Why Veg: Personal Health

Gone are the days when people think of vegetarians as scrawny, emaciated hippies who don't care about hygiene, much less their own health and well-being. A balanced veg diet has been proven to be as equally nutritious as a balanced meat-based diet, while at the same time signficantly reducing your chance of getting high cholesterol, heart disease, and adult onset diabetes (Type II), among other diseases.

Other Reasons to Choose Veg

Saving Ourselves, One Bite at a Time

[from COK's Vegetarian Starter Guide]

As rates for obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and other life-threatening conditions skyrocket in the United States, many researchers and medical experts have come to the same conclusion: A vegetarian diet can help protect your health and even reverse some diseases, including the most prevalent one, heart disease.

Beating Heart Disease

Vegetarian diets can help prevent heart disease, the number one killer in the United States. In the typical American diet, animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol. By choosing vegetables, beans, fruits, and grains instead of meat, eggs, and dairy products, we can greatly reduce the amount of saturated fat and all the cholesterol which contribute to heart disease. Fiber intake also helps lower cholesterol levels, (1) and animal products contain no fiber. One study even demonstrated that a low-fat, high-fiber, near-vegan diet combined with stress reduction techniques, smoking cessation, and exercise could actually reverse atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. (2) Heart disease patients who include animal products in their diets have much less success, only slowing the process of atherosclerosis.

Preventing Cancer

We can keep some cancers at arm’s length with a vegetarian diet. Breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in countries, such as China, that follow plant-based diets; but, when those same populations start including more animal products in their diets, their cancer rates skyrocket. It’s also been shown that vegetarians generally have lower rates of colon cancer than non-vegetarians,(3) and a recent study found that a low-fat, vegetarian diet with routine exercise can help stop and even reverse prostate cancer.(4)


In the United States, obesity is a national epidemic. A low-fat vegetarian diet and moderate exercise have been shown to take the weight off and keep it off. To learn more, please see Eat More, Weigh Less, by Dean Ornish, M.D.

Common Concerns

Many people are concerned that a vegetarian diet cannot provide all of the essential nutrients we need. The fact is, you don’t need a nutrition degree to have a well-balanced diet with vegetarian foods.

Protein: Combining of vegetarian foods isn’t necessary to get more than enough protein. Eating an adequate number of calories per day made up of any normal variety of plant foods gives us all the protein our bodies need. Although there may be potentially less protein in a vegetarian’s diet than a meat-eater’s, this is actually an advantage. Excess protein has been linked to kidney stones, increased calcium excretion (which could lead to osteoporosis), some cancers, and possibly heart disease. A diet centered on beans, whole grains, and vegetables contains adequate amounts of protein without the “overdose” most meat-eaters get.

Calcium: Calcium is easy to find in a vegetarian diet. Many dark green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, and collards) and beans (such as soy beans, navy beans, and chick peas) are good calcium sources, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals are readily available.

Antibiotic Resistance

An emerging concern is the increased threat to human health caused by the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that up to 80 percent of all factory farmed animals receive antibiotics to promote growth and minimize illnesses common in intensive confinement animal agribusiness practices.(7,8) As a result, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria—most notably salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli—are increasingly found in animal products and passed to humans who eat meat and eggs, and through our drinking water. Up to 75 percent of an antibiotic may pass undigested through animals to be excreted in waste which can contaminate our water supplies.(9)

The ability of antibiotics to treat human infections has been jeopardized to the point that the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and other consumer protection and health advocacy organizations are calling for the reduction or termination of this use of antibiotics.(10,11) In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently considering placing restrictions on animal agribusiness’s use of certain antibiotics to protect the American public from the increasing number of drug-resistant bacteria.

Good Protein, Iron, & Calcium Sources

Protein: almonds, black beans, brown rice, cashews, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, peanut butter, pinto beans, seitan, soy beans, soymilk, sunflower seeds, textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu, vegetarian hot dogs and burgers

Iron: black beans, bran flakes, cashews, Cream of Wheat®, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), GrapeNuts®, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, raisins, soybeans, soymilk, spinach, sunflower seeds, tofu, tomato juice, whole wheat bread

Calcium: almonds, black beans, broccoli, calcium-fortified orange juice, collard greens, great northern beans, kale, kidney beans, mustard greens, navy beans, orange juice, pinto beans, sesame seeds, soy beans, soymilk, textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu

Sources: American Dietetic Association; U.S.D.A. Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Is Milk Natural?

Our bodies have no natural need for cows’ milk. We weren’t designed with some odd flaw requiring us to drink the milk of other animals. Except for some domesticated cats, human beings are the only animals who drink the mother’s milk of another species. Indeed, just as dogs’ milk is intended for puppies, rats’ milk for baby rats, and humans’ milk for human infants, cows’ milk is intended for calves. Our bodies treat cows’ milk as an invader, and including milk and other dairy products in our diets is linked to an array of health problems.

Milk is touted for building strong bones, yet some research shows otherwise. The Harvard clinical research study, which has followed more than 75,000 women for 12 years, shows no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk. In fact, increased intake of dairy products was associated with a higher fracture risk.(5) An Australian study showed the same results.(6)

You can lower your risk of osteoporosis by reducing the sodium in your diet, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising, and getting enough calcium from plant foods such as leafy green vegetables and beans, as well as calcium-fortified cereals and juices.


  1. Sacks FM, et al. Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in vegetarians and controls. N Engl J Med 1975;292:1148-52.
  2. Ornish D, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet 1990;336:129-33.
  3. Phillips RL. Role of lifestyle and dietary habits in risk of cancer among Seventh-Day Adventists. Cancer Res (Suppl) 1975;35:3513-22.
  4. Ornish DM, et al. Dietary trial in prostate cancer: early experience and implications for clinical trial design. Urology 2001;57(4 Suppl 1):200-1
  5. Feskanich D, et al. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. Am J Public Health 1997;87:992-7.
  6. Cumming RG, Klineberg RJ. Case-control study of risk factors for hip fractures in the elderly. Am J Epidemiol 1994;139:493-505.
  7. Proposed CAFO Preamble and Rule, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/cafo_ch5.pdf.
  8. Literature Review and Assessment of Pathogens, Heavy Metal, and Antibiotic Content of Waste and Wastewater Generated by CAFOs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contract 68-C-99-263.
  9. From Animals to Humans, www.keepantibioticsworking.com/pages/basics/enviro.cfm.
  10. Antibiotic Use in Food-Producing Animals Must Be Curtailed to Prevent Increased Resistance in Humans, World Health Organization, Press release WHO/73, Geneva, October 20, 1997.
  11. American Medical Association. House of Delegates, Resolution 508, June 2001.