Who’s Healthier — Vegetarians or Meat Eaters?

In the United States there is a fairly common belief based on dubious research and media hype that vegetarian diets are healthier and protective against cancer. I would like to set that myth to rest, because to date, the studies have not been clear on this.

Let’s start with a close look at the popular 2005 book The China Study.

If you have read this book, you know that on the surface it appears to make quite a case against consuming animal protein. It asserts that higher animal protein intakes were clearly associated with increased risk of cancer.

First, it cites animal studies of the book’s author, US researcher Dr. T. Colin Campbell, which found that feeding casein (a protein from milk) to rodents gave them cancer. The author then reasoned that human research was needed, so he looked to China where he hypothesized that China’s lower rates of cancer could be due to their lower intake of animal protein.

There are a couple of problems with the whole premise. First, while China does have lower rates of some cancers, it has the highest rate of stomach cancer in the world!1 That fact is never discussed in the book.

Second, when you analyze the studies upon which the book was based, you find that the rates of cancer for meat eaters did increase, but only slightly. In fact, as one author who analyzed the China study data pointed out, animal protein increased rates of cancer only slightly and smoking did not increase rates of cancer at all.2

With these results not being definitive, and in some instances so contrary to other research, we need to compare them to the work of other researchers.

In doing so, we find that other studies have not confirmed the China study data. For instance, a study from 20063 found no differences in “cancer rates between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.” This study found that vegetarians did tend to have lower BMIs and lower cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians. They also had 20% fewer deaths from ischemic heart disease.

These findings led many to conclude that vegetarian diets are healthier, but when it comes to overall mortality, there is s no difference in vegetarians versus non-vegetarians.

If you look beyond cancer, is a vegetarian diet any more healthful overall than a diet that includes meat? Again, no — and research proves it.

  • A Dutch review of the issue concluded that a vegetarian diet conferred no more benefit than a diet that included plenty of unrefined plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes, but which also included animal protein. On the other hand, according to their literature review, a vegetarian diet does significantly increase one’s risk of certain nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc — especially in vegans.4
  • Another study found that vegetarian diets were associated with lower vitamin B12 status and therefore to increased levels of artery-clogging homocysteine.5
  • A Slovakian researcher has stated that the healthiest inhabitants of Northern Europe are from Iceland, Switzerland and Scandinavia, populations that consume high amounts of animal protein.6

This is the type of balanced reporting that I find to be missing in many discussions of vegetarianism.

I do want to acknowledge that meat consumption is less healthy today than in the past. Fats in meats store pesticides and other toxins that occur in the environment. However, I do not feel a massive shift to vegetarian diets would improve our health statistics, especially in the 25% or so of the population who are insulin resistant.

So, what kind of diet do I recommend? Whole and unprocessed plant foods for their lowered health risks. Eat more vegetables and salads, and some fruit and beans, but limit grains and starchy foods to tolerance.

Unprocessed, organic animal proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish should also be included. Red meat can be eaten, but limited to no more than once a week. Grass-fed beef and bison are good red meat choices.

This is the diet we find to be most successful for the majority of people. It provides immediate health benefits like weight and cholesterol lowering, and is still satisfying. And so far the evidence shows that it will be just as protective against cancer.

The author of the Slovakian study cited above concluded as I do, that it is “ample consumption of fruits and vegetables, not the exclusion of meat,” that makes one healthier.

[Ed. Note: James LaValle is the founding Director of the LaValle Metabolic Institute, one of the largest integrative medicine practices in the country. Dr. LaValle is the author of The Metabolic Code Diet: Unleashing the Power of Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss and Vitality and the Executive Editor of THB’s The Healing Prescription To learn more, Click Here]

References
1. http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/types/stomach/incidence/.
2. www.westonaprice.org/bookreviews/chinastudy.html.
3. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006; 65(1):35-41.
4. Arch Pub Health. 2005, 63:1-16.
5. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50:485-491.
6. Ginter E. Bratisl Lek Listy. 2008. 109(10):463-6.

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Health Topic: Diet and Nutrition | General Health

Comments:

  1. Anonymous says:

    In the United States there is a fairly common belief based on dubious research and media hype that vegetarian diets are healthier and protective against cancer. I would like to set that myth to rest, because to date, the studies have not been clear on this.
    Let’s start with a close look at the popular 2005 book The China Study.

    If you have read this book, you know that on the surface it appears to make quite a case against consuming animal protein. It asserts that higher animal protein intakes were clearly associated with increased risk of cancer.

    First, it cites animal studies of the book’s author, US researcher Dr. T. Colin Campbell, which found that feeding casein (a protein from milk) to rodents gave them cancer. The author then reasoned that human research was needed, so he looked to China where he hypothesized that China’s lower rates of cancer could be due to their lower intake of animal protein.

    There are a couple of problems with the whole premise. First, while China does have lower rates of some cancers, it has the highest rate of stomach cancer in the world!1 That fact is never discussed in the book.

    Second, when you analyze the studies upon which the book was based, you find that the rates of cancer for meat eaters did increase, but only slightly. In fact, as one author who analyzed the China study data pointed out, animal protein increased rates of cancer only slightly and smoking did not increase rates of cancer at all.2

    With these results not being definitive, and in some instances so contrary to other research, we need to compare them to the work of other researchers.

    In doing so, we find that other studies have not confirmed the China study data. For instance, a study from 20063 found no differences in “cancer rates between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.” This study found that vegetarians did tend to have lower BMIs and lower cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians. They also had 20% fewer deaths from ischemic heart disease.

    These findings led many to conclude that vegetarian diets are healthier, but when it comes to overall mortality, there is s no difference in vegetarians versus non-vegetarians.

