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The Health Benefits and Potential Dangers of Vegetarianism – Part 2

by Tony Isaacs
author of
Cancer's Natural Enemy

In Part One of this four-part series, we examined “An Introduction to Vegetarianism” and “The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet”. In this second installment of the series we will look at “Potential Dangers of Vegetarian Diets” and “The Role of Meat in the Early Development of Humans”

Potential Dangers of Vegetarian Diets

Too many people believe that all they need to do to become vegetarians or vegans is to simply give up meat and perhaps dairy and all animal products. While that may be true it can also be decidedly dangerous. The fact is that unless a person plans their diet very well and supplements where needed they may be setting themselves up for serious problems. Despite all the studies which demonstrate the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet, other stories indicate the potential dangers of such diets.

In February, 2014 the vegetarian/vegan world was rocked by a blockbuster study published in the journal PLOS. In the study, Austrian researchers found that that people who eat only vegetables are less healthy in key health categories and that they also have a poorer quality of life than people who include some meat in their diets. The study found that vegetarians:

• Have a 50% increased risk of both heart attacks and cancer

• Visit their doctors more frequently and they are more prone to allergies

• Are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders

The study did find some significant health advantages for vegetarians, such as being more active physically, drinking less alcohol and smoking less tobacco; however, overall vegetarians' health was determined to be unhealthy compared to those whose diets included some meat.

In a study published March 29, 2016 in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, researchers from Oxford University found that vegetarianism can lead to genetic mutations which may make people more susceptible to inflammation, and in turn, increased risk of heart disease and colon cancer. Additionally, the researchers found that the mutations in the DNA are passed down to further generation, making those generation also susceptible to heart disease and cancer.

The mutation is believed to make absorption of necessary fatty acids from plants easier for vegetarians, but the mutation also boosts production of arachidonic acid, which can result in increased inflammatory disease and cancer.

The same Harvard report cited earlier which outlined some of the benefits of vegetarianism, the author also noted that many vegetarians may have reasons to be concerned about osteoporosis.

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Lacto-ovo vegetarians (see "An Introduction to Vegetarianism" in part one of this series) usually consume at least as much calcium as do meat-eaters. However, vegans typically consume less. In the EPIC-Oxford study, 75% of vegans consumed less calcium than the recommended daily amount, and in general vegans had higher rate of fractures. The study also found that vegans who got at least 525 milligrams of daily calcium were not particularly vulnerable to fractures.

People who follow a vegetarian diet and especially a vegan diet may be at risk of getting insufficient vitamin D and vitamin K, both essential for bone health. Although green leafy vegetables contain some vitamin K, vegans may also need to rely on taking a vitamin D2 supplement. Unfortunately, the far superior and more absorbable vitamin D3 comes from animals (the lanolin in sheep skin or fish oil). The best idea is to get as much natural vitamin D3 as possible from exposure to sunshine (20-30 minutes a day in the warmer months should do it).

Eliminating animal sources of protein such as meat, eggs, dairy, etc., can increase your risk for diet deficiencies as a recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) confirmed.

Here are seven key nutrients which vegetarians and vegans are often deficient in and food sources which can help offset deficiencies:

• Vitamin B12 - You should get at least 2.4 mg of Vitamin B12 every day. Failure to get enough B12 can result in several negative health consequences, including blood disorders, anxiety, and more. Vitamin B12 is also essential for optimum brain health and mental function. Good dietary sources of vitamin B12 include eggs and dairy products. Yeast and soy products also contain B12 (although it should be noted than many health authorities such as the Weston Price Foundation warn against consuming any form of soy except for non-GMO fermented soy). If you are not consuming some of the items listed here, you should take a daily B12 supplement.

• Calcium - Until age 50 you need at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day and thereafter you should get at least 1,200 mg per day. Calcium is essential for optimum bone health, although calcium alone is not enough for optimum bone health and you should make sure that you also take potassium and other bone-healthy items such as vitamin K2 and silica. Healthy sources of calcium include kale, turnips, collard greens, other dark green leafy vegetables and almonds. Note that since your body is only able to absorb so much calcium at one time, you should try to space out your consumption. Also note that salt and caffeine limit the amount of calcium your body is able to absorb.

• Iron - Men and people over 50 need those over 50 need 8 mg of iron per day. Women under 50 need 18 mg. Iron is needed for the body to produce healthy red blood cells. If you remove animals from your diet, getting adequate amounts can be tricky. Dark chocolate, lentils, white beans, and spinach all provide iron. Vitamin C can increase the absorption of iron. Thus, eating citrus fruits before or after you get your iron is a good idea.

