In recent years, the number of adherents of the vegan diet has grown exponentially. As people have come to learn about the environmental and animal welfare-associated benefits to be gained by cutting out animal products, veganism has become the most popular dietary trend, with the vegan population of the US growing by 600% since 2014, according to an article from Mercyforanimals.org (“WOW! Veganism in America Has Grown by 600 Percent Since 2014.”). This has elicited concern, as many are questioning whether such a dramatic shift is safe or healthy. Although some may argue that the consumption of meat and dairy has been integral to the history of the human race, the abolition of these modes of nutrition in favor of a plant-based diet should be favored both because animal products are not necessary for healthy living and because these products are agents of major diseases.
Skeptics argue that a dramatic dietary shift, as entailed by veganism, must be detrimental to human health. Humans, it is argued, are natural omnivores, and the elimination of a food source that our ancestors have consumed for tens of thousands of years surely must be mistake. However, close physiological analysis of humans reveals that this may not be entirely accurate. Our closest relatives are chimpanzees and other apes (Roberts 896). Humans and apes share many physiological characteristics, including flat grinding teeth, long intestinal tracts, hands, and the weakness of developing atherosclerosis (Roberts 896). These characteristics all indicate that humans are physiologically designed for the gathering, consumption, and digestion of plants – just like chimpanzees, which have diets comprised 97% by plants (Roberts 896). Humans may be omnivores, but the anatomical evidence makes a strong case for our dietary classification to be closer to that of frugivores like apes. Even when compared to dogs and bears, which are prime examples of omnivores, humans fall short in ability (Roberts 896). Humans lack canines and claws for predation; think about it: when was the last time you were able to eat a steak without the help of a knife? In addition, when it comes to actually digesting fats and protein, dogs have shown time and time again that they won’t get heart disease, no matter how much cholesterol they eat (Roberts 896). Humans, on the other hand, are killed more often by heart disease than anything else (Nichols, “The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States”).
While meat has been shown to be an unnatural food source for humans, vegetarians often argue that dairy is an undeniably important staple in a balanced diet. Namely due to its protein and calcium, milk has often been viewed as an all-inclusive elixir for growing children. But how can milk be viewed as an essential elixir when over 65% of humans have lactose intolerance (“Lactose Intolerance - Genetics Home Reference”)? Milk is an essential cocktail of nutrients, hormones, and antigens made by a mother for its child (Malekinejad and Rezabakhsh 745). But humans aren’t calves; the nutrients in cows milk are not ideal for us (“Milk Protein”). The acidity of milk has been shown to deteriorate our bones, while the low content of protein in human milk indicates that copious amounts of protein, such as those of cow’s milk, are not ideal for human development (“Milk Protein”).
It is clear that dairy and meat are not necessary for the human diet. But why should humans actively avoid these products? After all, it is difficult to change your lifestyle completely without a reason. Hundreds of studies in recent years have successfully linked meat and dairy to several of the leading causes of death. For example, meat eaters have a 54% increased risk for prostate cancer and an 88% increased rate for colorectal cancer (Greger 212). Breast cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer rates are 34% lower in vegan women as opposed to non-vegan women (Greger 178). Most significantly, colon cancer risk is increased by 300% in those who regularly consume meat (Greger 63). Why is this? The World Health organization has classified red meats as probable carcinogens, or cancer causing agents, while processed meats are classified as class one carcinogens, within the same category as cigarettes (Domingo and Martí). Companies have to label tobacco with warning labels, so why not chicken nuggets?
Cancer, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension, all in the top ten leading causes of death, are more common in those that regularly consume meat and dairy (Nichols, “The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States”). But heart disease, a product of atherosclerosis, kills more people than any other disease. In America it claims 1 in 4 lives and occurs when arteries are clogged with cholesterol and saturated fats (Mozaffarian et al.). Luckily, studies have shown that the vegan diet is the first and only diet capable of reversing heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels by more than 40 mg/dL and reversing atherosclerosis within 2 weeks (Greger 18). By cutting saturated fats and cholesterol out of our diets, the vegan diet presents the opportunity to nearly avoid the leading cause of death altogether (barring certain rare genes). This calls to question where the priorities lie for proponents of animal products in the human diet. If a diet has successfully achieved the ability to protect humans from the leading cause of death, even if that is the only benefit, shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise?
The future is bright in the light of new medical research regarding the vegan diet. Doctors agree that the future of medical treatment is dietary prevention; as Hippocrates once said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” With sedentary lifestyles gaining traction, mankind must take ever bolder steps to protect itself from debilitating lifestyle diseases, and it seems that diet provides a satisfactory solution. With such simple lifestyle changes we may potentially extend our life spans by 7.28 years (Orlich et al.). This is no small opportunity, and we must not squander it by waiting for the corrupt FDA or USDA to confirm what we already know. It took our government over 3000 studies before finally creating legislation to warn citizens about the health risks of cigarettes (Greger 12). Let us not repeat the past; the research is clear today and our paths are certain. With every purchase, without delay, let us show corporations and our government that we desire a sustainable and healthy future for the human race.
Domingo, José L., and Martí Nadal. “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red meat and processed meat: A review of scientific news since the IARC decision.” Food and Chemical Toxicology, vol. 105, 2017, pp. 256–261., doi:10.1016/j.fct.2017.04.028.
Greger, Michael. How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. Pan Books, 2018.
“Lactose Intolerance - Genetics Home Reference.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 13 Feb. 2018, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/lactose-intolerance#statistics.
Malekinejad, Hassan, and Rezabakhsh, Aysa. “Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health - A Narrative Review Article.” Iranian Journal of Public Health 44.6 (2015): 742–758. Print.
“Milk Protein.” MilkFacts.info, www.milkfacts.info/Milk%20Composition/Protein.htm.
Mozaffarian, D, et al. “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance.” The American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/docu
Nichols, Hannah. “The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 23 Feb. 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/282929.php.
Orlich, Michael J. et al. “Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2.” JAMA internal medicine 173.13 (2013): 1230–1238. PMC. Web. 16 Feb. 2018.
Roberts, William Clifford. “We think we are one, we act as if we are one, but we are not one.” The American Journal of Cardiology, vol. 66, no. 10, 1990, p. 896., doi:10.1016/0002-9149(90)90383-c.
“WOW! Veganism in America Has Grown by 600 Percent Since 2014.” Mercy For Animals, 27 June 2017, www.mercyforanimals.org/wow-veganism-in-american-has-grown-by-600.