|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Diet for a New Century
Vegetarians are sprouting up all over. In England, for instance, currently 28,000 Britons every week jump on the vegetarian bandwagon concerned about mad cow’s disease and its suspected, devastating relationship to the deadly Creutzfeldt-Jacob-Disease in humans. In America, a recently conducted major poll estimates that 14 million people are vegetarians. That’s twice as many as 10 years ago. The very people, who only 20 years ago (were often stereotyped as food fanatics or left-over hippies, sort of a part of a counter culture, have become today’s trend setters. Whether a CEO, a lawyer, a tennis champion, or a housewife, vegetarians are now widely respected. Vegetarianism is increasingly viewed as being smart, healthy, caring and it’s considered to be a responsible choice.
For thousands of years people have lived on a plantfood-centere diet. Actually, the majority of the people on the globe are still basically eating this way and they do quite well. While philosophers even in classical Greece and Rome favored meatless diets largely because of religious and moral beliefs, most people – especially in the developing countries – are still following a meatless diet because they have no alternatives. It’s much too inefficient and expensive for these people to make perfectly good foods, like grains and beans, and to feed them to animals whose flesh is then eaten in return.
Meatless Diets – Why?In our western culture today, many people are choosing meatless diets for different reasons. You have people like Hank Aaron, Carl Lewis, Martina Navratilova, Peter Falk, or Tony Robbins who are all following a meatless diet. Why? The reasons could vary, but they probably fall into three major categories:
Where do we find today’s vegetarians? Vegetarians are uniformly found in every part of the North American culture, from the president of a major corporation to the cashier at the local health food store. Although, in general, more women than men embrace the vegetarian lifestyle, the choice is not dependent on education, or social standing, or income. It is a uniform phenomenon.
Health IssuesAmericans are becoming increasingly aware that it is really unnatural to die from heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, AIDS, and kidney disease; and yet, these are the very diseases we find so abundantly in our western culture.
Diseases of ChoiceThese diseases are largely related to lifestyle choices – how we eat, how we drink, how we smoke, and how we relate to other people. For years we have believed that with the right amount of money, research, manpower and time, scientists could find the right cure for everything. But we underestimated the limitations of this medical high tech approach to take care of these western killer diseases. Instead, we have learned that they are the result of how we choose to live – they relate to our lifestyle. They relate to the “good life.” We don’t really want the good life – because it’s killing us. Instead, we want the best life. And the best life is a simpler life. What is the result of the good life? 7 out of 10 deaths are now due to cardiovascular disease and cancer. Imagine; 7096 of all the deaths are due to heart disease and stroke, and to cancer (see graph on page 4). Though on the rise, these killer diseases are still rare in some 7096 of the world’s population.
Managing SymptomsThese are also the very diseases for which our medical care system often comes too late: the medical care system has largely become a salvage operation, where doctors often can do no more than manage the symptoms of the victims.
What we need is not more bypass surgery; after all, 15 to 30% of these grafted vessels will close up again within 12 months after the surgery with fat-filled, cholesterol-laden atherosclerotic plaques. What we need is a preventive approach based on the understanding that we hold the key to our own health and life span. What we need is more than surgery. What we need is more than drugs; we are already an over-medicated society. What we need is not more money for medical care; we are already paying 16 cents out of every dollar earned for medical care. What we need is not more medicine. What we need is better health. And that is intimately related to the lifestyle choices we make from day to day.
The Life Expectancy Myth
But don’t we live longer now than we did 100 years ago? And isn’t that the reason why we have so much heart disease and so much cancer and so much of all these chronic disease? Not really. Of course, we know that today’s baby can expect to live almost 30 years longer than a baby born at the turn of the century. But the statistics are based on dramatically reduced mortality rates of newborns. And for these improvements, the credit should go primarily to the application of advances in sanitation and not to the heroic advances in medical science and biotechnology. While a baby born today may live almost 30 years longer, sadly, a 65-year old American man today may live only some 5 years longer than his counterpart 100 years ago (see graph). That’s all! And yet, we sometimes have the impression that we’re all living 30 years longer! Once we have made the adjustment for today’s dramatically reduced infant mortality, however, then we begin to realize that most adults today live only some 5 years longer than those people who lived 100 years ago.
Think of it: 100 years ago, we had only a rudimentary medical care system, while today, we have the most sophisticated, the finest, and the most expensive medical care system in the world. And yet, with all these medical advances, an adult man has gained only an extra 5 years, and some of these years are all too often spent in special longterm care facilities, often falling short of living a high quality of life.
What we need to recognize is that in today’s world our health is not so much determined by the intellect of doctors, by their training, or by the size or sophistication of hospitals. Instead, it is estimated that 70% of our diseases are related to lifestyle choices. Good health then is largely the result of what we are willing to do for ourselves and how we choose to live, especially in the areas of eating, drinking, smoking and exercise.
