Practical Issues > Health - Index > Vegan Index

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.