The Cost of Meat—The Personal Health Argument

By Lynn Truong on 21 May 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) comments
Photo: iStockphoto

This continues from "The Cost of Meat—Too High To Pay." The Personal Health Argument attempts to show that there is few, if any, benefit from eating meat. This will cover heart disease, cancer, and calcium intake.

While the meat/dairy industry would have us believe we need both in every meal to have a balanced diet, many studies have shown a high correlation between meat/dairy consumption and major health problems, including heart disease and cancer. Significant decrease in health problems have been associated with moving to a plant-based diet.

The following information is taken from John Robbins' The Food Revolution. The references I list here are not as detailed as his endnotes (page numbers, dates, etc.), but should be sufficient information to find through a quick search on the web. If any information does not have a source listed, it did not have a source cited in The Food Revolution.

Heart Disease

  • A high blood cholesterol level is the single greatest risk factor for heart disease. —"Atherosclerotic Risk Factors: Are There Ten or Is There Only One?" American Journal of Cardiology
  • The single most important factor in raising blood cholesterol levels is the consumption of saturated fat.
  • Meat contributes an extraordinarily significant percentage of the saturated fat in the American diet. —"Where's the Ground Beef Labeling?" Nutrition Action
  • The primary dietary sources of cholesterol are eggs, shellfish, chicken, beef, fish, pork, cheese, butter, and milk.
  • Chicken has about as much cholesterol as beef.
  • Eating the standard American diet that's based on meat and dairy products, with plenty of white flour and white sugar, one-third of the women and one-half of the men in the U.S. population die of heart disease. Meanwhile, vegetarians and vegans not only have far less heart disease, but also have lower rates of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, kidney disease, obesity, and colon disease. —The Dietitian's Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications
  • Vegetarians have the lowest rates of coronary heart disease of any group in the country. —William Castelli, M.D., Framingham Health Study
  • In regions where meat is scarce, cardiovascular disease is unknown. —"The Irradiation Controversy" Time Magazine
  • No plant food contains any cholesterol.
  • People with high blood pressure are seven times more likely to suffer a stroke, four times more likely to have a heart attack, and five times more likely to die of congestive heart failure than people with normal blood pressure.
  • Incidence of high blood pressure in meat eaters compared to vegetarians: Nearly triple —"Low Blood Pressure in Vegetarians…" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  • Patients with high blood pressure who achieve substantial improvement by switching to a vegetarian diet: 30-75 percent —"A Vegan Regimen with Reduced Medication in the Treatment of Hypertension" British Medical Journal

Cancer

  • In 1996 the American Cancer Society released guidelines calling for a reduction in meat intake to lower the risk of cancer.
  • The primary route through which many environmental carcinogens enter the human body is through food, and specifically through animal products.
  • Dioxin is a carcinogen.
  • The EPA says that up to 95% of human dioxin exposure comes from red meat, fish, and dairy products. —"FDA Launches Study on Dioxin…" Food Chemical News
  • A low-fat plant-based diet would not only lower the heart attack rate about 85%, but would lower the cancer rate 60 percent. —William Castelli, M.D., Director, Framingham Health Study

Prostate Cancer

  • Just as data indicate a strong connection between consumption of animal fat, high blood pressure, and stroke, so too does the evidence suggest stunning correlations between dairy consumption and prostate cancer.
  • Most common cancer among American men: Prostate cancer
  • Rick of prostate cancer for men who consume high amounts of dairy products: 70% increase. —"Dairy Products Linked to Prostate Cancer" Associated Press

Colon Cancer

>Of all forms of cancer, colon cancer may be the most strongly linked to diet.

  • Risk of colon cancer for women who eat red meat daily compared to those who eat it less than once a month: 250 percent greater. —Caldwell Esselstyn, Beyond Surgery
  • Risk of colon cancer or people who eat red meat once a week compared to those who abstain: 38 percent greater —"Dietary Risk Factors for Colon Cancer in a Low-Risk Population" American Journal of Epidemiology
  • Risk of colon cancer for people who eat poultry once a week compared to those who abstain: 55 percent greater —"Dietary Risk Factors for Colon Cancer in a Low-Risk Population" American Journal of Epidemiology
  • Risk of colon cancer for people who eat poultry four times a week compared to those who abstain: 200-300 percent greater —"Dietary Risk Factors for Colon Cancer in a Low-Risk Population" American Journal of Epidemiology

Calcium and Bones

The ubiquitous "milk moustache" ads have made us believe we need milk to get enough calcium. The milk industry is trying to imply that calcium intake from milk will lower the risk of osteoporosis and high blood pressure, that it helps women have stronger bones and help bone growth in among growing children. These are misleading claims, because many studies have linked the intake of animal protein to bone loss (animal protein is present in dairy), and showing a worse calcium balance with increased dairy consumption. These studies have shown that the more animal protein we eat, the more calcium we lose.

  • In an effort to prove their claims that milk helps prevent bone loss, the National Dairy Council funded a study where post-menopausal women drank three additional 8-ounce glasses of skim milk compared to the control group of post-menopausal women. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that women who drank the extra milk actually lost more calcium from their bones than the control group of women who did not drink it. —"The Effect of Milk Supplements on Calcium Metabolism…" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  • January 2001, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that reported a dramatic correlation between the ratio of animal to vegetable protein in the diets of elderly women and their rate of bone loss. Even after adjusting for age, weight, estrogen use, tobacco use, exercise, calcium intake, and total protein intake, the women who had high ratio of animal to vegetable protein had 3x the rate of bone loss as the women with low ratio of animal to vegetable protein.
  • Studies have also shown elderly people with the highest dairy product consumption actually had double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption. —"Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in the Elderly" American Dietetic Association
  • Countries with the highest consumption of dairy products: Finland, Sweden, United States, England —McDougall, John McDougall's Medicine
  • Countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis: Finland, Sweden, U.S., England —McDougall, John McDougall's Medicine
  • Amount of calcium loss in women after eating a hamburger: 28 milligrams —Connie Weaver, Ph.D., of Purdue University, at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's Summit on the Dietary Guidelines 2000
  • Amount of calcium loss in woman after drinking a cup of coffee: 2 milligrams —Connie Weaver, Ph.D., of Purdue University, at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's Summit on the Dietary Guidelines 2000
  • The milk industry argue that milk is the best way to get calcium, because of its bio-availability (how much calcium is absorbed by our digestive system), and that it would be difficult to meet our daily calcium needs without milk.
  • Studies have shown vegans get an average of 627mg/day (amount in one glass of milk is 300mg). —"A Comparative Evaluation of Vegan, Vegetarian, and Omnivore Diets" Journal of Plant Foods; "Nutrient Intakes and Eating Behavior Scores of Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian Women" Journal of the American Dietetic Association
  • The level of calcium that the federal government has set as the daily requirement has been set controversially high, primarily due to the political pressure of the dairy industry. 90% of all Americans don't reach it.
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Guest

Let me preface this with IANAD (I am not a doctor), nor do I pretend to be one on the Internet. But I have to question a few of your points above.

Coconuts and avocados both contain cholesterol. Neither is an animal product.

My doctor's advice to me about high cholesterol is that diet was the *smallest* contributing factor to cholesterol levels, not the largest. In decreasing order of relevance, she said, were heredity, exercise level, fish oil supplements (more specifically, Omega-3 fatty acids), and finally, diet. Should I eat eggs for breakfast? Probably not. Will it make as big a difference as my genetics or getting 90 minutes a week of exercise? Not even close.

Guest's picture
Joan

Coconuts and avocados contain saturated fats, they do not contain cholesterol. Only animal products contain cholesterol.