can be passed down to future generations.

An Introduction to Vegetarianism

There are many reasons why people become vegetarians or vegans including health, concerns about animal welfare, religious convictions, the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or a desire to avoid excessive use of environmental resources (etc). Another reason for following a vegetarian diet is not being able to afford meat. Also, becoming a vegetarian or vegan is now in vogue with articles and information on its health benefits appearing everywhere. Facebook is a good example. It also becomes more appealing and accessible because of the constant availability of fresh produce and more and more plant based recipes.
According to a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group, about six to eight million adults in the United States eat no meat. Several million more do not eat red meat but still eat fish or chicken. Around two million people have become vegans who forgo eating not only all animal flesh but also all animal-based products such as milk and other dairy products, eggs, and animal-based gelatin.

In the past, research on vegetarian diets focused on nutritional deficiencies. However, in recent years things have changed and now studies confirm the health benefits of not eating meat. Today, plant-based diets are touted to be superior to eating meat, containing sufficient nutrition, reducing the risk of illness and being a road back to health. The American Dietetic Association says that aappropriately 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."

The key words are: "Appropriately planned." Neglecting to follow the recommended guidelines on nutrition, such as appropriate fat consumption and weight control, a vegetarian or vegan diet can lead to chronic illness. If we want to split hairs, a diet soda, cheese pizza and candy are all technically "vegetarian." To maintain health, it is important to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is also imperative to replace saturated and trans fats with good fats. These can be found in nuts and olive oil, for example. It is important to keep in mind that, even with a vegetarian diet, if you eat too many calories, with low-fat plant-based foods, you will gain weight. Therefore, it is still important to control portions, read food labels, and exercise.

Being a vegetarian is not the only answer in maintaining health. For example, the Mediterranean Diet is associated with living longer and reducing the risk of chronic illness. The Mediterranean Diet places an emphasis on plant foods and eating meat sparingly. By following a Mediterranean diet, you can get many of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. For those not interested in becoming full vegetarians, you can add plant based sources of proteins, like beans. You can also add and substitute those for meats once or twice a week.
There are different varieties of vegetarians. A true vegetarian, does not eat meat, poultry, or seafood. However, vegetarians with different dietary patterns still call themselves vegetarians. Here are some examples:

• Vegans do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products or gelatin. They do not eat any products derived from animals.

• Lacto-ovo vegetarians: do eat eggs and dairy products but do not eat meat, poultry, or fish.

• Lacto vegetarians: do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do consume other dairy products.

• Ovo vegetarians do eat eggs, but otherwise eat no meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products.

• Partial vegetarians generally avoid meat but may eat fish They are called peso- vegetarians or pescatarians.


The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet is associated with a higher consumption of fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium, unsaturated fat, and countless phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as carotenoids and flavonoids. As a result, they're likely to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases.

Much of the benefits of vegetarian/vegan diets likely comes not only from the items they consume, but also from the items they avoid besides meat and/or dairy - such as processed foods and harmful ingredients like sugar. A properly planned vegan diet consists primarily of whole foods. It is often called a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based (WFPB) diet. This diet doesn’t just eliminate animal foods, it also eliminates a number of foods that science has shown to be harmful. For example:

• Refined sugar - Causes insulin resistance and fatty liver. Strong links to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
• Refined grains - Lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar, insulin resistance and weight gain. Strong links to many chronic, Western diseases (7, 8, 9)ega-6 fatty acids, increase inflammation and oxidative damage.
• Trans Fats - Extremely harmful, man-made fats found in processed foods and linked to many serious diseases, especially heart disease.
• Processed foods - which are low in nutrients and high in harmful ingredients and artificial chemicals.

Here are some of the other benefits which have been attributed to the adoption of a vegetarian (or vegan) lifestyle:

• Reduction in the Incidence of Diabetes - According to the George Washington University School of Medicine vegetarian diets can reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes by half and such diets also help with the management of diabetes. Other sources, such as the Loma Linda University School of Public Health concur that vegetarian diets are associated with a significant reduction in the incidence of diabetes.

• Less Risk of Cardiovascular Disease - According to the JCU University Skin Cancer Research Clinic, there is a relationship between a vegetarian diet and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Why? Most vegetarian diets are full of antioxidant rich foods. Antioxidants are molecules that can reduce the damage caused by oxidative stress, including atherosclerosis.

