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The Beef Diet -- Prescription for Disaster.
By Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Washington, D.C.
Imagine if two jumbo jets collided over a major city and, in the resulting
fireball, 4,000 people died -- it would be a national tragedy -- one of the worst
accidents ever. People would demand that airlines and the government made sure nothing
like that could ever happen again. A tragedy of this proportion happened the day before
yesterday. It happened yesterday, too. It will happen again today and tomorrow.
Every single day in the United States, 4,000 lives are taken by heart
attacks and almost nothing is being done about it. For years now, we have known of the
role diet plays in health, yet unhealthy diets are still promoted by the government,
livestock industries, advertisers, and even doctors. Healthy diets must be presented and
encouraged by these groups if America's health care crisis is going to be solved. Dietary
changes are worth making. Two of the three leading killers of Americans are heart disease
and stroke. Both are linked to "hardening of the arteries" -- atherosclerosis --
which, in turn, is largely caused by high-fat, cholesterol-laden diets.
As we all know, animal flesh, and beef in particular, is a major source
of cholesterol and saturated fat. The enormous toll of these diseases is taken one patient
at a time, as doctors finally give up trying to resuscitate yet another heart that is
damaged beyond hope. The toll is also felt in the national pocketbook. Coronary bypasses
and expensive diagnostic tests are now the budget-breaking routine in every city in
America. Many other diseases also have their roots in our daily meals. Breast cancer,
which has reached epidemic proportions, killing one woman every twelve minutes, is clearly
related to diet.
The same connections have been drawn between diet and cancers of the
colon and prostate. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, some 80 percent
of cancer deaths are attributable to smoking, diet, and other identifiable and
controllable factors. Foods rich in fat and oils increase our cancer risk. About 40
percent of all the calories we eat comes from the fat in meats, poultry, fish, dairy
products, fried foods and vegetable oils. These fats stimulate the over-production of
hormones which encourage cancer and promote the development of carcinogens in the
digestive tract. Not only are beef and other meats high in cholesterol and saturated fats,
but they are also low in some vital vitamins and minerals, and they contain zero fiber.
Recently there has been enormous scientific attention given to the role
beta-carotene and other vitamins and minerals play in blocking cancer growth. Whole
grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals. And plant foods
have fiber -- a substance completely lacking in beef and other meats. We have long known
that fiber helps eliminate many common gastrointestinal problems such as constipation;
however, evidence shows that it also is protective against a wide variety of diseases
ranging from colon cancer to diabetes, and from gallstones to appendicitis. It also binds
with carcinogenic substances, bile, and excess hormones which would otherwise rest in the
digestive tract, and moves them out of the body.
As one studies the diets of people around the world, one thing becomes
clear: as people give up traditional diets that are low in fats, high in fiber, and
predominantly plant-based in favor of beef and other meats, the incidence of diseases such
as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease rises. At the same time, life
expectancy and quality of life decline. In recent years, Japan has been the target of
American beef and tobacco promotional campaigns that seem to be some sort of Pearl Harbor
revenge program. Members of the higher socioeconomic strata, who are adopting Westernized
diets, have much higher rates of breast, colon, and prostate cancer and heart disease than
their counterparts who eat less (or no) meat.
The Beyond Beef campaign is encouraging people to make this simple
change -- to step away from beef. It is a move that is good for you, for others, for
animals, and for the environment. So live a little; try some new cuisine; experiment with
traditional and ethnic foods. It could well help you live a lot longer.