Tag Archives: vegetarian diet

Vegetarian diets could help avert one-third of early deaths, Harvard researcher states

The benefits of a vegetarian diet have greatly been underestimated, American physician and nutrition researcher Walter Willett told the audience at a recent conference. Giving up meat while still maintaining eggs and dairy in your diet does wonders for your health and could prevent up to one-third of all early deaths, Willett concludes.

“We have just been doing some calculations looking at the question of how much could we reduce mortality shifting towards a healthy, more plant-based diet, not necessarily totally vegan, and our estimates are about one third of early deaths could be prevented,” he said.

“That’s not even talking about physical activity or not smoking, and that’s all deaths, not just cancer deaths. That’s probably an underestimate as well as that doesn’t take into account the fact that obesity is important and we control for obesity,” he added.

Recent research has consistently shown that vegetarian diets, while far from being a panacea, are effective at reducing weight and maintaining health. However, Willett’s study suggests that figures from previous studies gravely underestimate the benefits of such diets. For instance, the Office for National Statistics suggested that 141,000 deaths a year in Britain were preventable by renouncing meat, while the new research reports that about 200,000 lives could be saved each year in the UK if individuals removed meat from their diets.

He wasn’t the only one to praise vegetarianism at the Unite to Cure Fourth International Vatican Conference, where he presented his results. Professor David Jenkins, of the University of Toronto, who is credited with developing the glycemic index, also praised the effect that a plant-based diet has on one’s health.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”” footer=””]The glycemic index is a rating system which shows how quickly each food affects your blood sugar (glucose) level when that food is eaten on its own, a unit widely used in nutritional and gastronomic guides[/panel]

In a study on gorillas, Jenkins found that if gorillas are fed the equivalent of a human vegetarian diet, their cholesterol drops by 35% in only two weeks — the expected equivalent of a strong treatment with statins — a class of lipid-lowering medications. Having a simple diet change be as effective as a medical treatment is remarkable and shows just how important the vegetarian diet can be.

“That was quite dramatic,” Jenkins said “We showed that there was no real difference between what we got with the diet and what we got with a statin.” However, at least for now, the diet switch on its own is no substitute for medical treatment.

Even if you don’t entirely give up meat, reducing meat intake can have extremely beneficial results. There is substantial research which shows that reducing meat from our diets (especially red meat) can help us be healthier and live longer.

Results have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Panda poo shows they shouldn’t munch on bamboo so much

Giant pandas love to feast on bamboo – it’s their favorite food, and they usually make quick work of it, using their powerful jaws to peel the plant’s tough bark and get to the tender core. But even though the pandas love it, their stomachs don’t – a new study has revealed that the panda’s stomach is not adapted to a completely herbivorous diet, and still craves for an omnivorous meal, like other bears.

With them being so fluffy and lazy, it’s easy to forget that panda bears are… well, bears. But bears eat both plants and other animals – they have what is called an omnivorous diet – while pandas only eat plants (mostly bamboo). However, the giant panda still has the digestive system of a carnivore, as well as carnivore-specific genes, and thus derives little energy and little protein from consumption of bamboo – which is why it can spend up to 14 hours a day eating bamboo.

A team of researchers in China wanted to see just how well the panda’s stomach gets along with its food, so they took 121 fecal samples from 45 giant pandas — 24 adults, 16 juveniles and five cubs. They then compared the results with those from a previous study on wild pandas. Both studies showed the fact that pandas don’t have plant-degrading in bacteria, and draw very little energy from bamboo.

“This result is unexpected and quite interesting, because it implies the giant panda’s gut microbiota may not have well adapted to its unique diet, and places pandas at an evolutionary dilemma,” said Xiaoyan Pang, a co-author of the study in a press release.

It seems like evolution only went half way – the pandas developed powerful jaws and teeth specifically for eating plants, but they don’t have the digestive system to work with. So the only solution that was left for them was to have bacteria that help it break down the bamboo. The authors write:

“The giant panda appears to have no alternative but to rely on symbiotic gut microbes to adapt to its highly fibrous diet.”

