Nutrition & Health   > Vegetarian Diets: The Healthier Choice


by Sweta Shah --- Harvey, LA (11th Grade Study Paper)


As the people of the world become health-conscious, they are looking for newer, un-pharmaceutical ways of preserving and treating their health. Vegetarians, people whose diets exclude all meat products, eggs, poultry, and fish, have statistically proven that their diets are healthier than non-vegetarian diets. Vegetarian diets consist of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. In addition, research now shows that meat is not essential for health. Many people are switching to vegetarian diets. This paper examines vegetarian diets and proves that they are healthier than meat-inclusive diets.


We know that protein is necessary in a healthy diet; however, not everyone is aware about the multitude of vegetable protein sources. Protein is needed daily to grow and repair tissues and to maintain the body's functions. Also, many people fear vegetarian diets make people protein deficient, and then weak, sick, and anemic. Although vegetarians eat less protein than do meat-eaters, they readily get as much as they need from non-flesh sources. Even vegans, who eat only plant foods, get more than the minimum recommended level. In fact, non-vegetarian diets provide too much protein. The National Research Council has established that the average male should consume nine percent of his calories in the form of protein everyday. Inspection of published food tables reveals that most grain products, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables contain more than nine percent of their calories in the form of protein. Even the recommended nine percent is actually more than double the minimum requirement established by the World Health Organization and other experts.


In addition, many people believe that more protein will make them strong and is necessary for doing strenuous work; however, sports records show that vegetarian athletes surpass meat-eating athletes in events that require strength and endurance, such as running, swimming, and tennis. For instance, Pierreo Verot, a vegetarian, holds the world record for downhill endurance skiing. The world's record for distance butterfly stroke swimming is held by vegetarians James and Jonathan deDonato. Furthermore, vegetarians are more readily able to attain physical balance, mental clarity, and spiritual harmony -- factors that are critical in maintaining optimal health.


Formerly, vegetable proteins were classified as second-class, and regarded as inferior to first-class proteins of animal origin, but this distinction has now been generally discarded. It is now seen that the excessive amount of protein found in meat products is actually hazardous to health. Two diseases caused by the over-consumption of protein are osteoporosis and kidney stones.


Researchers at Michigan State University and other universities show that osteoporosis is caused by excessive protein. The more protein (especially from animal origin) a person consumes, the more calcium his or her body loses, resulting in osteoporosis. The high-protein diets cause a gradual decrease in bone density and eventually osteoporosis. The results of the study reported that by the age of 65 in the United States, vegetarian men have an average measurable bone loss of 3%; non-vegetarian men, 7%. Vegetarian women have an average measurable bone loss of 18%; non-vegetarian women, 35%. The study also shows that by the time a non-vegetarian woman reaches the age of 65, she has lost over one-third of her skeletal structure. On the contrary, older vegetarian women tend to remain active, maintain erect postures, and are less likely to fracture or break their bones.


Another problem caused by excessive protein is the production of kidney stones. Kidney stones are caused by the crystallization of the calcium that is lost from the bones in digesting the excess protein. The excessive protein consumption also results in the destruction of kidney tissue and the deterioration of the kidney itself. This is so because the kidney has to work harder to de-aminize and excrete the excess protein out of the body.


Besides proteins, saturated fats and cholesterol play an important role in a person's health. Although some fats are necessary in a balanced diet for body maintenance, excess saturated fats are hazardous. Animal fats are heavier and stickier, and they agglutinate blood cells, thus increasing the viscosity of blood, restricting blood flow, and raising blood pressure. When the blood stops moving, it causes a clot in the artery. These clots result in many forms of heart diseases. Similarly, cholesterol, which is found only in animal foods, deposits in artery walls and causes the arteries to clog.


Approximately thirty-eight percent of all deaths are caused by heart attacks, in the United States. Recent medical research indicates that a high-fat, low-fiber diet centered on meat is a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the three major risk factors in heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking. In 1985, the AHA said, "We have good evidence that most people...can reduce a major risk of having a heart attack by following a cholesterol lowering plan....Foods of plant origin, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, contain no cholesterol. These foods are highly recommended."


