The Myths of Vegetarianism
Part 1 of 2
Contrary to the claims of
some health exponents, diets which are strictly vegetarian and do not
include animal foods are a recipe for ill health.
(References further down this page)
Extracted from Nexus Magazine, Volume 9, Number 3 (April-May 2002)
PO Box 30, Mapleton Qld 4560 Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: +61 (0)7 5442 9280; Fax: +61 (0)7 5442 9381
From our web page at: www.nexusmagazine.com
by Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP
© 2000, 2002
An unflinching determination to take the
whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation
against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable
-- Alfred North Whitehead
THE EVOLUTION OF A MYTH
Along with the unjustified and
unscientific saturated fat and cholesterol scares of the past several
decades has come the notion that vegetarianism is a healthier dietary
option for people. It seems as if every health expert and government
health agency is urging people to eat fewer animal products and
consume more vegetables, grains, fruits and legumes. Along with these
exhortations have come assertions and studies supposedly proving that
vegetarianism is healthier for people and that meat consumption is
associated with sickness and death. Several authorities, however,
have questioned these data, but their objections have been largely
As we shall see, many of the vegetarian claims
cannot be substantiated and some are simply false and dangerous.
There are benefits with vegetarian diets for certain health
conditions, and some people function better on less fat and protein,
but, as a practitioner who has dealt with several former vegetarians
and vegans (total vegetarians), I know full well the dangerous
effects of a diet devoid of healthful animal products. It is my hope
that all readers will more carefully evaluate their position on
vegetarianism after reading this paper.
MYTH #1: Meat consumption contributes to famine
and depletes the Earth's natural resources.
Some vegetarians have claimed that livestock
require pasturage that could be used to farm grains to feed starving
people in Third World countries. It is also claimed that feeding
animals contributes to world hunger because livestock are eating
foods that could go to feed humans. The solution to world hunger,
therefore, is for people to become vegetarians. These arguments are
illogical and simplistic.
The first argument ignores the fact that about
two-thirds of our Earth's dry land is unsuitable for farming. It is
primarily the open range, desert and mountainous areas that provide
food to grazing animals, and that land is currently being put to good
The second argument is faulty as well because it
ignores the vital contributions that livestock animals make to
humanity's well-being. It is also misleading to think that the foods
grown and given to feed livestock could be diverted to feed humans:
Agricultural animals have always made a major
contribution to the welfare of human societies by providing food,
shelter, fuel, fertilizer and other products and services. They are a
renewable resource, and utilize another renewable resource, plants,
to produce these products and services. In addition, the manure
produced by the animals helps improve soil fertility and, thus, aids
the plants. In some developing countries the manure cannot be
utilized as a fertilizer but is dried as a source of fuel.
There are many who feel that because the world
population is growing at a faster rate than is the food supply, we
are becoming less and less able to afford animal foods because
feeding plant products to animals is an inefficient use of potential
human food. It is true that it is more efficient for humans to eat
plant products directly rather than to allow animals to convert them
to human food. At best, animals only produce one pound or less of
human food for each three pounds of plants eaten. However, this
inefficiency only applies to those plants and plant products that the
human can utilize. The fact is that over two-thirds of the feed fed
to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or
completely unsuited for human food. Thus, by their ability to convert
inedible plant materials to human food, animals not only do not
compete with the human; rather, they aid greatly in improving both
the quantity and the quality of the diets of human
Furthermore, at the present time, there is more
than enough food grown in the world to feed all people on the planet.
The problem is widespread poverty, making it impossible for the
starving poor to afford it. In a comprehensive report, the Population
Reference Bureau attributed the world hunger problem to poverty, not
meat-eating.3 It also did not consider mass vegetarianism to be a
solution for world hunger.
What would actually happen, however, if animal
husbandry were abandoned in favour of mass agriculture, brought about
by humanity turning towards vegetarianism?
If a large number of people switched to
vegetarianism, the demand for meat in the United States and Europe
would fall, the supply of grain would dramatically increase, but the
buying power of poor [starving] people in Africa and Asia wouldn't
change at all.
