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News flash: Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters

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By Heather Moore

Health news can be so depressing. Virtually every day, we see discouraging reports about heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. We’re warned that certain drugs can be nearly as harmful as the conditions that they’re meant to treat. We’re reminded that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are spreading like wildfire, and we’re cautioned that childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity now kills three times as many people worldwide as malnutrition. There is real cause for concern. But there is also a good reason to be optimistic. In a study published recently, researchers from Loma Linda University in California shared some encouraging news: Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters.

The findings from the large-scale study—which was funded by the National Institutes of Health—should remind us that we aren’t powerless victims of chronic disease. We can all be healthier just by bypassing the meat counter and opting for plant-based meals.

The researchers tracked more than 73,000 Seventh-day Adventists for nearly six years. They used questionnaires to find out what type of diet the participants ate (many, but not all, Seventh-day Adventists are vegetarian) and then followed up to find out how many of the participants had died and how.

Here’s what they discovered: The vegetarian (and mostly vegetarian) participants—people included in this group ranged from those who didn’t eat any animal-based foods at all to those who ate meat only once a week—were 12 percent less likely to die prematurely than those who ate meat regularly. Those in the vegetarian group were 19 percent less likely to die from heart disease, in particular, and were also less likely to die from diabetes and kidney failure. In addition, they tended to be thinner and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Although the researchers were quick to note that the vegetarians were more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke or drink in excess, they attributed their findings largely to the participants’ food choices. The researchers weren’t completely sure why a plant-based diet has such a protective effect, but they speculated that it’s because plant foods tend to be higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat.

And unlike meat, which contains high amounts of cholesterol, sodium, nitrates and other unhealthy ingredients, plant-based foods are cholesterol-free and contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that help combat carcinogens and other harmful substances in the body.

Other studies, including a previous one involving about 30,000 Seventh-day Adventists, have also suggested that people who eat wholesome plant-based foods live longer than meat-eaters. Because of these studies, many hospitals and healthcare facilities around the U.S., including Boston Medical Center and St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles, have initiated programs to encourage people to eat more plant-based foods. Medical providers at the L.A. facility, for example, have begun writing “prescriptions” for patients to buy organic fruits and vegetables. By promoting vegan foods, healthcare practitioners hope to help patients maintain a healthy weight and prevent—and sometimes even reverse—deadly diseases.

We can’t predict when or how we’ll die, but we can try to increase our life expectancy and quality of life. Choosing vegan foods rather than meat, eggs and dairy products is a simple way to help ensure that you’ll be with your loved ones—and not in an emergency room—for as long as possible.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 24, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Don’t let the drought dry up your wallet–go vegan

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By Heather Moore

Dry enough for you? No one needs to be reminded that the nation is experiencing the worst drought in half a century, with nearly two-thirds of the continental U.S. suffering from drought conditions. The dry, hot weather is fueling wildfires, scorching lawns and sending food prices soaring—especially for people who eat meat, eggs and dairy products.

If you’re concerned about your grocery bills—or your health—now would be a good time to start buying vegan foods instead of animal-based ones.

Farmed animals are fed more than 70 percent of the grains grown in the U.S. It takes 4.5 pounds of grain to make just 1 pound of chicken meat and 7.3 pounds of grain to produce a pound of pork. Now that many corn, wheat and soybean crops have been damaged or destroyed because of the drought, feed prices are soaring. It’s so bad that some meat companies, including Smithfield Foods, have even started importing corn from Brazil. Guess who’s going to foot the bill.

Meat-eaters can expect to see a spike in prices in the coming months. Consumers who eat cheese will probably also have to pick up the tab for all the calves who died from heat stress on Midwestern dairy farms in July.

Shoppers will likely see higher prices at the chicken counter first, though. The birds are fed mostly corn, and since chicken farmers engineer them to grow unnaturally fast, chicken flesh tends to reach the market quicker than beef or pork.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that chicken and turkey prices will rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent and that egg prices will likely climb by as much as 4 percent. Beef prices are also expected to rise between 3.5 and 4.5 percent this year and then by 4 or 5 percent in 2013. Pork will cost more in the coming year as well.

It’s cheaper, not to mention healthier and kinder, to eat grains and soybeans—and all the foods that can be made from them—directly rather than funneling them through farmed animals to produce animal products. The amount of feed needed to produce one 8-ounce steak would fill 45 to 50 bowls with cooked cereal grains. And while shoppers will see a spike in milk and meat prices, they probably won’t see a significant increase in the cost of corn on the cob, cornflakes or other plant-based foods sold in supermarkets. The corn that consumers buy at the grocery store is grown differently from the corn that’s used to feed animals and isn’t as severely affected by drought conditions.

Whole grains, beans, vegetables and other wholesome plant-based foods are even more of a bargain when you factor in the medical bills that you might rack up if you eat lots of fatty, cholesterol-laden meats, eggs and dairy products.

Of course, choosing vegan foods isn’t just a good way to save animals or money at the supermarket. It’s also an easy way to help conserve water—you can save more water by not eating 1 pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months. Even a collaborative rain dance likely wouldn’t make that much of a difference!