WWII LessonsOne of the most dramatic illustrations of this concept comes from World War II.
This was not only a time of intensive confrontations between different philosophical systems; it was also a time of stunning discoveries. As World War II progressed, scientists observed that in spite of the incredible stress and anxiety of the war, the rates of most so-called western killer diseases dropped dramatically in many of the European countries. Rates for heart disease and cancer dropped. Diabetes rates came down. Gallstones disappeared. And yet, in North America the rates of these diseases continued to climb. What made the difference? As scientists began to analyze the data, they could not help but notice that the European countries were forced to adopt a much simpler, more austere dietary lifestyle because of the War. They could no longer afford the refined foods like cookies and candy, pies and pastry. They could no longer afford the steaks and chickens – these became rare and occasional treats for the Europeans.
But not so in North America. Our goal was a ”chicken in every pot.” And we succeeded – and we paid for it. The outbreak of World War II then created one of the largest epidemiological studies in the world. It showed us that diseases like heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, strokes, gallstones and kidney disease were apparently related to our lifestyle, and especially to our dietary abundance. While they disappeared in Europe, they blossomed in North America.
But the health advantages of the Europeans didn’t last. Some 10 to 15 years after the war, the European lifestyle began to shift once more: the diet became richer, smoking spread, exercise diminished – the good life came to Europe and with it returned the diseases, so that today’s death and disease rates in Europe are as high as those in North America.
HypertensionHere, vegetarians have lower blood pressures than meat eaters Hypertension is another disease that is powerfully affected by our rich western diet. It is virtually epidemic in North America. By the time a person is 65 years of age, the chance of having high blood pressure is about 70%. Yet, in most societies around the world, blood pressure levels don’t go up as people get older. While high salt and low potassium content in the diet have been identified as being directly associated with the level of blood pressure in western society, it is also true that meat eaters have much more hypertension than vegetarians. Some studies suggest that meat eaters are about 10 times more likely to have ”very high” blood pressure problems when compared to vegetarians. As is true for heart disease, even a little bit of meat can make a difference. Those who follow a strict vegetarian lifestyle have lower blood pressure levels than semi-vegetarians who consume meat less than once a week. Once more, the advantages of progressing towards a total vegetarian or vegan lifestyle are self-evident.
DiabetesDiabetes is virtually nonexistent in most countries around the world. In North America, however, it is climbing at a frightening rate. Since World War II, the type 2 diabetes rates for Americans age 45 to 54 have increased by over 700%. While this common kind of diabetes is prominently associated with obesity, it has much more to do with the amount of fat eaten than with the amount of sugar consumed. These findings are not new. They have been around for over 80 years. Unfortunately, they have rarely ever received center stage of clinical attention. But when a very low fat, vegetarian diet is offered to these diabetics, more than 50% of these patients can be off their insulin in less than 4 weeks, and 85% of these diabetics can be off their diabetes pills. Both, the Pritikin Longevity Center and the Diabetes Clinic of Dr. James Anderson, as well as our CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Project) program, have demonstrated the powerful effects of a sensible plantfood-centered diet – and that often within weeks!
The well-known Adventist Health Study, master minded at Loma Linda University, confirmed those observations. They found that vegetarians were protected from diabetes in contrast to daily meat eaters. Actually, the risk of developing diabetes was almost four times higher for meat eaters when compared with vegetarians. And these vegetarians were not even very low fat vegetarians!
Since diabetes accelerates atherosclerosis and thus vascular complications, such as heart disease, impotence, kidney disease, blindness and stroke, it is even more critical that diabetics follow a sensible vegan lifestyle so as to reduce the level of cholesterol and triglyc-erides and to facilitate more ideal body weight. The ideal diet for dia-betics, therefore, would be a vegetarian diet very low in fat, yet very high in fiber. It would be a diet very high in unrefined starchy foods – lots of unrefined grains, lots of beans and lentils and more of the potatoes and vegetables – and some whole fresh fruits.
ObesityThe magic formula for weight loss is: eat more food, but of the right kind! Refined foods pack in the calories. Natural foods-as-grown dilute the caloric density – you can actually eat more food with fewer calories and you can lose excess weight – without even trying!
Most plantfoods contain very few calories because they are usually very low in fat and sugar. However, modem food technology has made it possible to chemically remove these natural fats and sugars and process them into oil and sweeteners. Did you know that it takes 14 ears of corn to yield one tablespoon of corn oil? Did you know that it takes 7 lbs. of sugar beets to extract 1 lb. of “pure” sugar? Adding these extracted and concentrated calories to the food we prepare, or to the processed foods we buy, greatly increases the caloric density of our diet.