The result would be very predictable: there would
be a mass exodus from farming. Whereas today the total amount of
grains produced could feed 10 billion people, the total amount of
grain grown in this post-meat world would likely fall back to about 7
or 8 billion. The trend of farmers selling their land to developers
and others would accelerate quickly.4
In other words, there would be less food available
for the world to eat. Furthermore, the monoculture of grains and
legumes, which is what would happen if animal husbandry were
abandoned and the world relied exclusively on plant foods for its
food, would rapidly deplete the soil and require the heavy use of
artificial fertilisers, one ton of which requires ten tons of crude
oil to produce.5
As far as the impact on our environment is
concerned, a closer look reveals the great damage that exclusive and
mass farming would do. British organic dairy farmer and researcher
Mark Purdey wisely points out that if "veganic agricultural systems
were to gain a foothold on the soil, then agrichemical use, soil
erosion, cash cropping, prairie-scapes and ill health would
escalate".6 Neanderthin author Ray Audette concurs with this view:
Since ancient times, the most destructive factor
in the degradation of the environment has been monoculture
agriculture. The production of wheat in ancient Sumeria transformed
once-fertile plains into salt flats that remain sterile 5,000 years
later. As well as depleting both the soil and water sources,
monoculture agriculture also produces environmental damage by
altering the delicate balance of natural ecosystems. World rice
production in 1993, for instance, caused 155 million cases of malaria
by providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes in the paddies. Human
contact with ducks in the same rice paddies resulted in 500 million
cases of influenza during the same year.7
There is little doubt, though, that commercial
farming methods, whether of plants or animals, produce harm to the
environment. With the heavy use of agrichemicals, pesticides,
artificial fertilisers, hormones, steroids and antibiotics common in
modern agriculture, a better way of integrating animal husbandry with
agriculture needs to be found. A possible solution might be a return
to "mixed farming", described below.
The educated consumer and the enlightened farmer
together can bring about a return of the mixed farm, where
cultivation of fruits, vegetables and grains is combined with the
raising of livestock and fowl in a manner that is efficient,
economical and environmentally friendly. For example, chickens
running free in garden areas eat insect pests, while providing
high-quality eggs; sheep grazing in orchards obviate the need for
herbicides; and cows grazing in woodlands and other marginal areas
provide rich, pure milk, making these lands economically viable for
the farmer. It is not animal cultivation that leads to hunger and
famine, but unwise agricultural practices and monopolistic
The "mixed farm" is also healthier for the soil,
which will yield more crops if managed according to traditional
guidelines. Mark Purdey has accurately pointed out that a crop field
on a mixed farm will yield up to five harvests a year, while a
"mono-cropped" one will only yield one or two.9 Which farm is
producing more food for the world's peoples? Purdey well sums up the
ecological horrors of "battery farming" and points to future
solutions by saying:
Our agricultural establishments could do very well
to outlaw the business-besotted farmers running intensive livestock
units, battery systems and beef-burger bureaucracies, with all their
wastages, deplorable cruelty, anti-ozone slurry systems,
drug/chemical-induced immunotoxicity resulting in BSE and salmonella,
rainforest eradication, etc. Our future direction must strike the
happy, healthy medium of mixed farms, resurrecting the old
traditional extensive system as a basic framework, then bolstering up
productivity to present-day demands by incorporating a more updated
application of biological science into farming systems.10
It does not appear, then, that livestock farming,
when properly practised, damages the environment. Nor does it appear
that world vegetarianism and exclusively relying on agriculture to
supply the world with food are feasible or ecologically wise ideas.
MYTH #2: Vitamin B12 can be obtained from plant
Of all the myths, this is perhaps the most
dangerous. While lacto and lacto-ovo vegetarians have sources of
vitamin B12 in their diets (from dairy products and eggs), vegans
(total vegetarians) do not. Vegans who do not supplement their diet
with vitamin B12 will eventually get anaemia (a fatal condition) as
well as severe nervous and digestive system damage. Most, if not all,
vegans have impaired B12 metabolism, and every study of vegan groups
has demonstrated low vitamin B12 concentrations in the majority of
individuals.11 Several studies have been done, documenting B12
deficiencies in vegan children--deficiencies which often have had
dire consequences.12 Additionally,
claims are made in vegan and vegetarian literature that B12 is
present in certain algae, in tempeh (a fermented soy product) and in
brewer's yeast. All of them are false, as vitamin B12 is only found
in animal foods. Brewer's and nutritional yeasts do not contain B12
naturally; they are always fortified from an outside source.
