30% of early deaths tied to eating meat
Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, United States (U.S.) said the benefits of a plant-based diet had been vastly underestimated.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested that around 24 per cent or 141,000 deaths each year in Britain were preventable, but most of that was due to smoking, alcohol or obesity.
But the new figures from Harvard suggest that at least 200,000 lives could be saved each year if people cut meat from their diets.
Speaking at the Unite to Cure Fourth International Vatican Conference in Vatican City, Dr. Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School said: “We have just been doing some calculations looking at the question of how much could we reduce mortality shifting towards a healthy, more plant based diet, not necessarily totally vegan, and our estimates are about one third of deaths could be prevented.
“That’s not even talking about physical activity or not smoking, and that’s all deaths, not just cancer deaths. That’s probably an underestimate as well as that doesn’t take into account the fact that obesity is important and we control for obesity.
“When we start to look at it we see that healthy diet is related to a lower risk of almost everything that we look at. Perhaps not too surprising because everything in the body is connected by the same underlying processes.”
British-born Professor David Jenkins, of the University of Toronto, who is credited with developing the glycemic index which explains how carbohydrates impact blood sugar, also told the conference that the benefits of vegetarianism had been ‘undersold.’
Jenkins said humans would do better following a “simian” diet, similar to lowland gorillas who eat stems, leaves, vines and fruits rather than a “paleo” or caveman diet, which cuts carbohydrates but allows meat.
His team recently teamed up with The Bronx Zoo in New York and travelled to central Africa to record the feeding habits of gorillas.
When they recreated the diet for humans – which amounted to 63 servings of fruit and vegetables a day – they found a 35 per cent fall in cholesterol, in just two weeks, the equivalent of taking statins.
“That was quite dramatic,” he said “We showed that there was no real difference between what we got with the diet and what we got with a statin.”
Also, the ‘radical’ pace of modern life is fuelling disease, The Pope has warned as he urged people to exercise, eat well and avoid alcohol and air pollution to stay healthy.
Speaking at the Unite For Cure Fourth International Vatican Conference in Rome, Holy Father Pope Francis said ‘many evils’ could be avoided if greater attention was paid to living a good lifestyle.
Addressing some of the world’s leading doctors and scientists, Pope Francis said diseases like cancer could be avoided if people adopted good health practices from childhood.
“We are increasingly aware that many evils can be avoided if greater attention is paid to the style of life we adopt and the culture we promote,” he told delegates.
“Prevention involves taking a farsighted look at human beings and the environment in which we live.
“It means aiming for a culture of balance, whose essential factors – education, physical activity, diet, the protection of the environment…can help us to live better, with fewer health risks.
“This is all the more important when we think of children and of young people, who are increasingly at risk because of illnesses linked to the radical changes of modern culture.
“We need but reflect on the impact on health caused by smoking, alcohol consumption, and toxins released in the air, in the water and in the soil.
“A number of tumors and other health problems in adults could be avoided by adopting preventive measures during childhood.
“It is urgent to foster everywhere a culture of prevention as the first step in health care.”
Around 17.5 million people eligible for statins to stave off heart disease, equating to most men over 60 and most women over 65. But many complain of side effects and stop taking the drugs.
Jenkins added: “We’re saying you’ve got a choice, you can change your diet to therapeutically meaningful change or you can take a statin. Drug or diet.”
Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Committee for Responsible Medicine also said people need to wake up to the health benefits of vegetarianism and veganism.
“I think we’re underestimating the effect,” he told delegates. “I think people imagine that a healthy diet has only a modest effect and a vegetarian diet might help you lose a little bit of weight. But when these diets are properly constructed I think they are enormously powerful.
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