We begin with several brief excerpts from Dr. Ron Schmid's Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine: Improving Health and Longevity with Native Nutrition :
"Many individuals have recovered from diseases on vegetarian diets. Most have included dairy foods or at least occasional fish or poultry in their regimens. When well balanced, such natural foods diets are far superior to those diets rich in commercial meat, white flour, and sugar eaten by most people. Strict vegetarian diets that exclude all animal foods (known as vegan diets) often result in better health and the alleviation of serious problems . . . But the success of vegan diets is usually self-limiting. By avoiding all animal foods and animal fats, nutrients essential for development of optimal strength, resistance to disease, and reproductive capacity are lacking. Individuals on strictly vegan diets may thrive for several weeks, months or even years, but in the vast majority of cases problems eventually appear." pp18-19
"Those vegetarians eating no animal-source foods often develop problems involving mineral metabolism and vitamin B12 deficiencies or both. But until then many strict vegetarians feel good, and such exclusively vegetarian diets often intitially help people suffering from chronc diseases. However, the addition of animal-source foods of proper quality enhances results." p74
"The [macrobiotic] type of diet has indeed been followed in many parts of the world at times, particularly in the Far East where population growth in geographical areas with limited resources necessitated the use of more grains and less foods of animal origin. Traditional cultures with choices, however, always have used more animal-source foods than the tiny percentage macrobiotics advocates. The notion that whole grains formed the basis of the diet of all cancer-free societies is entirely contrary to information from scores of anthropologists, nutritionists, and medical researchers who have investigated this subject since [1900 or] the turn of the [twentieth] century." p94
"Small children eating macrobiotic diets with their parents sometimes show failure to thrive (slow growth, underweight and lethargy) due to deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins (especially vitamin D), vitamin B12, essential fatty acids, calcium, and perhaps other nutrients. These children and their parents, who are often fatigued and sickly, suffer from a lack of raw food and animal-source nutrients; dietary adjustments invariably have led to marked improvement within weeks." p95
SOOOO - Although the same cannot be said for strict vegan diets, we see that it is without question that many people have indeed improved or recovered from serious disease by following HIGH QUALITY, CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED vegetarian diets. And without question, a well constructed vegetarian diet (especially one that contains at least some animal protein and fat) is far better than the Standard American Diet high in refined grain, sugars and poor quality fats.
But more often than not BOTH the choice to become a vegetarian - or vegan - AND just how a high quality vegetarian diet should be constructed are based on inaccurate, incomplete or conflicting information from a wide variety of mostly commercially-backed sources rather than from sound science or what is shown in the historical record.
In addition, many people commit to less-than-healthy vegetarian diets for political or environmental reasons that are not firmly grounded in facts. The media is often complicit in what amounts to a disinformation campaign, if at times only by default.
For example, contributing to the idea that vegetarian diets are - in and of themselves - somehow inherently good for us were the early and widely reported successes of clients of the Pritikin Institute which during the 1970's helped popularize the idea that low fat, high carb diets were actually key to certain health conditions, especially heart disease and weight management. However, as Ann Louise Gittleman (who was director of nutrition at the Pritikin Center) later revealed in her book Beyond Pritikin: A Total Nutrition Program for Rapid Weight Loss, Longevity, & Good Health, many of these same clients later gained back at least as much weight as they had lost even while following the same low fat diets.
Even worse, and although heart problems often cleared up for Pritikin clients, many developed new health problems ranging from arthritis to chronic yeast infections to unwanted weight gain to PMS problems and more. Gittleman, along with countless other authors, went on to write numerous books which advocated a diet that included more animal protein and fat. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of this kind of information - along with substantial historical information on the essential elements shared by all healthy diets - never made the mainstream and the diet wars continue today unabated.
Dr. Ron Schmid, excerpted above, presents a good summary of his experience and findings with respect to the Prititkin program in his book Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine: Improving Health and Longevity with Native Nutrition :
"For several years I worked in a large New York medical practice with individuals on the Pritkin diet for heart and circulatory problems. Larger amounts of high-quality animal foods, especially fish, shellfish, and liver, enabled people on the diet to follow the routine more consistently and yielded greater improvements than seen in individuals following the standard Pritikin regime. Because of his success, Pritikin wrote that his diet is 'the world's healthiest diet. . . ' and that 'for centuries the hardiest, most long-lived peoples in the world have thrived on these foods' . . . [Indeed it is true that] for centuries, the hardiest, most long-lived peoples in the world have indeed thrived on fresh vegetables and whole grains - among other foods. But the strongest of these cultures - in which cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases were extremely rare - used substantial portions of the highest quality animal-source foods. . . Pritikin's work is significant and important. . . But selective use of circumstantial evidence is misleading, and the program does not consider evidence from anthropology, human evolution, and recent medical research . . . Yet no reference is made to other traditional cultures eating large amounts of animal protein and enjoying similar resistance. . . That Pritikin's program has been of benefit to many individuals is undeniable. But the same program helping initially may not maintain an individual's health." p87
Here are a few little-known facts:
- The annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian men is SLIGHTLY MORE than that of non-vegetarian men (.93% vs .89%); the annual all-cause death rate of vegetarian women is SIGNIFICANTLY MORE than that of non-vegetarian women (.86% vs .54%) (Am J Clin Nutr 1982 36:873)
- The International Atherosclerosis Project found that vegetarians had just as much atherosclerosis as meat eaters. (Lab Invest 1968 18:498)
- The fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly UNSATURATED (74%) of which 41% are POLYUNSATURATED [or the kind found in vegetable oils]. (Lancet 1994 344:1195)
- Saturated fatty acids in the blood are not an appropriate marker of dietary fat intake but are rather a marker of carbohydrate intake. Mary Enig, PhD
- "You do NOT need to eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables to get your daily supply of vitamins. While we do get some vitamins from fruits and vegetables, we can get most of them from animal foods. Even more importantly, there are many vitamins and cofactors that we ONLY get from animal foods. This means that if you don’t eat any animal foods you will probably develop a deficiency in some vitamin. . . and except for chromium, animal foods supply more of each mineral. . .The truth is, vitamins and minerals are abundantly available in animal foods, and generally animal foods supply more of them per individual serving than does any single serving of a fruit, vegetable, or grain." From Life Without Bread by Christian B. Alan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, M.D.
