Practical Issues > Health - Index > Vegan Index

Health by Bruce Friedrich, PETA

Meat, dairy, and egg products are making people sick. In fact, they are ruining our later years and killing us. They have absolutely no fiber or complex carbohydrates in them, and they are packed with saturated fat and cholesterol. In the short term, eating meat, dairy products, and eggs is likely to make a person fat and lethargic. In the long term, eating these products can cause heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, and an array of other problems. I’d like to make a couple of points about human physiology, and then I’ll talk about the link between animal products and a few of the worst health scourges plaguing North Americans.

It’s amazing how many seemingly intelligent people, to justify their meat-eating, open their mouths, point at their teeth, and say something about “canines” as a means of defending a habit that is ecologically devastating, cruel to animals, and likely to kill them. Leaving aside how different human “canines” are from the canine teeth of carnivores (I really wonder if these people have ever even looked at the long, dagger-like canines of a dog or tiger), every natural carnivore has an array of other physiological properties that do not mirror ours. For example, unlike humans, all natural meat-eaters, such as dogs and rats, manufacture their own vitamin C, whereas we need to consume vitamin C in fruits and vegetables; true carnivores perspire through their tongues rather than through their skin; natural meat-eaters have sharp, pointy front teeth, sharp and jagged molars, and a tooth-bone density many times greater than that of humans, which enables them to crunch through the bones of their prey; carnivores have no digestive enzymes in their saliva at all, and their digestive acids are many times more acidic than those of humans, so the bacteria from rotting flesh won’t kill them; natural meat-eaters have jaws that move only vertically, instead of in a grinding motion as ours do, and they don’t chew their food—they just rip and swallow; carnivores have claws to rip their prey apart instead of sensitive fingers for plucking; they have an intestinal tract only three times their body length to eject rotting flesh quickly; and natural meat-eaters never develop atherosclerosis, no matter how much saturated fat and cholesterol they consume—this is the disease that kills almost as many human beings in the industrialized world as all other causes of death combined. And the list of physiological differences between people and natural meat-eaters goes on and on.

But let’s also think about natural behaviors. How many of us salivate at the idea of chasing a small animal, ripping her limb from limb, and then devouring her, blood and all? I hope that no one listening has that reaction, but every carnivore does. How many of us, if we’re walking down the street and see an animal carcass on the road, think, “Mmmmmm ... I’d like to eat that!”? No. We think, “Oh, how sad,” or, “Blech.” Every single carnivore, if hungry, digs in.

Yes, human beings learned, “Hey, if we kill all the bacteria with fire, this stuff probably won’t kill us.” And a long time ago, when there was no vegetation for us, we started eating meat. BUT it’s still not good for us, and in fact it’s so bad for us that it kills many of us.

As I said, I adopted a vegan diet in 1987 At the time, I was running cross country, and when I dropped meat and dairy products from my diet, my 10k time plummeted from about 46 or 47 minutes down to between 42 and 43 minutes. Basically, when I stopped forcing my body to expend so much energy processing saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, I had more energy, my metabolism sped up, I dropped a few pounds that I didn’t even know I had, and I got faster. I also found that I needed less sleep, had far more energy, and felt happier, just in general. Of course, I am not unique. Vegans are always telling me that they need less sleep and less coffee and have more energy than they ever had before. They also tell me that their newfound energy has made them happier.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell is one of the world’s foremost epidemiological scientists and director of what The New York Times called “the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.” Dr. Campbell’s studies have shown that, as he puts it, “the vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet.”

Let’s touch on heart disease first. Heart disease kills almost as many people in North America as all other causes of death combined. Up until about 15 years ago, it was assumed that as people get older, their arteries inevitably become clogged. If you didn’t get hit by a bus or die of cancer or something, your arteries would eventually close, causing either your brain or your heart to give out, and that would be it. Enter Dr. Dean Ornish, who has since proven that 100 percent of heart attacks from clogged arteries—and again, this is by far the developed world’s biggest killer—that 100 percent are preventable. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has replicated Dr. Ornish’s findings, taking patients who were suffering from clogged arteries and making them “heart attack proof” (to quote Dr. Esselstyn in the August 1999 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology) by getting their cholesterol levels down below 150.

In fact, the average vegan cholesterol level is about 133, while the average vegetarian cholesterol level is 161. And the average meat-eater’s cholesterol level is 210. Although the medical establishment may say “Well, you’ve done your best,” at 210, people are still dropping like flies. As Dr. Charles Attwood pointed out, this is insane: If people were being run down by trucks at the same rate that they’re dying from meat-and-dairy-induced heart attacks, something would be done.

And the same is true for cancer. There is complete scientific unanimity: As much cancer is caused by diet as is caused by smoking, which is a lot! And it is also completely clear how we can prevent cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund, the American Cancer Society, and the Royal Cancer Society in Britain—all organizations that study the issue agree that as many cases of cancer are caused by diet as are caused by smoking, and all of them make the same top-two recommendations for preventing cancer: Eat more plant-based foods, and eat fewer animal-based foods. In other words, “go vegan.” According to Dr. William Castelli, chair of the Nutrition Department at Harvard Medical School and the researcher who has directed the longest-running clinical trial in history, “A low-fat, plant-based diet would … lower the cancer rate 60 percent.”