There are not real B12 vitamins in plant sources
but B12 analogues; these are similar to true B12 but not exactly the
same, and because of this they are not bioavailable.13 It should be
noted here that these B12 analogues can impair absorption of true
vitamin B12 in the body due to competitive absorption, placing vegans
and vegetarians who consume lots of soy, algae and yeast at a greater
risk for a deficiency.14
Some vegetarian authorities claim that B12 is
produced by certain fermenting bacteria in the colon. This may be
true, but it is in a form unusable by the body. B12 requires
intrinsic factor from the stomach for proper absorption in the ileum.
Since the bacterial product does not have intrinsic factor bound to
it, it cannot be absorbed.15
It is true that Hindu vegans living in certain
parts of India do not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. This has
led some to conclude that plant foods do provide this vitamin. This
conclusion is erroneous, however, because many small insects, their
faeces, eggs, larvae and/or residue, are left on the plant foods
these people consume, due to non-use of pesticides and inefficient
cleaning methods. This is how these people obtain their vitamin B12.
This contention is borne out by the fact that when vegan Indian
Hindus migrated to England, they came down with megaloblastic anaemia
within a few years. In England, the food supply is cleaner and insect
residues are completely removed from plant foods.16
The only reliable and absorbable sources of
vitamin B12 are animal products, especially organ meats and
eggs.17 Though present in lesser amounts than meat and eggs, dairy
products do contain B12. Vegans, therefore, should consider adding
dairy products to their diets. If dairy cannot be tolerated, eggs,
preferably from free-run hens, are a virtual necessity.
That vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal
foods is one of the strongest arguments against veganism being a
"natural" way of human eating. Today, vegans can avoid anaemia by
taking supplemental vitamins or fortified foods. If those same people
had lived just a few decades ago when these products were
unavailable, they would have died.
MYTH #3: Our needs for vitamin D can be met by
This is not really a vegetarian myth per se, but
it is widely believed that one's vitamin D needs can be met simply by
exposing one's skin to the Sun's rays for 15 to 20 minutes a few
times a week. Concerns about vitamin D deficiencies in vegetarians
and vegans always exist, as this nutrient in its full-complex form is
only found in animal fats,18 which vegans
do not consume and more moderate vegetarians only consume in limited
quantities due to their meatless diets.
It is true that a limited number of plant foods,
such as alfalfa, sunflower seeds and avocado, contain the plant form
of vitamin D: ergocalciferol, or vitamin D2. Although D2 can be used
to prevent and treat the vitamin D deficiency disease rickets in
humans, it is questionable whether this form is as effective as
animal-derived vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Some studies have shown
that D2 is not utilised as well as D3 in animals,19 and clinicians
have reported disappointing results using vitamin D2 to treat vitamin
Although vitamin D can be created by our bodies by
the action of sunlight on our skin, it is very difficult to obtain an
optimal amount of vitamin D by having a brief foray in the sunshine.
There are three ultraviolet bands of radiation that come from
sunlight, i.e., A, B and C. Only the "B" form is capable of
catalysing the conversion of cholesterol to vitamin D in our
bodies,21 and UV-B rays are only present at certain times of day, at
certain latitudes, and at certain times of the year.22 Furthermore,
depending on one's skin colour, obtaining 200-400 IUs of vitamin D
from sunlight can take as long as two full hours of continuous
sunning.23 A dark-skinned vegan, therefore, will find it impossible
to obtain optimal vitamin D intake by sunning himself for 20 minutes
a few times a week, even if sunning occurs during those limited times
of the day and year when UV-B rays are available.
The current RDA for vitamin D is 400 IUs, but Dr
Weston Price's seminal research into healthy native adults' diets
showed that their daily intake of vitamin D (from animal foods) was
about 10 times that amount, or 4,000 IUs.24 Accordingly,
Dr Price placed a great emphasis on vitamin D in the diet. Without
vitamin D, for example, it is impossible to utilise minerals like
calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Recent research has confirmed Dr
Price's higher recommendations for vitamin D for adults.25
Considering that cases of rickets and/or low
vitamin D levels have been well documented in many vegetarians and
vegans,26 that animal fats are either lacking or deficient in
vegetarian diets (as well as those of the general Western public who
routinely try to cut their animal fat intake), that sunlight is only
a source of vitamin D at certain times and at certain latitudes and
that current dietary recommendations for vitamin D are too low, it is
important to have reliable and abundant sources of this nutrient in
our daily diets. Good sources include cod liver oil, lard from pigs
that were exposed to sunlight, shrimp, wild salmon, sardines, butter,
full-fat dairy products and eggs from properly fed chickens.
