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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

Eat vegan to beat breast cancer—doctor’s orders

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By Heather Moore

Now that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has begun, many doctors and nutritionists are dishing out dietary advice to help women ward off the deadly disease. After reviewing the latest research, responsible medical experts, including those with the American Cancer Society and New York’s Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care, have come to a consensus: Women should eat a plant-based diet rich in phytochemicals, which fight inflammation and knock out carcinogens. This invaluable advice should shift our focus from wearing pink to eating green—in other words, to eating wholesome vegan foods.

While fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and soy foods contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals, all that animal-based foods have to offer are cholesterol and cancer-causing substances, including concentrated protein, hormones and saturated fat. As many as one-third of common types of cancer, including breast cancer, are linked to excess weight and inactivity, and it’s much easier to maintain a healthy weight if you eat vegan foods. They tend to be low in fat and calories, unlike fatty animal-based foods, such as hamburgers, chicken and cheese. Studies even show that vegans are nine times less likely to be obese than meat-eaters and that vegans are about 40 percent less likely to get cancer than nonvegans. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that October is also World Vegetarian Awareness Month.

A Washington State University professor recently identified more than 40 plant-based compounds that help slow the progression of cancer. His findings, which are published in the journal Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, support the claim that people who eat a plant-based diet are less likely to get cancer.

High-fat animal-based foods raise estrogen levels, accelerating the growth of cancer cells. In contrast, plant-based foods tend to keep estrogen at a safe level. Researchers with Boston University tracked more than 50,000 African-American women for 12 years—1,300 of them developed breast cancer, and 35 percent of the cases were estrogen receptor-negative, a highly aggressive form of the disease. The women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day were 43 percent less likely to develop highly aggressive breast cancer than those who ate less than four servings of vegetables per week. Women who eat carrots and cruciferous vegetables, in particular, seem to have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

The lead researcher noted that high vegetable consumption offers significant health benefits, including protection against cancer. This conclusion is hardly an earth-shattering revelation, but it should give both men and women some food for thought. People who are concerned about cancer—or heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions—would be wise to choose vegan foods.

Another study, conducted by the University of Utah, found that women who eat healthy “native” Mexican foods, including beans, spices and tomato-based sauces, have a 32 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who eat a typical Western-style diet, which is heavy in meat and cheese.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who stars in the acclaimed documentary Forks Over Knives, says that “no chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein.” He urges people to eat vegan meals in order to prevent cancer and other common diseases. More doctors should follow his example. While many physicians can perform mastectomies, administer chemotherapy and offer other important medical services, the ones who give patients preventive dietary advice will ultimately be the real lifesavers.

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