- "You do not have to eat carbohydrates to have them available for energy. Your body can make carbohydrates as needed, if the protein supply is adequate. Reducing your daily intake of carbs to 72 grams or less . . . will result in more energy at your disposal, as long as you eat plenty of fat and protein. [Further] many organs prefer fat for energy. . .We have all been led to believe that low-fat diets are heart-healthy. But did you know that your heart primarily uses fat for energy? That’s right. Carbs contributes very little to the energy necessary to keep your heart beating, and the preferred fat is saturated fat." From Life Without Bread by Christian B. Alan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, M.D., p 56
- "Evidence that carbohydrates contributed to poor health can be found from fossils obtained both before and after Paleolithic times. During the last forty thousand years, skeletal remains have provided important clues. At the beginning of this preagricultural period, the anthropologist Lawrence Angel found that adult males averaged 5 feet 11 inches in height and adult females about 5 feet 6 inches. Twenty thousand years later, after agriculture and carbohydrate consumption were abundant, the males averaged 5 feet, six inches and the females averaged 5 feet. . . Tooth loss at death shows a similar trend. In 30,000 B.C. adults died with 2.2 teeth missing; in 6,500 B.C. they averaged 3.5 missing; during Roman times there were 6.6 teeth missing. These trends suggest that health was compromised by the introduction of large amounts of carbs into the diet, and that the negative effects were experienced from the beginning. . . " From Life Without Bread by Christian B. Alan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, M.D., p 190
- ". . .The truth is, more people are dying of heart disease by eating a low-fat diet, with or without exercising . . .You can see initial good results with a low fat diet. When you exercise and eat a low-fat, high carbohydate diet, excess carbohydrates will be turned into cholesterol and fats that are then used by the body as energy. During this stage, your cholesterol profile will significantly improve. But a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet burns muscle mass, especially if you are exercising. This causes your metabolism to slow down, which in turn lowers your requirement for energy. Now any excess carbohydrates you eat will be converted into cholesterol and not used. Over time, your cholesterol will rise." from The Schwarzbein Principle by Diane Scwarzbein, M.D. pp90-91
- "Archeological studies have shown that Cro-Magnon man ate bear, lion, hyenas, wild horse, and the wooly rhinoceros. In America the Paleolithic Homo sapiens ate the wolf, beaver, and the American camel. . . In China, Peking Man was found to have lunched on camel, deer, elephant and ostrich. . . [In fact] there is no society in the world that is entirely vegetarian. The Hindus of India come closest. Dr. Leon Abrams [in a 1967 article in Natural History Magazine] reports on India, “. . . the greater percentage of the population, who subsist almost entirely on vegetable foods, suffer from kwashiorkor, other forms of malnutrition, and have the shortest life span in the world.” from by Wm. Campbell Douglass, M.D. p 211
- "The Director of the National Museum in Iceland says that it is definitely established that during 600 years, 1200 to 1800 in Iceland, there were no dental cavities. The foods they ate were milk and milk products, mutton, beef and fish. They ate no carbohydrate. The only exception to this was a little moss soup in summer, but this was a rare “fun food” of little nutritional importance. . . Two Indian tribes reveal the same thing. The prehistoric Indians of California were Vegetarians, unlike most folks of that period, and they had tooth decay. In contrast, the Sioux Indians lived on buffalo meat and were devoid of cavities. The Pueblos worshipped the Corn God, but he was not grateful. They have the most wretched teeth of all the American Indian tribes... They lived on corn, squash and beans. The Laplanders, who ate mostly reindeer meat during the 18th century, rarely had cavities. Modern Laplanders have a decay rate of 85% of their teeth." from by Wm. Campbell Douglass, M.D. p 215
The Weston A. Price Foundation has on numerous occasions submitted written testimony on several occasions to the USDA "Guidelines Advisory Committee", and has had the opportunity to speak before the Committee in public hearings. We include a few pertinent comments below (together with our own modifications in brackets).