MYTH #4: The body's needs for vitamin A can be
entirely obtained from plant foods.
True vitamin A, or retinol and its associated
esters, is only found in animal fats and organs like
liver.27 Plants do contain beta-carotene, a substance that the body
can convert into vitamin A if certain conditions are present (see
below). Beta-carotene, however, is not vitamin A. It is typical for
vegans and vegetarians (as well as most popular nutrition writers) to
say that plant foods like carrots and spinach contain vitamin A and
that beta-carotene is just as good as vitamin A. These things are not
true, even though beta-carotene is an important nutritional factor
The conversion from carotene to vitamin A in the
intestines can only take place in the presence of bile salts. This
means that fat must be eaten with the carotenes to stimulate bile
secretion. Additionally, infants and people with hypothyroidism, gall
bladder problems or diabetes (altogether, a significant portion of
the population) either cannot make the conversion or do so very
poorly. Lastly, the body's conversion from carotene to vitamin A is
not very efficient: it takes roughly six units of carotene to make
one unit of vitamin A. What this means is that a sweet potato
(containing about 25,000 units of beta-carotene) will only convert
into about 4,000 units of vitamin A (assuming you ate it with fat,
are not diabetic, are not an infant, and do not have a thyroid or
gall bladder problem).28
Relying on plant sources for vitamin A, then, is
not a very wise idea. This provides yet another reason to include
animal foods and fats in our diets. Butter and full-fat dairy foods,
especially from pastured cows, are good vitamin A sources, as is cod
liver oil. Vitamin A is all-important in our diets, for it enables
the body to use proteins and minerals, ensures proper vision,
enhances the immune system, enables reproduction and fights
infections.29 As with vitamin D, Dr Price found that the diets of
healthy primitive peoples supplied substantial amounts of vitamin A,
again emphasising the great need humans have for this nutrient in
maintaining optimal health now and in future generations.
MYTH #5: Meat-eating causes osteoporosis,
kidney disease, heart disease, and cancer.
Oftentimes, vegans and vegetarians will try to
scare people into avoiding animal foods and fats by claiming that
vegetarian diets offer protection from certain chronic diseases like
the ones listed above. Such claims, however, are hard to reconcile
with historical and anthropological facts.
All of the diseases mentioned are primarily 20th
century occurrences, yet people have been eating meat and animal fat
for many thousands of years. Further, as Dr Price's research showed,
there were/are several native peoples around the world (the Innuit,
Masai, Swiss, etc.) whose traditional diets were/are very rich in
animal products, but who nevertheless did/do not suffer from the
abovementioned maladies.30 Dr George
Mann's independent studies of the Masai, done many years after Dr
Price's, confirmed the fact that the Masai, despite being almost
exclusive meat-eaters, nevertheless had little to no incidence of
heart disease or other chronic ailments.31 This proves
that other factors besides animal foods are at work in causing these
Several studies have supposedly shown that meat
consumption is the cause of various illnesses, but such studies,
honestly evaluated, show no such thing, as the following discussion
Dr Herta Spencer's research on protein
intake and bone loss clearly showed that protein consumption in the
form of real meat has no impact on bone density. Studies that
supposedly proved that excessive protein consumption equals more bone
loss were not done with real meat but with fractionated protein
powders and isolated amino acids.32 Recent studies
have also shown that increased animal protein intake contributes to
stronger bone density in men and women.33 Some recent
studies on vegan and vegetarian diets, however, have shown them to
predispose women to osteoporosis.34
Although protein-restricted diets are helpful for people with kidney
disease, there is no proof that eating meat causes such
disease.35 Vegetarians will also typically claim that animal protein
causes overly acidic conditions in the blood, resulting in calcium
leaching from the bones and, hence, a greater tendency to form kidney
stones. However, this opinion is false.
