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Vegetarian Diets from the viewpoint of Preventive Medicine and Dietics
By Mitsuru Kakimoto
IVU News - March 2000

The modern vegetarian movement became very active from the beginning to the middle of the 19th century, which led to the establishment of the Vegetarian Federal Union in 1889. In 1908, the Vegetarian Federal Union was succeeded by the International Vegetarian Union (IVU), whose purpose was to act as an umbrella organization of the vegetarian societies throughout the world.

It has been two hundred years since the dawn of the modern vegetarian movement and we are now about to see the new century. As Research Coordinator for the IVU International Council, I would like to report the latest information, published in the 1990's, about a vegetarian diet in view of preventive medicine and dietics.

A vegetarian diet is now scientifically recognized as being effective in the prevention of adult disease.

Position of the American Dietic Association: Vegetarian Diets (1997) reads as follows:

Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. Vegetarian diets, like other diets, need to be planned approximately to be nutritionally adequate.

Position Statement

It is the position of The American Dietic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of diseases.

An authority on dietics, Walter Willet, M.D., Dr.P.H., professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University's School of Public Health, noted vegetarian diets in the keynote address at the 3rd International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition held at Loma Linda University, CA, USA in 1997. In his address, Willet pointed out that, although the elimination of red meat from the diet may be responsible for the lower rate of coronary heart disease and cancer, it does not seem to be the reason for the good health found among vegetarians. He noted that the source of the health among vegetarians is the enough and sufficient intake of a variety of plant-based foods.

As many as 375,000 cases of cancer, at current cancer rates, could be prevented each year in this nation through healthy dietary choices.

Meanwhile, in 1997, the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report, Food, Nutrition and Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. The report included fourteen recommendations, three of which are pertaining to the vegetarian diet. Based on an analysis of more than 4,500 research studies, these recommendations present the best advice currently available for lower cancer risk. Part of the recommendations is as follows:

  • Choose predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, pulses (legumes) and minimally processed starchy staple foods.
  • Eat 400-800 grams (15-30 ounces) or five or more portions (servings) a day of a variety of vegetables and fruits, all year round.
  • Eat 600-800 grams (20-30 ounces) or more than seven portions (servings) a day of a variety of cereals (grains), pulses (legumes), roots, tubers and plantains. Prefer minimally processed foods. Limit consumption of refined sugar.
The report also mentioned the potential of prevention of cancer:
  • Eating right, plus staying physically active and maintaining a health weight, can cut cancer risk by 30% to 40%.
  • Recommended dietary choices coupled with not smoking have the potential to reduce cancer risk by 60% to 70%.
  • As many as 375,000 cases of cancer, at current cancer rates, could be prevented each year in this nation through healthy dietary choices.
  • A simple change, such as eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, could by itself reduce cancer rates more than 20%.
Regarding cancer prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidance for Americans and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published Dietary Guidance for Americans in 1995. In one chapter titled, Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits, three points are given about plants foods as follows:

Grain products, vegetables, and fruits are key parts of a varied diet. They are emphasized in this guideline because they provides vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber), and other substances that are important for good health. They are also generally low in fat, depending on how they are prepared and what is added to them at the table. Most Americans of all ages eat fewer than the recommended number of servings of grain products, vegetables, and fruits, even though consumption of these foods is associated with a substantially lower risk for many chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer.

Most of the calories in your diet come from grain products, vegetables, and fruits.

Plant Foods Provide Fiber

Plant foods provide a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for health.

Some research studies seem to suggest some problems of vegan diets lacking in vitamin B12. However, it is considered a fact that few vegans in Japan suffer B12 deficiency anemia. The reason is considered to be the high intake of seaweeds by Japanese. In 1995, Hideo Suzuki, M.D., (Osaka University, School of Medicine) reported, in J. Nutri. Vitiminol., Japan, that vegans (Japanese-style pure-vegetarians) who suffered megaloblastic anemia turned better by taking 2 grams of nori (dried seaweed) every day. In the mean time, in J. Urban living and Health Ass., Japan (1990), Mitsuru Kakimoto, D.D.Sc., Ph.D.and Yumi Watabe, M.Ed., investigated Japanese high school students and found that vegetarian students were comparable to ordinary students in physique, and that the number of vegetarians who suffered digestive illness was smaller than that of non-vegetarians.

The vegetarian diet has been recognized as an effective means of the prevention of adult disease such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, it has become evident that the vegetarian diet without any supplements meets the needs of growing children if the diet includes a certain amount of nori.

With the 21st century drawing near, we are now faced with health issues, food problems, and environmental disruption. I would like to say the vegetarian diet will be a life style pursued in the coming century.

Dr.Mitsuru Kakimoto is the president of the Japanese Vegetarian Society (JVS) and a council member of IVU

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