- The scientific evidence, honestly evaluated, does not support the assertion that "artery-clogging" saturated fats cause heart disease
- Animal fats [unlike vegetable fats] are stable, do not easily develop free radicals, and contain nutrients that are vital for good health
- Children in particular, require high levels of quality animal fats to achieve optimal physical and neurological development
- Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, but rather a potent antioxidant weapon against free radicals in the blood, and a repair substance that helps heal arterial damage. . .
- Babies and children need cholesterol-rich foods throughout their growing years to ensure proper development of the brain and nervous system
- The more carbohydrate that is eaten, the more fat the liver and adipose tissues make from any excess carbohydrate
- Just as animal fats are our only sources of natural vitamins A and D and other body building factors, so also animal protein is our only source of complete protein
- The two best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom are legumes and cereal grains, but all plant foods are low in the amino acids tryptophan, cystine, and threonine. Legumes, such as beans, peanuts and cashews are high in the amino acid lysine but low in methionine. Cereal grain have the opposite profile
- Scientific evidence, honestly evaluated, argues against relying too heavily in grains and legumes as sources of protein or for severely reducing animal products in the diet
- Inadequate protein intake leads to loss of myocardial muscle and may therefore contribute to coronary artery disease
- Animal protein foods - fish, meat, eggs and milk - always come with fat and this is how we should eat them. Animal fat supplies vitamins A and D needed for assimilation of protein. . .
(Maybe now our Top 14 Foods and our Role of Insulin pages make more sense?)
Of course, many people commit to vegetarian style diets not so much on health principles as the notion that vegetarianism will help conserve energy resources, reduce the need for chemicals, end cruelty to animals, and increase world food supplies. Internationally respected organic farming expert Mark Purdy helps dispell some of these myths.
Here is an excerpt:
"Whilst [these things] are true in consideration of the intensive, grain fed livestock units, the traditional mixed farming unit raises livestock for meat and milk off extensively managed, low input grassland systems; and each acre of well-managed grassland can produce four harvests a season of high protein forage utilising its all-inclusive clover plants as a green manure for fixing free atmospheric nitrogen into the soil. Whereas, an arable cropping system will only yield one or two crops per season, and will remain largely reliant on the inputs of artificial fertiliser for its nitrogen source; one ton of which requires ten tons of crude oil in manufacturing process.
[This is important because 40% of all grain is fed to commercial livestock. . . Furthermore] Well mananged grassland is rarely sprayed with pesticide/fungicide/herbicide, not even on the most chemically oriented of farms. Yet virtually all vegetable and arable systems receive an average of ten chemical sprayings annually; through from the initial seed stage to the final storage of the produce. Vegetables are so heavily sprayed that the more perceptive elements of the medical establishment have actually linked the victims of a mystery, novel neurological syndrome . . . to the fact that they are all vegetarians in common. One team led by Dr. David Ratner . . . blood-tested several isolated cases of those suffering from this syndrome, and found that various organo-phosphate pesticide residues intensivley present in their vegetarian diet were responsible. Once the victims were convinced that they should return to a diet including meat and milk products, their symptoms and abnormal blood enzyme levels normalised rapidly.. . ."
Mark Purdy has also done extensive research into the possible causes of Mad Cow disease, and has linked it to the use of chemicals to which commercial livestock are subjected, together with an excess of certain minerals contained in "scientific" feeds and the use of organophosphates and other chemicals on livestock. He points to his own organic, pasture-fed herd in England as evidence that healthy, humanely treated animals do not succomb to Mad Cow. (However, tainted meat may not be the only source of the human form of Mad Cow, as there have been little-publicized reports of long time vegetarians contracting the human form of Mad Cow.)
In terms of food production, it is true that the industrialized countries dependent on mammoth agribusiness farming have been experiencing very troublesome declines in yields at least since 1980 while increasing numbers of people around the world are dying from starvation or suffer from malnutrition. Althought the two seem to be linked, in fact they are not. For example, the first of twelve myths about world hunger according to information supplied by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, the world has been producing enough food to feed every man, woman and child on the planet somewhere around 4.3 pounds of food each and every day, and this includes one pound of meat milk and eggs.
Furthermore and according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 78% of malnourished children under the age of five are actually living in countries with EXCESS food. Finally, as Peter Rosset, executive director of the Institute for Food and Development tells us, "We've reviewed the data from every country for which it is available, comparing the productivity for smaller farms versus larger farms. By productivity I mean the total output of agricultural products per unit of area - per acre or hectare. For every country for which data is available, smaller farms are from 200 to 1000 percent more productive per unit of area." From this perpective, giant agribusiness farms seem to be a contributing factor to the problem of world hunger and starvation, while small farms actually present a true solution.
For further Reading see our recommended reading list.
Read this online Article titled Myths of Vegetarianism Also and more recently, listen to this April 4, 2023 interview with a registered dietician. And read her book The Dietician's Dilemma.