Theoretically, the sulphur and phosphorus in meat
can form an acid when placed in water, but this does not mean that
that is what happens in the body. Actually, meat contains complete
proteins and vitamin D (if the skin and fat are eaten), both of which
help maintain pH balance in the bloodstream. Furthermore, if one eats
a diet that includes enough magnesium and vitamin B6 and restricts
refined sugars, one has little to fear from kidney stones, whether
one eats meat or not.36 Animal foods
like beef, pork, fish and lamb are good sources of magnesium and B6,
as any food/nutrient table will show.
The belief that animal protein contributes
to heart disease is a popular one that has no foundation in
nutritional science. Outside of questionable studies, there is little
data to support the idea that meat-eating leads to heart disease. For
example: the French have one of the highest per-capita consumptions
of meat, yet have low rates of heart disease; in Greece, meat
consumption is higher than average, but rates of heart disease are
low there as well; and in Spain, an increase in meat-eating (in
conjunction with a reduction in sugar and high-carbohydrate intake)
was found to lead to a decrease in heart disease.37
The belief that meat, in particular red
meat, contributes to cancer is also a popular idea that is not
supported by the facts. Although it is true that some studies have
shown a connection between meat-eating and some types of
cancer,38 it is important to look at the studies carefully to
determine what kind of meat is being discussed as well as what
preparation methods were used. Since we only have one word for "meat"
in English, it is often difficult to know which "meat" is under
discussion in a study unless the authors of the study specifically
The study which began the "meat equals cancer"
theory was done by Dr Ernst Wynder in the 1970s. Dr Wynder claimed
that there is a direct, causal connection between animal fat intake
and incidence of colon cancer.39 Actually, his
data on "animal fats" were really on vegetable fats.40 In other
words, the "meat equals cancer" theory is based on a phony study.
If one looks closely at the research, however, one
quickly sees that it is processed meats like cold cuts and sausages
that are usually implicated in cancer causation,41 and not meat
per se. Furthermore, cooking methods seem to play a part in whether
or not a meat becomes carcinogenic.42 In other
words, it is the chemicals added to the meat and the chosen cooking
method that are at fault, not the meat itself.
In the end, although sometimes a connection
between meat and cancer is found, the actual mechanism of how it
happens has eluded scientists.43 This means
that it is likely that other factors besides meat are playing roles
in some cases of cancer. Remember, studies of meat-eating traditional
peoples show very little incidence of cancer. This demonstrates that
other factors are at work when cancer appears in a modern meat-eating
person. It is not scientifically fair to single out one dietary
factor for blame, while ignoring other, more likely candidates.
It should be noted here that Seventh Day
Adventists are often studied in population analyses to prove that a
vegetarian diet is healthier and is associated with a lower risk for
cancer (but see a later paragraph in this section). While it is true
that most members of this Christian denomination do not eat meat,
they also do not smoke or drink alcohol, coffee and tea, all of which
are likely factors in promoting cancer.44
The Mormons are a religious group often overlooked
in vegetarian studies. Although their Church urges moderation,
Mormons do not abstain from meat. As with the Adventists, Mormons
also avoid tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. Despite being meat-eaters,
Utah Mormons showed in a study that they had a 22% lower rate for
cancer in general and a 34% lower mortality rate for colon cancer
than the US average.45 A study of
Puerto Ricans, who eat large amounts of fatty pork, nevertheless
revealed very low rates of colon and breast cancer.46 Similar
results can be adduced to demonstrate that meat and animal fat
consumption does not correlate with cancer.47 Obviously,
other factors are at work.