Here are some examples:
Could you eat all of this in just two minutes? And would these 500 calories from the fruit fill you up this time?
The point is: foods-as-grown, like grains, breads, beans, vegetables and whole fruits, are high in volume but contain relatively few calories because of their high fiber and water content. Such foods fill your stomach, fatten your wallet and help you to lose excessive pounds.
On the other hand: most technologically prepared, engineered foods are often caloric bombs – like dynamite, their volume is small but their caloric load is devastating! Food technology usually concentrates the calories yet dilutes nutritional density.
Be also aware of meats and cheeses. They are very calorie-dense foods. After all, a sirloin steak and American cheese is about 70% fat! You want to break with that kind of a lifestyle. Instead, shift towards a diet of foods-as-grown, very low in fat and sugar, but high in fiber and you will be able to eat all you want, and still lose 1-2 extra pounds a week without even trying.
What about kidney stones, kidney disease and gallstones? They are also nutritionally related. These diseases are rare among most people who follow a very low fat vegetarian kind of diet. Since 9096 of gallstones are largely made up of cholesterol, it is not difficult to understand how a high fat, high meat, high cheese diet, with its high cholesterol levels can be a key factor in the development of gallstones.
Compared to vegetarians, meat eaters are twice as likely to form gallstones. In contrast, rural Africans on a largely vegan diet rarely ever develop gallstones. Dr. Denis Burkitt told me, ”Spending all these years in Africa, I’ve never found one African that I had to operate on because of gallstones.” When asked how he kept his surgical skills honed, he said, ”That was easy. All I had to do was go to the European wing of the hospital. There I found plenty of gallbladders to operate on.”
It’s typically only found in countries with low fiber diets, such as the American diet which contains a mere 10-15 grams of fiber. In contrast, most developing countries consume 40-50 grams of fiber a day, and diverticular disease and constipation are almost unheard of. Dietary fiber, especially insoluble fiber as found in cereals, bread and grains absorbs and holds water.
These fiber masses, acting like soaked-up sponges, fill the intestines more completely and stimulate peristaltic movement. Instead of idling for several days in the intestines in compacted lumps, as low fiber foods do, the spongy masses pass along much more quickly and are evacuated within 24-36 hours without much effort. High fiber vegetarian diets, especially when they are low in sugar and fat, also promote the propagation of ”good” bacteria in the colon. These then contribute to larger stools. This, in turn, enlarges the colon’s diameter which facilitates the passage of the intestinal contents.
In contrast, studies with different diets have demonstrated that diets high in meat and cheese increase the risk of diverticular disease by three times. Aside from being devoid of dietary fiber, meat also seems to influence certain bacteria in the colon to produce toxins that weaken the colon wall and promote the formation of diverticula.
The hard facts are that America is a constipated nation. While uncommon in non-Western cultures, it is estimated that 100 million people in the US are afflicted by this ”disease”. Over 1,000 over-the-counter laxatives are available to provide relief, even though their safety and long-term effectiveness is often questionable, if not harmful.
True relief, however, is readily available. A vegetarian diet, high in fiber and low in fat and sugar, with 8-10 glasses of water a day, will usually take care of most constipation within a couple of weeks. Many people will be on the move again – and most of them can forget about their laxatives.
Constipation usually requires straining and effort to pass stools, which can result in hemorrhoids, clusters of enlarged veins in the rectal area often requiring surgery. Research has shown that 60-70% of all hemorrhoidal surgeries could be canceled within two weeks if the patients would drink plenty of water, increase their insoluble fiber (like wheat bran) by 3-4 times and move towards a simpler diet of foods-as-grown.
Such a diet should not only prevent western lifestyle diseases, but it should be a therapeutic one that reverses many of the diseases as well.
One Basic DietResearch with therapeutic nutrition has clearly demonstrated a unitary dietary principle in dealing with western killer diseases: there is not one special diet for the treatment of heart disease, another diet for overweight, another for diabetes and yet another for hypertension and high cholesterol levels. Instead, there is one Optimal Diet. Such a diet consists of a wide variety of foods, freely eaten ”as grown,” simply prepared with sparing use of fats and oils, sugars, and salt, and almost devoid of refined processed foods. If animal products are eaten at all, they should be used only as seasoning.
Such a more natural diet will be very low in fat (under 15%), sugar and salt, and devoid of cholesterol. At the same time, such a diet will encourage the liberal intake of unrefined starchy foods, which are also high in fiber, bulk, and in phytochemicals. It is this kind of a vegetarian diet that will not only prevent western diseases, but it has been demonstrated to be effective as the major therapeutic factor in regressing disease and restoring a higher level of health.
Will be continued
(A similar seminar: ‘Lifestyle Solutions to Western Diseases’ will be organised in November in the Swiss Holiday Park)