is 'Vegetarian Awareness Month'
Today the statistics on chronic disease are alarming. Every minute in our country approximately two people die from disease - the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S. This year an estimated 1,400,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. alone. And nearly a decade after the Surgeon General first warned that 68 percent of all disease was diet-related, we still haven't grasped the full impact of our food choices.
"When you examine the connection between diet and disease, the saying you are what you eat has an entirely new meaning," said Stacey Vicari, president of the non-profit educational group EarthSave. This October EarthSave is celebrating Vegetarian Awareness Month with it's "Save Your Health - One Bite at a Time" campaign.
The theme of the campaign is to eat less animal foods and more plant foods - a shift toward vegetarian eating. The trend in the medical evidence has become clear; if you significantly reduce your consumption on meat and dairy products and center your diet on plant foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, you will improve your health and increase your protection from disease. A diet rich in plant foods has been shown to lower your risk of; heart disease, cancer (especially colon and lung), Type II Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Why are plant foods so protective? They are loaded with health-promoting ingredients such as fiber, powerful antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Just as important is what plants don't have. They are cholesterol free and almost all are low in saturated fat. "There is no question that largely vegetarian diets are as healthy as you can get," said Marion Nestle, chair of the nutrition department at New York University. "The evidence is so strong and produced over such a long period of time that it's no longer debatable."
Consider these facts
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than one-third of all cancers are diet-related. Up to 50 percent of all cancers can be linked to poor diet among non-smokers.
The American Cancer Institute said that choosing a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and minimally processed starchy staple foods combined with not smoking could reduce cancer risk by an estimated 60 to 70 percent, saving the lives of more than 375,000 Americans each year.
A study of 88,000 women found that those eating the most animal fat were nearly twice as likely to develop colon cancer as those eating less animal fat.
According to the Oxford Vegetarian Study in England, vegetarians have 30 percent less risk of heart disease. Those eating neither meat nor dairy had 57 percent less risk, according to one study.
Food and the planet
When most people think of protecting the planet they think "reduce, reuse, recycle." But few realize that the foods we eat also impact our environment. Raising animals for food in large "factory farming" operations uses vast amounts of natural resources like grain, land, and water. It also produces damaging outputs like water pollution, soil erosion, and "greenhouse gases." A move toward a diet centered on plant foods uses fewer resources and take less of a toll on the environment.
Pass the veggies
Armed with knowledge of the total impact of the Standard American Diet, EarthSave is encouraging people to shift toward more plant foods. "Most of us grew up with meat and dairy at the center of our plate at every meal," said Vicari. "We hope that if consumers could see the full health and environmental impacts of a meat-centered diet, they would move toward more plant-based foods. There is a wide variety of delicious and satisfying food on a plant-based diet."
The research seems to show that more people are opting for meatless meals. According to Vegetarian Times, 46 percent of Americans, or 120 million, are reducing their meat consumption. And sales of frozen meat substitute products grew at a compound annual growth rate of 49.5 percent between 1992 and 1996.