Just to be clear, it’s not the fat and cholesterol that cause cancer; it’s the animal protein. The fat and cholesterol cause heart disease; the animal protein causes cancer. Dr. T. Colin Campbell states that “human studies also support this carcinogenic effect of animal protein, even at usual levels of consumption … no chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein.”

But what about milk? That the dairy industry has succeeded in selling people on this nonsense—that cow’s milk is good for them—is truly remarkable and a tribute to the power of pouring money into advertising. But no one tries to defend milk-drinking as natural, because what could be less natural than one species’ decision to consume the mammary secretions of another species? It’s not as if nature made a mistake—dog mothers’ milk for puppies; kangaroo mothers’ milk for kangaroos; rat mothers’ milk for baby rats; cow mothers’ milk for calves … oh, hey, wait a minute! Let’s use cow mammary secretions for human beings also, including grown-up ones who shouldn’t be drinking any mothers’ milk at their age anyway. Of course not.

Nevertheless, the dairy industry would have us believe that consuming its products will protect and even build your bones. The fact is, however, that clinical and population evidence shows us otherwise. For example, in the areas of the world where people consume the most dairy products, you find the highest rates of osteoporosis. Please check out PETA’s Web site to learn all about the link between meat and dairy consumption and osteoporosis. What dairy researchers do to spin the results of studies would make George Orwell proud, but in the end, it is obvious that the dairy industry is profit-driven and that it will sacrifice our health in a heartbeat in order to make more money.

Recently, there has been a lot of commotion about the fact that kids are getting fatter. One culprit is the soft drink industry, which is signing contracts with school systems to have its products given prominent placement. The dairy industry saw the prospect of a serious payday if it could challenge the soda dominance in schools. So what did the industry introduce? A product with even more sugar than sodas and more than twice the calories—460 calories in one bottle, and 16 grams of fat to boot! That’s almost as much fat as in a McDonald’s “Happy Meal,” and this is just a beverage. Dairy products are a prescription for obesity, heart disease, lethargy, and a host of other problems. That the dairy industry would actually claim to be doing kids a favor is morally revolting.

On the other hand, vegetarians are one-third as likely to be obese as meat-eaters, and vegans are about one-tenth as likely to be obese. You can be a fat vegan, of course, and you can be a skinny meat-eater. But vegans are, on average, 10 to 20 percent lighter than meat-eaters. Anyone who has questions about this might want to review Dr. Neal Barnard’s Food for Life or Dr. Dean Ornish’s Eat More: Weigh Less.

Finally, because many people do care more about quality of life than about longevity, let’s look at sex. Vegans tend to be much lighter than ovo-lacto vegetarians and meat-eaters, and they tend to have more energy, need less sleep, and so on. Clearly, these aspects of veganism can be good for a person’s sex life. But clogged arteries will block the blood flow to your extremities before they cut off the blood to your heart and kill you. This results in poor circulation and, for guys, impotence. And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that many cholesterol-cutting drugs have, as one of their side effects, reduced sexual desire and potency. Toss out the Viagra; a vegan diet is natural Viagra.

All of this analysis applies to fish flesh as well as to other animal products: Fish flesh also has no fiber or complex carbohydrates and is packed with cholesterol. Fish are also frequently laden with heavy metals or other contaminants from the water in which they swim. We’ve all heard the warnings about high mercury levels in fish and how pregnant women shouldn’t consume fish; well, if it’s not good for pregnant women, it can’t be good for anyone else, either.

According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office, or GAO, inadequate regulations mean that unsafe, contaminated, and spoiled fish often end up on our nation’s grocery shelves. In fact, 15 percent of all food-borne illnesses in the U.S. are caused by contaminated fish, even though fish represents only a small fraction of the total food consumed. Some fish flesh is offered for sale without having been inspected even once, and even where FDA oversight applies, according to the GAO, many inspections consist of no more than paperwork, and even serious violations rarely result in a consumer alert.

Really, there is nothing good about fish flesh. The one thing we hear about is the cholesterol-lowering properties of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, but one finds Omega 3’s and 6’s in many vegan foods as well, like flaxseed oil. Besides, if your cholesterol level is below 150—and remember that the average vegan level is 133—you’d make Ripley’s Believe It or Not if you had a heart attack.

All this discussion is about animal products when they’re at their best, that is, organic. But most animal products are packed full of antibiotics, dioxins, and food-borne pathogens like E. Coli, salmonella, and campylobacter. Millions of people get sick each year from eating contaminated meat, especially chicken and sea animals, and thousands die. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, meat and dairy consumers are taking in 22 times the acceptable level of dioxins in their food. Ninety-five percent of dioxin exposure comes from consuming meat, dairy, or egg products. The other 5 percent is environmental; virtually none comes from consuming vegan foods.

If you care about your health, if you want to live with as much vigor as possible, look as good as possible, and do as much good as possible, it would be wise to move toward adopting a vegan diet.