It is usually claimed that vegetarians have lower
cancer rates than meat-eaters, but a 1994 study of vegetarian
California Seventh Day Adventists showed that, while they did have
lower rates for some cancers (e.g., breast and lung), they had higher
rates for several others (Hodgkin's disease, malignant melanoma,
brain, skin, uterine, prostate, endometrial, cervical and ovarian),
some quite significantly. In that study, the authors actually
admitted that "Meat consumption, however, was not associated with a
higher [cancer] risk" and that "No significant association between
breast cancer and a high consumption of animal fats or animal
products in general was noted".48
Further, it is usually claimed that a diet rich in
plant foods like whole grains and legumes will reduce one's risks for
cancer, but research going back through the last century demonstrates
that carbohydrate-based diets are the prime dietary instigators of
cancer, not diets based on minimally processed animal
The mainstream health and vegetarian media have
done such an effective job of "beef-bashing" that most people think
there is nothing healthful about meat, especially red meat. In
reality, however, animal-flesh foods like beef and lamb are excellent
sources of a variety of nutrients, as any food/nutrient table will
show. Nutrients like vitamins A, D and several of the B-complex
vitamins, essential fatty acids (in small amounts), magnesium, zinc,
phosphorus, potassium, iron, taurine and selenium are abundant in
beef, lamb, pork, fish, shellfish and poultry. Nutritional factors
like coenzyme Q10, carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid are also present.
Some of these nutrients are only found in animal foods; plants do not
MYTH #6: Saturated fats and dietary cholesterol
cause heart disease, atherosclerosis and/or cancer, and low-fat,
low-cholesterol diets are healthier for people.
This, too, is not a specific vegetarian myth.
Nevertheless, people are often urged to take up a vegetarian or vegan
diet because it is believed that such diets offer protection against
heart disease and cancer, since they are lower or lacking in animal
foods and fats.
Although it is commonly believed that saturated
fats and dietary cholesterol "clog" arteries and cause heart disease,
such ideas have been shown to be false by such scientists as Linus
Pauling, Russell Smith, George Mann, John Yudkin, Abram Hoffer, Mary
Enig, Uffe Ravnskov and other prominent researchers.50 On the
contrary, studies have shown that arterial plaque is primarily
composed of unsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated ones, and
not the saturated fat of animals, palm or coconut.51
Trans fatty acids, as opposed to saturated fats,
have been shown by researchers such as Enig, Mann and Fred Kummerow
to be causative factors in accelerated atherosclerosis, coronary
heart disease, cancer and other ailments.52 Trans fatty
acids are found in such modern foods as margarine and vegetable
shortening and foods made with them. Dr Enig and her colleagues have
also shown that excessive omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake
from refined vegetable oils is also a major culprit behind cancer and
heart disease, not animal fats.
A recent study of thousands of Swedish women
supports Dr Enig's conclusions and data. It showed no correlation
between saturated fat consumption and increased risk for breast
cancer. However, the study did show, as did Enig's work, a strong
link between vegetable oil intake and higher breast cancer
The major population studies that supposedly prove
the theory that animal fats and cholesterol cause heart disease,
actually do not prove it upon closer inspection. The Framingham Heart
Study is often cited as proof that dietary cholesterol and saturated
fat intake cause heart disease and ill health. Involving about 6,000
people, the study compared two groups over several decades at
five-year intervals. One group consumed little cholesterol and
saturated fat, while the other consumed high amounts. Surprisingly,
Dr William Castelli, the study's director, said:54
"...the more saturated fat one ate, the
more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the
person's serum cholesterol ... we found that the people who ate the
most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat...ate the most calories,
weighed the least and were the most physically
The Framingham data did show that subjects who had
higher cholesterol levels and weighed more ran a slightly higher
chance for coronary heart disease. But weight gain and serum
cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with dietary fat and
cholesterol intake. In other words, there was no correlation at
In a similar vein, the US Multiple Risk Factor
Intervention Trial, sponsored by the National Heart and Lung
Institute, compared mortality rates and eating habits of 12,000+ men.
