The Beef Diet: Prescription for Disaster
By Neal D. Barnard
President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Imagine if two jumbo jets collided over a major city and,
in the resulting fireball, 4,000 people died -- it would
be a national tragedy -- one of the worst accidents ever.
People would demand that airlines and the government made
sure nothing like that could ever happen again.
A tragedy of this proportion happened the day before
yesterday. It happened yesterday, too. It will happen
again today and tomorrow. Every single day in the United
States, 4,000 lives are taken by heart attacks and almost
nothing is being done about it.
For years now, we have known of the role diet plays in
health, yet unhealthy diets are still promoted by the
government, livestock industries, advertisers, and even
doctors. Healthy diets must be presented and encouraged
by these groups if America's health care crisis is going
to be solved.
Dietary changes are worth making. Two of the three
leading killers of Americans are heart disease and
stroke. Both are linked to "hardening of the arteries" --
arteriosclerosis -- which, in turn, is largely caused by
high-fat, cholesterol-laden diets. As we all know, animal
flesh, and beef in particular, is a major source of
cholesterol and saturated fat.
The enormous toll of these diseases is taken one patient
at a time, as doctors finally give up trying to
resuscitate yet another heart that is damaged beyond
hope. The toll is also felt in the national pocketbook.
Coronary bypasses and expensive diagnostic tests are now
the budget-breaking routine in every city in America.
Many other diseases also have their roots in our daily
meals. Breast cancer, which has reached epidemic
proportions, killing one woman every twelve minutes, is
clearly related to diet. The same connections have been
drawn between diet and cancers of the colon and prostate.
In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, some
80 percent of cancer deaths are attributable to smoking,
diet, and other identifiable and controllable factors.
Foods rich in fat and oils increase our cancer risk.
About 40 percent of all the calories we eat comes from
the fat in meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, fried
foods and vegetable oils. These fats stimulate the over-
production of hormones which encourage cancer and promote
the development of carcinogens in the digestive tract.
Not only are beef and other meats high in cholesterol and
saturated fats, but they are also low in some vital
vitamins and minerals, and they contain zero fiber.
Recently there has been enormous scientific attention
given to the role beta-carotene and other vitamins and
minerals play in blocking cancer growth. Whole grains,
fruits, legumes, and vegetables are full of vitamins and
minerals. And plant foods have fiber -- a substance
completely lacking in beef and other meats. We have long
known that fiber helps eliminate many common
gastrointestinal problems such as constipation; however,
evidence shows that it also is protective against a wide
variety of diseases ranging from colon cancer to
diabetes, and from gallstones to appendicitis. It also
binds with carcinogenic substances, bile, and excess
hormones which would otherwise rest in the digestive
tract, and moves them out of the body.
As one studies the diets of people around the world, one
thing becomes clear: as people give up traditional diets
that are low in fats, high in fiber, and predominantly
plant-based in favor of beef and other meats, the
incidence of diseases such as cancer, heart disease,
diabetes, and kidney disease rises. At the same time,
life expectancy and quality of life decline. In recent
years, Japan has been the target of American beef and
tobacco promotional campaigns that seem to be some sort
of Pearl Harbor revenge program. Members of the higher
socioeconomic strata, who are adopting Westernized diets,
have much higher rates of breast, colon, and prostate
cancer and heart disease than their counterparts who eat
less (or no) meat.
The Beyond Beef campaign is encouraging people to make
this simple change -- to step away from beef. It is a
move that is good for you, for others, for animals, and
for the environment. So live a little; try some new
cuisine; experiment with traditional and ethnic foods. It
could well help you live a lot healthier longer.
- Dr. Neal Barnard is President of The Physicians
Committee For Responsible Medicine, a nationwide group of
physicians that promotes preventive medicine and
addresses controversies in modern medicine. In April
1991, he and three other doctors unveiled a proposal to
replace the old Four Food Groups concept initiated in
In his book, "The Power of Your Plate," Dr. Barnard
documents the scientific evidence supporting a low-fat,
vegetarian diet as the most potent regimen to reduce risk
of heart disease, cancer, weight problems and food-borne
illness. Aside from serving as a practicing physician on
the faculty of the George Washington School of Medicine,
he is also an Associate Director for Behavioral Studies
at the Institute for Disease Prevention.
Dr. Barnard is a director of Behavioral Studies at the
Institute for Disease Prevention at George Washington
Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi
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