    If you look beyond cancer, is a vegetarian diet any more healthful overall than a diet that includes meat? Again, no — and research proves it.

    •A Dutch review of the issue concluded that a vegetarian diet conferred no more benefit than a diet that included plenty of unrefined plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes, but which also included animal protein. On the other hand, according to their literature review, a vegetarian diet does significantly increase one’s risk of certain nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc — especially in vegans.4
    •Another study found that vegetarian diets were associated with lower vitamin B12 status and therefore to increased levels of artery-clogging homocysteine.5
    •A Slovakian researcher has stated that the healthiest inhabitants of Northern Europe are from Iceland, Switzerland and Scandinavia, populations that consume high amounts of animal protein.6
    This is the type of balanced reporting that I find to be missing in many discussions of vegetarianism.

    I do want to acknowledge that meat consumption is less healthy today than in the past. Fats in meats store pesticides and other toxins that occur in the environment. However, I do not feel a massive shift to vegetarian diets would improve our health statistics, especially in the 25% or so of the population who are insulin resistant.

    So, what kind of diet do I recommend? Whole and unprocessed plant foods for their lowered health risks. Eat more vegetables and salads, and some fruit and beans, but limit grains and starchy foods to tolerance.

    Unprocessed, organic animal proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish should also be included. Red meat can be eaten, but limited to no more than once a week. Grass-fed beef and bison are good red meat choices.

    This is the diet we find to be most successful for the majority of people. It provides immediate health benefits like weight and cholesterol lowering, and is still satisfying. And so far the evidence shows that it will be just as protective against cancer.

    The author of the Slovakian study cited above concluded as I do, that it is “ample consumption of fruits and vegetables, not the exclusion of meat,” that makes one healthier.

  2. Alberto says:

    We can do all of the above, plus meat… :P

  3. Anonymous says:

    im vegetarian

  4. Megan says:

    I think the point of the study is to prove that LARGE unnecesary amounts of animal meats and dairy products CAUSE DISEASE. Heart disease, cancers, degenerative disease, diabetes. The only other solution to these diseases are medications that treat symptoms. Plant based eating is proven to work and reverse diseases. Not saying that no one can never eat meat, but it should definitely be extremely limited.

  5. Sylvia says:

    I think that Americans are just making excuses to eat meat. It has been proven that red meat and alcohol (more than one drink per day) will increase a women’s chance of breast cancer by 43%. Also, if you go and eat that chicken from KFC or the grocery store (unless it’s organic) you can expect to be filling yourself full of all kinds of wonderful hormones and antibiotics. Red meat is the same unless you purchase grass fed, organic beef. But is it really organic? All cows are shot up with antibiotics, no matter where they come from. And let’s talk about that fish that is supposed to be so healthy. Most salmon is farm-raised, also shot up with antibiotics and hormones. And let’s take a look at our oceans now. Full of junk and garbage that scumbags have thrown into the ocean. The fish eat this. And then you eat the fish. Thank you very much but I will stay a vegetarian.

    • Concerned says:

      right… And ‘organic’ vegatables are a scam because they use worse pesticides than the non-organic because of law to have organic label. Please we treat out vegatables and fruit the same way filled with pesticides think about that before the whole ‘meat is bad’ when you have several health problems too.

  6. Katherine says:

    There were studies (Davis, 1928, per example) which prove how a mixed diet leads to something laymen reffer to as “organism wisdom”, where, when we feel a craving for a specific meal, we think how vitamins and other ingredients from it are needed in our organism. This study (and the ones afterward), also proved how people (and animals, as well) with strict diets don’t adapt as fast to diet changes (due to health issues, per example). In my opinion, nowadays people think you should either eat just meat or be a strict vegetarian; I guess just to prove their dedication and less about them caring about their health. I don’t get it, frankly. A mixed diet proved it’s obviously beneficial, and I don’t get how people aren’t aware of that. Also the “vegetables are healthier ’cause they’re not filled with all kinds of hormones” excuse is ridiculous, since there’s a lot of things which affect plant foods, and just because pesticides weren’t used doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest thing in the world. I’ve heard of cases where plant foods were being sold as organic, but later it was revealed how regulations weren’t followed, since it’s cheaper and faster to use certain pesticides and afterward it would be sold as organic food, since the price is higher. However, when a person goes by the “meat is murder” logic, that has more to do with morals and less with health, and I suppose that has some meaning to it. Quite a well written and informatory article, might I add.

  7. Vegan Man says:

    I think there is a point that needs to be made that speaks the most sense but is rarely spoken among vegans and canivores alike. If eating meat is a “true” function of humans than why do animals have to be skinned, de-boned, cooked, and prepared in order for humans to be able to eat and digest them. In the contrary 90% of the plants that humans eat can be eaten right out of the ground, off a tree, off a bush, or a vine. The other 10% are things that we probably can do without eating in the first place like certain grains and wheats. My point is that no other carnivorous animal on the face of the planet has to “prepare” an animal before it is eaten and digested. This isn’t a bloated opinion……I can care less what people eat. If you want to die with a hamburger in your gut then by all means knock yourself out. But to think that we were anatomically built to eat and digest other animals goes against the rest of the animals that are built for animal consumption on the planet. I would also like to kill the notion that vegans are malnourished. Do a search for vegan bodybuilding and you will see vegans with bodies that will make bloated meat eaters envy. You can get all of the vitamins and nutrients needed for everyday living without sucking down dead animals. I have the body of a brickhouse and can perfectly see every muscle I have worked hard to carve out due to the fact I don’t eat animal fats and processed foods. In short live life the way you want…..but don’t down vegans because regardless of what you may believe WE ARE healthier than meat-eaters and it’s not even close.

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