Those who ate less saturated fat and cholesterol showed a slightly
reduced rate of heart disease, but had an overall mortality rate much
higher than the other men in the study.56
Low-fat/cholesterol diets, therefore, are not
healthier for people. Studies have shown repeatedly that such diets
are associated with depression, cancer, psychological problems,
fatigue, violence and suicide.57 Women with
lower serum cholesterol live shorter lives than women with higher
levels.58 Similar findings have been noted in men.59
Children on low-fat and/or vegan diets can suffer
from growth problems, failure to thrive, and learning
disabilities.60 Despite this, sources from Dr Benjamin Spock to the
American Heart Association recommend low-fat diets for children! One
can only lament the fate of those unfortunate youngsters who will be
raised by unknowing parents taken in by such genocidal
There are many health benefits to saturated fats,
depending on the fat in question. Coconut oil, for example, is rich
in lauric acid, a potent antifungal and antimicrobial substance. In
addition, coconut contains appreciable amounts of caprylic acid, also
an effective antifungal.61 Butter from
free-range cows is rich in trace minerals, especially selenium, as
well as all of the fat-soluble vitamins and beneficial fatty acids
that protect against cancer and fungal infections.62
In fact, the body needs saturated fats in order to
properly utilise essential fatty acids.63 Saturated fats
also lower the blood levels of the artery-damaging lipoprotein
(a);64 are needed for proper calcium utilisation in the
bones;65 stimulate the immune system;66 are the
preferred food for the heart and other vital organs;67 and, along
with cholesterol, add structural stability to the cell and intestinal
wall.68 They are excellent for cooking, as they are chemically
stable and do not break down under heat, unlike polyunsaturated
vegetable oils. Omitting them from one's diet, then, is ill-advised.
With respect to atherosclerosis, it is always
claimed that vegetarians have much lower rates of this condition than
meat-eaters. The International Atherosclerosis Project of 1968,
however, which examined over 20,000 corpses from several countries,
concluded that vegetarians had just as much atherosclerosis as
meat-eaters.69 Other population studies have revealed similar
data.70 This is because atherosclerosis is largely unrelated to
diet; it is a consequence of ageing.
There are things which can accelerate the
atherosclerotic process, such as excessive free radical damage to the
arteries from antioxidant depletion (caused by such things as
smoking, poor diet, excess polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet,
various nutritional deficiencies, drugs, etc.), but this is to be
distinguished from the fatty-streaking and hardening of arteries that
occurs in all peoples over time.
It also does not appear that vegetarian diets
protect against heart disease. A study on vegans in 1970 showed that
female vegans had higher rates of death from heart disease than
non-vegan females.71 A recent study
showed that Indians, despite being vegetarians, have very high rates
of coronary artery disease.72
High-carbohydrate/low-fat diets (which is what vegetarian diets are)
can also place one at a greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and
cancer due to their hyperinsulemic effects on the body.73 Recent studies
have also shown that vegetarians have higher homocysteine levels in
their blood.74 Homocysteine is a known cause of heart disease. Lastly,
low-fat/cholesterol diets, generally favoured either to prevent or
treat heart disease, do neither and may actually increase certain
risk factors for this condition.75
Studies which conclude that vegetarians are at a
lower risk for heart disease are typically based on the phony markers
of lower saturated fat intake, lower serum cholesterol levels and
Since vegetarians tend to eat less saturated fat
and usually have lower serum cholesterol levels, it is concluded that
they are at less risk for heart disease. However, once one realises
that these measurements are not accurate predictors of proneness to
heart disease, the supposed protection of vegetarianism melts
It should always be remembered that a number of
things factor in as to whether a person gets heart disease or cancer.
Instead of focusing on the phony issues of saturated fat, dietary
cholesterol and meat-eating, people should pay more attention to
other, more likely factors. These would be trans fatty acids,
excessive polyunsaturated fat intake, excessive sugar intake,
excessive carbohydrate intake, smoking, certain vitamin and mineral
deficiencies, and obesity. These things were all conspicuously absent
in the healthy traditional peoples whom Dr Price studied.
Thanks to Sally Fallon, MA, Lee Clifford, MS, CCN, and Dr H. Leon
Abrams, Jr, for their gracious assistance in preparing and reviewing
This paper was not sponsored or paid for by the meat or dairy
The full text of the article, including
endnotes, is also available on the author's website at http://www.powerhealth.net/selected_articles.htm.
Dr Stephen Byrnes's article was originally published in the
Townsend Letter for Doctors &
Patients, July 2000, and was revised in
About the Author:
Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP, enjoys robust health on a diet that
includes butter, cream, eggs, meat, whole milk, cheese and liver. He
is the author of Diet & Heart Disease:
It's NOT What You Think and
Digestion Made Simple (Whitman Books, 2001), and The
Lazy Person's Whole Foods Cookbook
(Ecclesia Life Mana, 2001). He is based in the USA. Visit his website
The Weston A. Price Foundation:
Why I am Not a Vegetarian:
The Cholesterol Myths:
The Paleolithic Diet Page:
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