World Health Organisation Guidelines
The World Health Organisation advise that people in the western world should eat:
- 1) Less fat overall, and especially less saturated fat:
- Since meat and dairy products contain saturated fat, vegetarians are automatically reducing
their intake of this. Also vegetarians eat more wholefoods in which the fat content is distributed by
the food in which it is found, e.g. whole sunflower seeds instead of sunflower oil.
2) More dietary fibre:
- Dietary fibre is only found in plant foods: e.g. grains, beans, fruit and vegetables. Meat and
dairy foods contain no fibre at all.
3) Less sugar and salt:
- Vegetarians eat food which is more wholefood and less processed, and so avoid the added
salt and sugar beloved of manufacturers. Vegetarians also tend to flavour foods with spices and
herbs instead of salt, and to sweeten foods with fruits rather than with unadulterated sugar.
So a vegetarian diet falls within these guidelines. People often worry that a vegetarian diet is a
risky one in terms of health. This is extremely ironic when you realise that a vegetarian diet is not
only as healthy as a meat-based one, it is far healthier.
Of all the countries in the EU, Ireland has the highest rate of premature death, which is defined
as death before age sixty-five. The three main causes of premature death in Ireland are: heart
disease, cancers, and accidents, in that order. The Department of Health is targeting each of these
causes with a view to decreasing the number of deaths. They accept that many studies have shown
that a 'high-animal-fat, low-fibre diet' contributes to the first two causes. A balanced vegetarian
diet is the exact opposite of this: it is low-fat, high-fibre. Because of this vegetarians suffer a much
lower incidence of so called 'western' diseases. The following list is by no means comprehensive.
- Heart disease (cardio-vascular disease)
- associated with high-fat, especially saturated-fat diets (and saturated fat means animal fat). Ireland has one of the highest, if not the highest rate of death from heart disease in the world, which is not surprising given our traditional high intake of meat
and dairy products. Many studies have shown that vegetarians suffer between 30-40 per cent less risk of heart disease than do meat-eaters, even after other factors are taken into account (e.g. smoking, drinking, exercise, environment).
- various studies have estimated that about 35 per cent of all cancers are diet-related. Vegetarians suffer much less incidence of cancer of the colon, which is associated with a low-fibre diet, and vegetarian women suffer less breast cancer which has been associated with a high-fat diet. It seems that vegetarians also suffer fewer incidences of all cancers, and research is ongoing to find out exactly why. Vegetarians also tend to eat more fruit and vegetables than do meat-eaters, and these plant foods contain the anti-oxidant vitamins A, C, and E, which help to protect against unavoidable toxins such as air pollution.
Constipation and piles
- vegetarians also suffer much less from constipation and piles, which are associated with a low-fibre diet, and from gallstones, which are associated with a high-fat diet.
- the combination of high-fibre and low-fat means that vegetarians are less likely to be overweight. A diet high in grains, beans, fruit and vegetables, with moderate amounts of nuts and dairy products, should prevent excess weight without resorting to diets.
- vegetarian women are suffering a significantly lower incidence of this disease. Research is ongoing to find out why, but it seems that the typical western high protein diet is a cause of the illness, as protein leaches calcium from the system. Vegetarians eat less (but still enough) protein.