So that’s what the researchers were expecting to find, except they didn’t. Furthermore, the bacterial diversity in the panda’s stomachs was extremely low, compared to other mammals. A high gut bacteria diversity is associated with resilience and adaptation capability, so this means that the panda is highly vulnerable and can’t really adapt to new environments and new diets.

But the biggest surprise was the fact that the dominating bacteria population was represented by Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus – something you’d expect to see in meat eaters, not vegetarians. Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroidetes bacteria, generally associated with degrading fiber, were missing.

So why is it then that pandas eat plants? Why did their transformation from omnivorous to plant-eating bear stop half way?

We still don’t know yet, but one thing’s for sure: pandas are passing through an evolutionary stage where they are extremely vulnerable. They can’t adapt to new environment, they can’t properly digest the food they eat, and so they have to spend most of their time eating and not spend much energy. In other words, pandas might just be eating their way to extinction.

Tick bite helps spread vegetarianism

What would you like with your burger? Some anaphylaxis, maybe? No? How about nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, congestion, sneezing, headaches or asthma? If this would happen to me, I would definitely say pass.

What does this have to do with a tick or with anything for that matter, one might ask. As it turns out, if you get bitten by a lone star tick, you have a good chance of developing what is called “alpha-gal allergic reaction” – which thankfully, doesn’t mean you’ll become allergic to girls, but sadly, means you will become allergic to a sugar carbohydrate found in red meats.

If you get bitten by this tick antibodies to alpha-gal in the tick’s saliva are produced in the person’s blood. Your body of course starts attacking the carbohydrate and remembers it as a bad thing, therefore it will attack it every time it sees it – including the one from meat.

“Blood levels of antibodies for alpha-gal in the human body can rise after a single bite from the lone star tick,” said allergist Stanley Fineman, M.D., ACAAI president. “This can result in allergic symptoms which are usually delayed after meat ingestion and may present as mild hives but may also be a severe, potentially deadly reaction known as anaphylaxis.”

The tick may be small, but it’s leaving quite a footprint. According to researchers, positive alpha-gal rates are 32 percent higher in the central and southern regions of the United States, which is lone star tick territory.

“These findings suggest that other species of ticks, or possibly human factors, may play a role in allergic reactions to alpha-gal,” said Fineman. “Patients with delayed allergic reactions after eating meats should see an allergist to determine if it is an alpha-gal allergy. The best treatment is strict avoidance of meat.”

So cows and pigs rejoice, hamburger sales go down, veggie sales go up… sounds like a good thing to me.

Diet With A Little Meat Uses Less Land Than Most Vegetarian Diets


The number of people that our planet supports is growing fast [later edit: 7th billion baby comes with a warning], and for the diet that every man has there is a land surface which provides his food. Some types of diet require more land, some less; a low-fat vegetarian diet is very efficient and it does not need a big surface to provide the nutrients – this is nothing new.

But adding some dairy products and a limited amount of meat may actually increase this efficiency, Cornell researchers suggest.This was pointed out by a study which concludes that if everyone in New York state followed a low-fat vegetarian diet, the state could directly support almost 50 percent more people, or about 32 percent of its population, agriculturally. With the current diet which is very high-meat and high-dairy the state is able to support directly only 22 percent of its population.

This study is very important because it is the first study to to examine the land requirements of diets. They looked at 42 diets with the same number of calories and a core of grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products with foods which are produced in New York state and found a fivefold difference between the two extremes.

“A person following a low-fat vegetarian diet, for example, will need less than half (0.44) an acre per person per year to produce their food,” said Christian Peters, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’07, a Cornell postdoctoral associate in crop and soil sciences and lead author of the research. “A high-fat diet with a lot of meat, on the other hand, needs 2.11 acres.”. “Surprisingly, however, a vegetarian diet is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of land use,” said Peters. That is because fruits vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland, he explained.

There are not so many crops. Meat and dairy products are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land. “In order to reach the efficiency in land use of moderate-fat, vegetarian diets, our study suggests that New Yorkers would need to limit their annual meat and egg intake to about 2 cooked ounces a day,” Peters said. The average American ate approximately 5.8 ounces of meat and eggs a day in 2005.