• Reduction in the Risk of Cancer - Hundreds of studies suggest that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing various kinds of cancers, and there is evidence that vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancer than non-vegetarians.

• Decreased Risk of Obesity and Stroke - In general, vegetarians and vegans tend to eat much more healthily as well as have healthier, more active lifestyles compared to meat eaters as a whole. In other words, the vegetarians and vegans eat less junk food, fast food and sugary foods and there are far fewer "couch potatoes" among the vegetarians and vegans. They are also far less likely to choose foods based on emotions or binge eat - habits that can greatly contribute to obesity. Notably, the incidence of stroke among people who are obese is much greater than it is for people who are not obese.

• Greater Longevity - People who eat lots of vegetables and fruits, maintain healthy, active lifestyles and avoid obesity as many vegetarians and vegans do, tend to live longer, often decades longer, than people who don't. All one has to do is look around at the ever-decreasing number of obese people among those who live well into their 70's, into their 80's, 90's and beyond. In addition to the risk of stroke, obese people are increasingly at risk of developing health problems as they age.

• Decreased Risk of Cataract Development - Research such as that released by University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine has shown a strong relationship between the risk of developing cataracts and diet. Meat eaters have a higher risk while vegetarians and vegans have the lowest risk.

• Less Chance of Developing Kidney Stones - According to the New York University Langone Medical Center, eliminating the consumption of animal protein in favor of vegetables will result in a higher urine pH and low urine pH has been associated with the formation of kidney stones.

• Improved Mood - Arachidonic acid is a substance that usually comes from dietary animal sources and, no surprise, vegetarian diets are not high in arachidonic acid. This can be beneficial, as research has shown a link between arachidonic acid and mood disturbances. Researchers at Benedictine University performed a study to investigate the impact of restricting animal products and mood and confirmed that mood improvements do happen when eating meat, fish, and poultry are restricted.

• Improved Mood - People whose diets include meat and other animal sources tend to have higher amounts of a substance known as arachidonic acid. Vegetarian diets, on the other hand, have lower amounts of the acid. is a substance that usually comes from and, no surprise, vegetarian diets are not high in arachidonic acid. Research has shown a link between arachidonic acid and disturbances in mood. A study performed by researchers at Benedictine University which investigated the impact of restricting animal products and mood found that there were improvements in mood when the consumption of meat, fish, and poultry are restricted.

• Improvement in Psoriasis Symptoms - The skin disease known as psoriasis causes skin redness and irregularity as well as irritation and it can be debilitating. However, research such as that published by Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, indicates that a vegetarian diet may improve psoriasis symptoms.

In addition, many proponents of vegetarian and vegan diets maintain that such diets can satisfy all nutritional requirements and that a comprehensive and well-designed vegetarian or vegan diet can be appropriate for all ages and all stages of life, including athletes, the elderly and even infants. Such well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets can result in less incidence of disease and better management of existing health problems.

This concludes Part 1 of this 4-part series. In Part 2, we will take a look at “Potential Dangers of Vegetarian Diets” as well as “The Role of Meat in the Early Development of Humans”.

See also:

The Health Benefits and Potential Dangers of Vegetarianism – Part 2

The Health Benefits and Potential Dangers of Vegetarianism – Part 3

The Health Benefits and Potential Dangers of Vegetarianism – Part 4

Sources for this article series included:

About the author

Tony Isaacs is a member of the National Health Federation and the American Botanical Council. He is a natural health advocate and researcher and the author of books and articles about natural health including "Cancer's Natural Enemy." Mr. Isaacs articles are featured at The Truth About Cancer, the Health Science Institute's Healthiertalk website, CureZone, the Crusador, Health Secrets, the Cancer Tutor, the Silver Bulletin, the New Zealand Journal of Natural Health, and several other venues. In addition, he hosts the Yahoo Oleandersoup Health group of over 3500 members and the CureZone Ask Tony Isaacs - Featuring Luella May forum. He is also the local moderator of the CureZone Cancer Alternatives forum. Tony and his partner Luella May host The Best Years in Life natural health website where their motto is "It's never too late or too early to begin living longer, healthier and happier lives."

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