The kind of foods you eat can make a huge difference whenit comes to
preventing disease and achieving optimum health
Given that there can be vast differences in eating styles among vegetarians,it's
worth considering which kinds of vegetarians do best.
In a 12-year study published in a 1994 issue of the British Medical Journal,"non- meat" eaters were said to have 20% less heart disease and40% less cancer [See full report in the Vegetarian Handbook 1996,p. 44]. Great news for vegetarians? Well, yes and no. The study does notdifferentiate between vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and total vegetarians(vegans). The study merely divides subjects into two groups: omnivores (notvegetarian) and "non-meat" eaters - broadly defined as thosewho eat meat or fish less than once a week, those who eat no meat or fishwhatsoever, and those who follow a totally dairy-free and egg-free "vegan"vegetarian diet. A 20-40% reduction in disease may sound impressive, butit pales in comparison to results from a similar study in China.
According to T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D, professor of nutritional biochemistryat Cornell University and director of the "China Health Project"of 6,500 "primarily vegetarian" persons in rural China - possibly the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on diet and disease - the Chinese experience rates of cancer "that are probably inthe neighbourhood of only about 5 to 10 percent, at most, of what you wouldtend to see in Britain or the United States. So there you're talking abouta 90 to 95 percent reduction." Heart disease in some areas of China"is virtually a negligible disease. It's almost not seen. It's a tremendousrate reduction compared to what we see in the west. Again, I would say atleast a 90 to 95 percent reduction."
Campbell suggests that the British study does not look at "seriousvegetarians" and that it fails to recognize that 90% of vegetarianstend to eat dairy products and eggs: "It turns out that their nutrientintakes are really not that different from the non- vegetarians." Achief reason for the Chinese advantage, he explains, is that dairy consumptionin China "is unheard of. It's just not used." Egg consumptionin China is also very low: between 0-15 grams per day, compared with 15-128grams per day in the U.S.
"The [lacto-ovo] vegetarians tended to substitute
one type of saturated fat for another"
Another British research team reflects this same theme - that thereare big
differences between a vegetarian diet rich in saturated fat (fromeggs and dairy)
and a vegetarian diet moderate in these foods. James Bell,Ph.D, of London's
Hammersmith Hospital, has looked at the issue: "Wefound the [lacto-ovo]
vegetarians consumed as much saturated fat as themeat-eaters," said Bell
in a recent interview. "The [lacto- ovo]vegetarians tended to substitute
dairy products for meat, which is simplysubstituting one type of saturated fat
for another," he is quoted assaying in the January 1994 issue of Vegetarian
One of the world's top heart researchers - Dr. William Castelli, medicaldirector of the Framingham Heart Study - repeats this same point. Ina recent interview, he explained: "The [lacto-ovo] vegetarians tendedto substitute one type of saturated fat for another" "There areall kinds of vegetarians. In fact, in the most famous study by [Dr. R.L.]Phillips, of the Seventh-Day Adventists, he split them up into the reallytrue vegetarians and the lacto-ovo's. The true vegetarians did better thanthe lacto-ovo's." And according to vegetarian dietitian Suzanne Havala - principal author of the American Dietetic Association's "PositionPaper" on vegetarian diets - "some of the [Seventh- Day]Adventists that have been looked at have pretty hefty intakes of cholesteroland saturated fat from dairy products."
In a 1994 address given in Toronto, Havala depicted how someone consumingvery small amounts of meat, fish, and fowl - and hardly any eggs ordairy - could be eating less saturated-fat than a vegetarian consumingcopious amounts of eggs and dairy products. For Havala, more important thangroup data is the eating habits of individual vegetarians: "Personally,my lacto-ovo vegetarian diet looks more like a vegan diet in nutrient compositionthan it does a rich lacto-ovo diet. You have to look at the individual dietbecause vegetarian diets are on a continuum."
Clearly, as many experts conclude, optimum protection from your vegetariandiet means eating foods that are low in fats.