Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter
From 26 January 2002 Issue
Research on diet and health show
By Dr Barnard
New research shows that health problems can be solved with proper diet instead of drugs and surgery, although the latter cannot be replaced completely. We have found that a vegan diet helps reduce and sometimes even reverse diseases like diabetes and coronary problems, and reduces the risk of cancer. It also helps reduce menstrual pain. These findings are significant even in India, where diabetes and heart diseases are on the rise.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is a kind of vegetarian diet which not only eliminates meat, chicken, fish but also eggs, milk and dairy products. It reduces consumption of fat and cholesterol and is rich in plant nutrients. There are four groups of food in the vegan diet--whole grains like wheat and rice, pulses like beans and lentils, vegetables and fruits. A good diet would be a combination of the four.
What is the evidence that a vegan diet reduces health problems?
In 1990, Dr Dean Ornish of the University of California first demonstrated that it was possible to reverse heart disease through diet change. He found that a change in diet could reduce chest pain in a matter of weeks, and even a reversal of the disease in 12 months.
The reason for this is that cholesterol is found only in animal products. When we put heart patients on a vegan diet, we found that in 82 per cent of the cases, the arteries redilated without surgery. We are not talking about people with advanced heart disease.
Similarly, even with diabetes, it has been found that most patients who are put on a vegan diet need less medication or, in some cases, are able to come off medication completely.
Why do you say milk is harmful?
Countries that consume dairy products heavily have higher incidence of prostate and breast cancers. This is partly because of the high fat content in milk, which may stimulate the liver to make more estrogen. In a women's body, too much of estrogen stimulates the production of cancer cells. Of course, breast milk is very important for babies. But we do not recommend cow or buffalo milk. Buffalo milk has almost 60 per cent fat. Milk also contains Insulin-like growth factor, too much of which stimulates the spread of cancer cells.
You contributed to Dr Benjamin Spock's last edition of `Baby and Child Care', where Dr Spock advocated that children above two years follow a purely vegan diet. This sparked a controversy as many felt milk is an important source of calcium and Vitamin B12.
The controversy was primarily based on the fact that we have a huge dairy industry in the US. Their advertising budget alone is 200 million dollars a year.
Nature has designed cow's milk for its calf alone. Milk inhibits iron absorption, so milk drinking populations as in India have twice the incidence of anemia and iron deficiency than that of China, where milk is not popular. As for calcium, milk does not necessarily prevent osteoporosis. In a Harvard Nurses' Health Study conducted on 78,000 women over a 12-year period, it was found that those who consumed a lot of milk a day had twice the number of hip fractures as compared to those who did not consume milk at all.
How practical is a switch over to vegan diet? Critics say that the right vegetarian combine is unlivable for many people. There is also a traditional resistance to giving up dairy products.
Milk was not used till 4,000 B.C. and was not popular till recently. We think these are traditions but they are not as old as they seem.
Practically, grains can be stored for a long period of time, more than dairy products and meat. And what you need is a variety of the four food groups, so there's a whole range of pulses and vegetables to choose from--cheap and costly. Healthy food might be more expensive, but treatment of heart disease and diabetes is also expensive.
When we recommend these diets to people, we tell them to follow it for three weeks. At the end of it, they like it so much that they want to stay on it for the rest of their lives.
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