• Zinc - Men need at least 11 mg of zinc per day and women need 8 mg. Zinc is essential for your immune system, metabolism, and cellular health. Since some of the staples of vegetable based diets, such as whole grains, contain compounds that reduce the absorption of zinc, it may be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get all the zinc they need. Good sources of zinc include oysters, chickpeas, beans, and most nuts as well as milk and yogurt for non-vegans.

• Leucine - Although there is no RDA for the amino acid leucine, it can play an important role in healthy muscle synthesis in older adults. While there's no RDA for leucine, this amino acid may play a big role in healthy muscle synthesis among older adults and it can also promote weight loss. Sources of leucine include soy protein, seaweed, lima beans, and turnip greens. Fish are a great source for leucine.

• Potassium - Potassium is important for muscle health and blood pressure and we all need at least 4,700 mg of potassium every day, which can be difficult for meat eaters as well as non-meat eaters. According to a 2012 study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition", less than 2 percent of Americans regularly consume enough potassium. Some of the healthiest sources of potassium include nuts, fruits and vegetables. Note that while many people associate bananas with potassium, one banana actually contains less than 10% of the potassium you need each day. Much better sources of potassium are butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. When you incorporate potassium-rich foods into every meal of the day, it is possible to reach the RDA of potassium and at the same time also increase your intake of other essential nutrients.

• Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) - Men need 1.3 mg of riboflavin every day and women need 1.1 mg. Inadequate consumption of riboflavin can lead to anemia. Too little of this B vitamin can lead to anemia, a sore throat, chapped or cracked lips, and several skin and eye issues. Lack of riboflavin may even increase your risk for some cancers. Milk and dairy products are the source of riboflavin for most people. Those who don't consume milk and dairy can get riboflavin from dark leafy greens, legumes, and nuts.

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The Role of Meat in the Early Development of Humans

Although many vegan/vegetarian advocates would have us believe that humans did not develop (or evolve if you prefer) as a meat eater, the truth is that humans and their proto-human ancestors have been butchering and eating meat. Not only that, but according to studies and scientific papers without a generous supply of animal protein man would not have developed into the modern, verbal, intelligent humans we are today.

In May, 2016 Time magazine published and article titled "Sorry Vegans: Here's How Meat-Eating Made Us Human". Citing a then-recently published study in the journal Nature, Time detailed how our proto-human ancestors turned to meat as a food source about 2. 6 million years ago, due to other sources of food becoming less plentiful as the forests retreated. The extra proteins found in meat led to the development of larger brains and, once they learned how to process meat, the larger teeth needed to rip meat from a carcass were not needed as much, so we developed smaller teeth and a less pronounced and muscular jaw. This, in turn, may have led to other changes in the skull and neck, favoring a larger brain and more advanced speech organs.

The article "Meat-eating was essential for human evolution, says UC Berkeley anthropologist specializing in diet", published at Berkley in 1999 also said that it was this new meat diet, full of densely-packed nutrients, that was the catalyst for human evolution, particularly the growth of the brain.

Without meat, said Milton, it's unlikely that proto-humans would have been able to secure enough energy and nutrition from the plants available in the African environment of the time to evolve into the active, sociable, and intelligent creatures they became. Receding forests would have made the more nutritious leaves and fruits that forest-dwelling primates survive on more and more scarce.

The third installment of this four-part article covers “The Benefits of Consuming Meat and Dairy Products” and “The Wishful Science and Myths about Vegetarianism/Veganism”.

See also:

The Health Benefits and Potential Dangers of Vegetarianism – Part 1

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:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/becoming-a-vegetarian
http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/9-health-benefits-of-a-vegetarian-diet
http://www.normschriever.com/blog/want-to-live-to-120-years-old-take-these-health-lessons-
from-the-longest-living-cultures-on-earth
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/31/ikaria-greece-longevity-secrets-age
http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2015/February/Secrets-to-Longevity-Revealed-in-Denominations-Lifestyle
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/539S.full
https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/the-china-study-myth/
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2006/02/23/why-the-china-study-is-
flawed.aspx
https://chriskresser.com/rest-in-peace-china-study/
http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/China-Study.html
http://www.aicr.org/about/advocacy/the-china-study.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/
https://deniseminger.com/2010/07/07/the-china-study-fact-or-fallac/
http://silverbulletin.utopiasilver.com/story-of-a-recovering-vegan/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3515293/Vegetarian-diet-raises-risk-heart-disease-
cancer.html
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160329184939.htm
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/10/29/why-are-vegetarians-at-risk-of-
heart-disease.aspx
http://www.prevention.com/health/vegetarian-nutrition-needs
http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/reasonable-ways-rda-potassium-9372.html
https://authoritynutrition.com/top-11-biggest-lies-about-vegan-diets/
http://www.medicaldaily.com/3-benefits-eating-meat-234798
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088278&type=printable
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22333737
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23213935
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19377768
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19386029
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21430115
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20845212
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22586505
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21912895
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439376
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864

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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