Just another Meatless Monday
While I have my preferences, I’ll happily eat and drink just about anything. Bollinger to toast 2018’s arrival? Don’t mind if I do. Tesco prosecco when it runs out? Too good for me! Sure ’twas far from Bollinger I was reared – that was only #PureNotions. Truffle oil, truffle fries, truffle chocolate, this, that and the other? Can’t get enough. Lidl and/or Aldi rip-off Twix bars? I’ll have two! I’ve savoured the finest Kobe beef burgers alongside the finest hotdog offerings from roadside stalls during a festival or after a night out. I also thoroughly enjoyed eating my way through vegan parts of India one summer and consistently love the vegetarian/vegan offerings that often monopolise the foodie scene here at the moment. You get the picture; I enjoy fine food but am the least fussy eater you’ll ever encounter and game to try anything. Despite this, my diet can be quite repetitive. In particular, I can’t shake my dependence on meat as the focal point of meals.
With all of the confusing and often seemingly contradictory nutribabble that abounds, copious meat consumption – in particular that of red meat – has been consistently linked with ill health. I know many of you baulk at the idea of new year’s resolutions but I stand in great admiration of those undertaking a Veganuary… A full twelfth of the year being wholly vegan must offer a ginormous health boost, though I could never imagine going vegan overnight and will probably eat fish every day I don’t eat meat for the moment! One of my new year’s resolutions is to curtail my intake of meat in general: I’ve decided to start with at least two meat-free days each week, yesterday being my second meatless Monday!
If you’re looking for some background information to serve as inspiration and motivation to follow suit, one book stands out for me and that is the (recently revised edition of) The China Study, which was once again brought to my attention over the holidays by my friend Danielle, whose sister gifted a copy to each family member for Christmas! This book considers the relationship between the consumption of meat, dairy and other animal products and illnesses such as heart disease and various cancers. It concludes that excluding these foods, improving diet quality and eating in a largely plant-based way leads to reduced levels of these diseases and can furthermore reverse/reduce progression where disease already exists.
I can’t promise you’ll have the craic of your life reading it, and if you never get around to doing so, here are some take-home points:
- Boost your intake of plants to boost your health. Put simply, “people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest”. Doesn’t sound too ground-breaking but serves as a weighty reminder given the book is based on one of the largest studies of nutrition every undertaken on humans: the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, referred to by The New York Times as the “Grand Prix of Epidemiology” (epidemiology being the study of disease in populations). The data collection spanned twenty years, involved 6,500 adults from 65 counties (i.e. 100 people from each county, half male and half female) in China and was analysed as a collaborative effort by research groups from Cornell University, the University of Oxford and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. Mortality rates from cancer as well as other chronic diseases were studied. The research concluded that areas whose intake of animal products was high had higher death rates from the aforementioned diseases than their more plant-based counterparts.
- The book espouses that animal protein promotes cancer growth, e.g. multiple studies have shown that high levels of casein, cow’s milk protein, can actually stimulate the growth of cancer cells, and reducing casein levels can switch off that stimulation. (The results were replicated in studies with different proteins.) Discrediting dairy is always a controversial move, but the hefty data studied here would be difficult to interpret in any alternate way.
- Of course, following a largely plant-based diet staves off other diseases apart from cancer. Diabetes, autoimmune disease (where the body attacks its own tissues, e.g. in Multiple Sclerosis) and other chronic diseases are reduced in populations who follow this diet. A cardiologist and researcher at the Cleveland Clinic ‘treated’ a group of patients with a whole foods, plant-based diet and showed it to not merely halt disease progression, but to improve their vessel disease, i.e. he demonstrated a reduction in the amount of artery obstruction. A similarly-designed study followed at Harvard and yielded similar results. The China Study is the book that inspired Bill Clinton’s decision to adopt a vegan diet after his heart attack.
- Our bodies do not require the amount of protein that certain schools of thought promote. The authors here believe that protein should constitute c. 10% of our diet; “from our extensive research, one idea seemed to be clear: lower protein intake dramatically decreased tumour initiation”.
- Low carb diets, while effective for short-term weight loss, can result in the sacrifice of long-term health. Of course consumption of excessive refined carbs is not beneficial to your health, but plant-based ones are brimming with healthy carbs, as well as protein, vitamins, minerals, other micronutrients and fibre. Reading the China study reminded me that “there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants”. Of note, they do recommend vitamin B12 supplementation in cases where animal products are completely eschewed. In addition, adequate sun exposure is recommended to maintain appropriate vitamin D levels, or supplementation if needed.
Of course the book and studies have not been immune to criticism and there are cultures famed for their longevity whose consumption of animal protein is relatively high, for instance the Inuit peoples whose enzymes involved in fat metabolism exhibit favourable genetic adaptations that others lack.
Overall, my overriding impression is that a whole foods, plant-based diet replete with good fats and carbs and vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients is the way forward… Now I just have to find out how to conquer being a creature of habit/lazy bint and get working on minimising the amount of animal products I consume. At the moment, I could never imagine completing eradicating them from my life… Am going with every little (reduction) helps for now and will hopefully build on that each month… All suggestions welcome!