When I was beginning to follow a vegetarian diet in the early 1940s, it wasn't considered a very smart way to eat. I was told that some folks called vegetarians "peanut eaters."
Nutritional science, like most other sciences, has made great progress since that time.
To read an up-to-date story about how being a vegetarian improved someone's health and that of her husband, see the June 2011 issue of Guideposts magazine. The article is entitled "Everday Choices" starting on page 30.
Now for other vegetarian advantages: Some of the things mentioned here have already been mentioned in my other columns and will be mentioned only briefly here:
No. 1: In a single study done on humans a vegetarian diet did not hurt the function of the inner lining (the endothelium) of the brachial artery whereas a high animal fat diet did. Abnormal function of the endothelium can cause hardening of the arteries. (JAMA 1997)
No. 2: Two studies of pesticides in the breast milk of vegetarian and meat-eating women showed the levels of pesticides in the vegetarian women was lower than in the meat-eaters. In the U.S. study, the highest level in the vegetarian women was lower than the lowest level in meat-eaters. No one knows for sure how those pesticide levels will affect the infant. (Acta Pediatrica Scandinavica 1983 and New England Journal of Medicine 1981)
No. 3: In 2003 a report was made on the first study done in the U.S. telling of the levels of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in U.S. mother's breast milk. They were found to be 10-100 times higher than the human tissue levels in Europe where some of the countries have banned their use. The next to the last sentence in this report is as follows: "These results indicate a need for more detailed investigation of the levels of PBDE in people and food, as well as determining if animal fat in food is the major route of exposure of the general population." (Environmental Health Perspectives 2003)
No. 4. Vegetarians have more stamina than meat eaters. In Sweden six physical education students were asked to pedal to exhaustion on stationary bicycles after being fed three different diets. One was a high-protein, high-fat diet designated P. A second was a mixed diet with both meat and plants designated M. The third was a vegetarian diet designated C. All six men ate the same diets and were on them for three days each before doing the exercising. The average work time on the P diet was 59 minutes, on the M it was 126 minutes and on the C it was 189 minutes, which was more than three times as long as the P diet. (Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 1967)
I personally experienced this phenomenon twice but will only tell one instance here. At the age of 66 I hiked across the Grand Canyon in one day, a distance of 23¬? miles, with two young athletic doctors who were less than half my age. At the end of a very tiring day I was out ahead of them at least 100 feet when one of them hollered, "Dr. Casebolt, can you tell where we can get two cases of those vegetarian weiners?"
No. 5: In general vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancers.
No. 6: Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the U.S. for nearly 100 years, according to the book "The China Study." Is a vegetarian diet a plus or a minus as far as heart disease is concerned? American men die from heart disease at a rate almost 17 times that of rural Chinese who largely eat a plant-based diet. ("The China Study," pages 115 and 273)
In the book "Diet, Life Expectancy and Chronic Diseases, Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians" by Dr. Gary E.Fraser, we find in a California study that compared Adventists to non-Adventists, Adventist males ages 35-54 had less than a third the number of deaths from heart disease compared to their non-Adventist counterparts.
The same book shows the average American male had a 19.5 percent chance of living to 85 whereas 48.6 percent of vegetarian Adventist males lived to be 85. This however is not likely due only to being vegetarians since almost no SDA men smoke and very few drink alcohol.
As a vegetarian physician the most common question I get asked is, "Where do you get your protein?" One of the things I point out is that many people get too much protein and there is adequate protein in plant foods.
Then I will ask them what are the strongest animals in the world? The usual answer is elephants, horses and bulls. They all get their protein from plants. So folks eat the animals and get their protein secondhand along with saturated fat, pesticides and other waste products in the animals bodies.
Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent 4 years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.