Whether you’re watching your budget, your waistline or just the weather channel, it’ll pay to go vegan. But if you need some extra exercise, feel free to do a rain dance anyway.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

September 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Fight cancer with food

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By Jonny Imerman

June 11-17 is Men’s Health Week—a good time for men of all ages to kick-start healthy habits. In my 20s, I survived two bouts of testicular cancer. Since that time, I’ve helped create a one-on-one cancer support organization, Imerman Angels, that connects someone fighting cancer with a person who’s been in the same shoes and survived. It gives me so much joy to give back. However, for years my own body didn’t feel its best. Last year, I went vegan, and I’ve never felt better.

I’m not here to lecture. I ate meat and dairy products for years, so who am I to judge? We cancer survivors should never judge regardless; we’re happy just to be here still. But I hope that by hearing about my experience, you’ll feel a little more empowered to take your health into your own hands.

One of the turning points that helped me decide to go vegan was listening to leukemia researcher Dr. Rosane Oliveira—herself a vegan—from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign speak about how dietary changes can help people lead healthier lives. I learned that research has linked the standard American diet—full of cholesterol and saturated fats—with serious illnesses, including cancer, while vegetarians have been shown to have a much lower cancer risk.

Animal proteins and saturated fats found in meat promote the growth of cancer cells and increase our risk for certain types of cancer. Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell’s China Study concluded that proteins from animal foods are the most cancer-causing substances ingested by humans. The study also found that casein, the primary protein in cow’s milk, “turns on” the growth of cancer cells. A link has even been discovered between dairy products and testicular cancer, which makes me even more confident in my decision to dump dairy.

Vegan foods, in contrast, help fight cancer. A study of men diagnosed with prostate cancer found that a diet rich in plant foods can slow or even halt the progression of the disease. Dark, leafy veggies like spinach and kale and fruits like blueberries are loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants, and beans, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods help rid your body of excess hormones that can contribute to cancer growth.

Vegan eating has other benefits, too. Following my treatment, I felt so tired and beaten down—my immune system was rattled. Now, even though I regularly meet and shake the hands of many people, I haven’t been sick once (and for people with cancer, an immune system boost can make all the difference). I feel great, I’m strong in the gym and my energy levels are high.

I also love animals, and it feels good knowing that the food I’m eating doesn’t contribute to their suffering. Another turning point for me was watching the video that Sir Paul McCartney narrated for PETA, “Glass Walls,” which includes undercover video footage showing how animals are slaughtered, suffering and in pain. There seems to be a great synergy between cancer survivors, who value their lives and health so highly because they are lucky to be alive, and people who choose to eat compassionate and healthy vegan foods.

You don’t have to take my word for it about the advantages of eating vegan, though. Try it for yourself. Healthy vegan foods provide all the nutrients that we need, so there’s nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

Jonny Imerman is the founder of Imerman Angels, a nonprofit group that provides one-on-one support to people touched by cancer; http://www.ImermanAngels.org. He wrote this for People for the Ethical Ttreatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 14, 2012 at 9:34 pm

For good bone health, break your dairy addiction

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By Heather Moore

It’s National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month—time to bone up on bone health. Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, and 34 million more have low bone mass, putting them at risk for the disease. Osteoporosis-related fractures are expected to cost Americans a back-breaking $25 billion by 2025.

Some people think that you can prevent osteoporosis simply by eating calcium-rich foods, but when it comes to building strong bones, what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do. Before you race to the store for a gallon of milk, know that osteoporosis is not generally caused by inadequate calcium intake but rather by rapid calcium loss. If you want to build and maintain strong bones, dumping dairy products and eating a wholesome vegan diet is a good place to start.

Animal protein, sodium and, to some extent, caffeine leech calcium from the bones (it is excreted in the urine), causing severe bone deterioration. Dairy products contain significant amounts of protein and sodium, and studies suggest that not only does dairy consumption not reduce osteoporotic bone loss, it might even contribute to it. A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women found that those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than did women who rarely drank milk.

Calcium intake alone does not protect against osteoporosis, nor does a low-calcium intake signify a fracture risk. People living in countries with the lowest calcium intake rates tend to have fewer fractures than do those living in countries with higher rates. This is likely because the countries with high calcium intake rates—such as the U.S.—also tend to have high protein intake rates from consuming large amounts of meat and dairy products.

According to the World Health Organization, the recommended calcium allowance is higher in the U.S. than in other parts of the world, partly because Americans eat such a meat-heavy diet. A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that when animal proteins were eliminated from the diet, calcium losses were cut in half.

Experts believe that because vegans don’t consume the excessive protein found in meat, eggs and dairy products, they are able to process calcium more efficiently than can meat-eaters. And vegans tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, which, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, help stave off osteoporosis because they contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K and other nutrients needed for healthy bones. Leafy greens, beans, almonds, broccoli, butternut squash, figs, oats, soy milk and tofu are especially good sources of calcium and magnesium.

Vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium, isn’t naturally present in many foods, but it is added to some common foods. You can get vitamin D—without the fat and cholesterol found in cow’s milk—from fortified soy and rice milks, orange juice and cereals as well as from supplements and, of course, sunshine.

Some risk factors for osteoporosis—age, sex, family history and bone size—are difficult to change, but you can reduce your risk for the disease by exercising, not smoking, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and cutting salt, meat, cheese and cow’s milk out of your diet. It will do our bodies, animals and the environment good if we wean ourselves from dairy products and break our addiction to animal protein.

Heather Moore is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm