There are a great many ethical reasons why someone might consider eliminating meat from their diet. But this month, I’m going to talk about an entirely self-interested reason for becoming vegetarian or vegan – health.
Most people are aware that eating fruits and vegetables is an essential part of a balanced, healthy diet. But to what extent should meat be part of that balance? To some extent, of course, it depends on how much meat one consumes, how often, and of what type. But a growing body of evidence is pointing to the conclusion that reducing or eliminating meat from our diet can make a positive contribution to our health. Indeed, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – the world’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals – has concluded that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases”.
Take, for example, cancer risk. The Oxford EPIC study, drawing its data from over 60,000 British men and women (a part of the EPIC cohort – a body of over half a million Europeans many of whom have been studied for nearly twenty years) discovered that the chances of a vegetarian getting cancers of the lymph or the blood are almost half that of a meat-eater. Vegetarians also get notably fewer stomach cancers, bladder cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas and multiple myelomas.
Professor Tim Key of Oxford University, and lead author in that study, concludes that “the risk of cancer is moderately but statistically significantly lower in vegetarians, and that’s after allowing for the differences there are in other things that affect cancer such as smoking and alcohol intake.” Overall, the study shows, vegetarians are 12 per cent less likely to get cancer than meat-eaters. Other studies have drawn similar conclusions, especially concerning an apparent link between eating red or processed meat and increased rates of cancer of the colon.
The grim news for meat-eaters doesn’t stop there. Vegetarians have a lower risk of admission to hospital or death from diverticular disease – a common form of bowel disease – a lower risk of cataracts than meat eaters, and a lower risk of ischemic heart disease – the single largest killer in Western societies.
Eating meat, of course, is no more a guarantee of illness and early death than being a vegetarian is a guarantee of good health (Oreo cookies are vegan!). But the evidence is mounting: the less meat we eat as part of a balanced diet, the better it is for our health. And that, surely, is food for thought!
Opinions expressed in this column will usually be those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Shingle.
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