Eating meat is bad for you

There is no longer any doubt about the fact that eating meat is bad for your health.

The list of diseases known to be associated with meat, which are commoner among meat eaters, looks like the index of a medical textbook.

Anaemia, appendicitis, arthritis, breast cancer, cancer of the colon, cancer of the prostate, constipation, diabetes, gall stones, gout, high blood pressure, indigestion, obesity, piles, strokes and varicose veins are just some of the well known disorders which are more likely to affect meat eaters than vegetarians.

Avoiding meat is one of the best and simplest ways to cut down your fat consumption.

Those who still eat beef are, in my view, foolishly exposing themselves to the risk of contracting the horrifying human version of Mad Cow Disease.

Add to those hazards the fact that if you eat meat you may be consuming hormones, drugs and other chemicals that have been fed to the animals before they were killed and you can see the extent of the danger. No one knows precisely what effect eating the hormones in meat is likely to have on your health. But the risk is there and I think it's a big one. Some farmers use tranquillisers to keep animals calm. Others routinely use antibiotics so that their animals do not develop infections. When you eat meat you are, inevitably, eating those drugs. In America, over half of all antibiotics are fed to animals and I don't think it is any coincidence that the percentage of staphylococci infections resistant to penicillin went up from 13% in 1960 to 91% in 1988.

The healthiness of a vegetarian diet is perhaps shown most dramatically by the fact that lifelong vegetarians visit hospitals 22% less often than meat eaters - and for shorter stays! Vegetarians tend to be fitter than meat eaters - as well as healthier - and many of the world's most successful athletes (particularly those who specialise in endurance events) follow a strictly vegetarian diet.

It is the fat in meat that does most harm - and which makes meat eating an even bigger health hazard than smoking - but don't think you can avoid the dangers simply by avoiding red meat because you cannot. If you want to eat a truly healthy diet then you must give up eating meat completely.

There are, of course, all sorts of old-fashioned myths about eating meat.

It used to be claimed that people who didn't eat meat would be short of protein.

But that is now known to be absolute nonsense.

And it is equally untrue that if you don't eat meat your diet will be deficient in essential vitamins or minerals.

Meat contains absolutely nothing - no protein, vitamins or minerals - that your body cannot obtain perfectly happily from a vegetarian diet.

Becoming healthier isn't the only reason for turning green.

Many of those who stop eating meat do so for moral and ethical reasons as much as for personal gain.

Every minute of every working day thousands of animals are killed in slaughterhouses. Many animals are bled to death. Pain and misery are commonplace - for animals suffer from pain and fear just as much as you do.

In an average lifetime the average meat eater will consume 36 pigs, 36 sheep and 750 chickens and turkeys. More and more people are deciding that they just don't want that much carnage on their consciences. It is never too late to stop eating meat.

In addition, more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that hunger around the world could be eradicated if rich westerners stopped eating meat.

Every year over 400 million tons of grain are fed to livestock - so that the world's rich can eat meat.

At the same time, 500 million people in poor countries are starving to death.

Many of those who toy with the idea of turning vegetarian (because they want to be healthier, because they want to stop world starvation or because they can no longer bear the thought of encouraging such a barbaric trade as the breeding and killing of animals for food) worry about what they are going to eat.

Such worries are quite unnecessary.

There are not only many different fruits and vegetables available these days but, if you miss the texture of meat, you can buy vegetarian sausages, hamburgers and pies. Stews and curries can be made with soya and you can buy tofu cheese too.

To keep healthy eat raw foods whenever you can (because vitamins are easily destroyed by cooking) and use as little water as possible when boiling vegetables in order to avoid losing water soluble vitamins B and C. Steam or stir fry vegetables if you can instead of boiling them.

Remember that keeping food hot - or reheating it - can destroy vitamins, try to eat fruit and vegetables in their skins (because vitamins are often stored just below the skin) and be imaginative when shopping! You can get the iron, calcium, zinc and other essential minerals that your body needs by eating dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts, pulses, sunflower seeds and dried fruits.

There are heaps of books available about food. My own book Food for Thought should tell you everything you need to know and is available through the shop on this website. Also, there are recipes for vegetarian and vegan meals on this website.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2003