Although absent in plant foods, cholesterol is present in meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. Cholesterol is the main component of the plaque that builds up in arteries, causing atherosclerosis." All of these foods, with the exception of seafood, are also high in saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol produce atherosclerosis, which leads directly to heart diseases and strokes. Diets low in saturated fats and cholesterol decrease atherosclerosis, and lower the probability of heart diseases and strokes. The AHA recommends cutting back in foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which are found mainly in animal products. The AHA recommends that people use beans, lentils, tofu, and other plant foods instead of meat in their main course.


In addition, nutritional studies show that vegetarians consume less cholesterol and saturated fats and have lower levels of cholesterol. Studies also show that meat- eaters have higher rates of atherosclerosis and fatal heart diseases. For example, the average non-vegetarian runs a fifty percent risk of having a heart attack; whereas, a vegetarian runs only fifteen percent risk of having a heart attack (Jainism 11).


Vegetarian diets with a lower saturated fat content are also a method for reversing disease. A California physician became renowned worldwide for prescribing vegetarian diets to people with heart disease. A significantly lowered fat content is the key ingredient in restoring health. Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, head of heart disease reversal studies says, "If everyone in the country was eating a low-fat vegetarian diet, heart disease could be as rare as malaria."


Recently, Harvard University and Michio Kushi completed a study to discern the effects of macrobiotics on blood and cardiovascular strength and overall condition. People who normally lived their lives on vegetarian foods were asked to change to a more standard American diet, containing meats, heavy sauces, sweets, and processed foods. After a few weeks, the results showed that the people's cardiovascular systems and blood conditions suffered from it.


In addition to heart diseases, colon and breast cancers are also directly related to the amount of fats and cholesterol consumed. The Association for the Advancement of Science states that "populations on high-meat, high-fat diets are more likely to develop colon cancer than individuals on vegetarian...diets." Evidence from a study conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, reports that the greater the fat intake of a person, the higher the risk he or she has of contracting colon cancer. Similarly, the more fat a woman consumes in her lifetime, the more likely she is to obtain breast cancer. In a study conducted at the National Cancer Research Institute in Tokyo by Dr. Hirayama, the results show that women who consume meat daily face an almost four times greater risk of getting breast cancer than those who eat no meat.


Cutting out fatty meats and substituting lighter plant proteins have amazing effects on general health and well-being. Not only that, but vegetarian diets can, in many cases, actually reverse diseases. Many cases of miraculous cancer remission effected by adopting a vegetarian diet have been reported. An example of this is the story of Dr. Anthony Satlilaro. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1978. The cancer then spread to his lungs as he underwent traditional medical therapy. When he had only six months left to live, he tried a vegetarian diet. Eighteen months later, a CAT scan performed on him showed that he was completely rid of both cancers.


Most non-vegetarians think that vegetarians are weak, skinny, and anemic; however, it is seen that most vegetarians experience better than average health and typically live physically active and demanding lives. People who have adopted vegetarian diets say that they experience many benefits. They say that they sleep better and for fewer hours and still wake up feeling more refreshed and energetic than they did before. Many feel "they are now able to participate in life more than they thought possible."


In addition to these physical benefits, a person can enjoy the meals because they can be prepared many different ways, to suit various tastes. People who have adopted vegetarian diets say that they are now able to eat more foods with fewer calories, fats, and cholesterol.


Vegetarian diets should avoid some pitfalls. For example, some foods are prepared with too much salt. They cause the water to be drawn out of blood cells, creating a dehydration of tissues and causing a water retention problem in the body. Excessive sodium overburdens the kidneys and forces the heart to work twice as fast in response. This leads to dehydration, hypertension, and increased blood pressure levels. Another precaution is that you must consume dark green and leafy vegetables, which are a major source of the essential vitamins A and E. Finally, a proper combination of all food groups (grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits) should be maintained in proportion.


The foods that were once believed to be the foundations of good health are actually found to be detrimental to one's health and the causes of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis, kidney stones, heart disease, cancer, etc. In addition, those foods that were once looked upon as nutritionally deficient are now proven to be healthy and even helpful in reversing all above illnesses. Therefore, a vegetarian diet is the healthiest choice one can make.




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Jainism and Animal Issues: Handbook for Compassionate Living. "Some Winner Arguments." Oct. 1996.


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