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Question Kurma, do you think it's healthier to be a vegetarian than a meat eater?
I am doing a school project and have chosen this subject. Please send me some facts!
Karl Francis, Wagga, NSW Australia

AnswerG'day Karl!
Here are a few facts and figures about the health advantages of a vegetarian diet. Hope it helps.

  • After reviewing 4,500 scientific studies and papers on the relationship between cancer and lifestyle, a team of 15 scientists sponsored by two leading cancer research institutions advised that those interested in reducing their risk of many types of cancer consume a diet that is mostly fruits, vegetables, cereals and legumes. They declared that up to 40 percent of cancers are preventable, with diet, physical activity and body weight appearing to have a measurable bearing on risk. In 1996 the American Cancer Society released similar guidelines, including the recommendation that red meat be excluded entirely from the diet.
  • Eating a plant-based diet guards against disease, first in an active way, with complex carbohydrates, phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre; then by default: The more plant foods you eat the less room you have for the animal foods that clog arteries with cholesterol, strain kidneys with excess protein and burden the heart with saturated fat. The American Dietetic Association acknowledges a relationship between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk of coronary-artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer.
  • An English study that compared the diets of 6,115 vegetarians and 5,015 meat eaters for 12 years found that the meatless diet yielded a 40 percent lower risk of cancer and a 20 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. According to William Castelli, M.D., director of the famed Framingham Heart Study, vegetarians outlive meat eaters by 3 to 6 years.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly toxic chemicals once used widely in a number of industrial applications. Though they are now banned in the United States and other Western countries, their residues have tended to accumulate in the fatty tissue of fish. In autumn 1998, a study showed that prenatal exposure to PCBs, even relatively small amounts, can impair intellectual development in children. Aside from fish, PCBs can be found in other high-fat foods such as cheese, butter, beef and pork. Women who plan to become pregnant were also advised by the study to avoid foods containing PCBs because the chemicals can remain in their bodies for years.
  • Adult-onset diabetes is irrefutably linked to fat in the diet. Researchers have found that when diabetics adhere to a low-fat, high-fiber, complex-carbohydrate (vegetarian) diet they are often able to reduce or even eliminate their insulin dosages. Tragically, as people around the world increasingly adopt meat-based diets, their incidences of this disease - which leads to aggressive atherosclerosis, gangrene, blindness and kidney failure - rise dramatically.
  • Though osteoporosis is a disease of calcium deficiency, it is not one of low calcium intake. One cause of the bone disorder is too much protein in the diet. Excess protein can leach calcium from the bones. Famed diet innovator Nathan Pritikin has noted that African Bantu women on low-protein diets take in a third of US-recommended daily allowances of calcium. "They bear nine children during their lifetime and breast-feed them for two years. They never have calcium deficiency [and] never break a bone." The typical meat-eating Australian is eating about five times as much protein as needed.
  • The iron in animal foods is more readily absorbed than the iron in plant foods. Once this was thought to be an advantage of meat, but researchers have found that just as with protein you can get too much of a good thing. Excess iron can be a catalyst in the formation of free radicals - unstable molecules that attack other molecules, setting off a chain reaction of cellular destruction. Overloading on it can lead to increased risk for cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and infertility. A vegetarian is likely to have safer levels of stored iron.
  • Animal foods are high in sodium, which causes the blood to retain water. They also cause plaque to build up in the arteries, narrowing the flow area for blood. Combine these phenomena and you have a recipe for a disease that afflicts about 50 million Americans: high blood pressure. You can take calcium channel blockers and diuretics to control it, but you risk losing intellectual function if you do, studies warn.

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