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THERE is no question that diet plays a very important role in health and the development of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic illnesses, and some forms of cancer, especially of the gastrointestinal tract.

One particular diet — one high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and low in fiber — consisting mainly of red meats (pork, beef, non-skim dairy products, etc.) and eggs, has been branded as unhealthy.

Voluminous clinical studies have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that excess serum cholesterol, specifically chronically elevated HDL (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, is the culprit in the more than half a million deaths from heart attack each year in the United States alone.

This translates to one person dying from a cardiovascular illness every 60 seconds.

And this does not even include the mortality from debilitating lungs conditions and cancers.

The culprit

Cholesterol is a sterol, a complex alcohol constituent of animal fats and oils.

If abnormally high in the bloodstream, this substance forms plaques which adhere to the inner wall of arteries causing hardening of the arteries and stenoses (blockages), many leading to heart attacks, strokes, or poor leg circulation.

Sources of cholesterol

While our liver produces (endogenous) cholesterol, the main source of (exogenous) cholesterol in our body and the blood is from the food we eat.

Some of the food that are high in cholesterol include: egg yolk, pork, duck, chicken skin, lamb, beef (and other red meats), butter, lard and other non-skim dairy products.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The good fats come from fish and is called Fish Oil or Omega-3 fatty acids.

These substances are a natural blood thinner that prevents blood clot formation and minimizes hardening of the arteries.

Thus, eating fish daily reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, even among those who are diabetics and hypertensives (those with high blood pressure), provided these conditions are treated and well-controlled.

The cholesterol factor

Everything else being similar, diabetics and hypertensives respond better to treatment, have fewer complications from their illness, and have a better prognosis if their total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides are normal, compared to those whose lipid profile is out of whack.

Diet and longevity

The proponents of the vegetarian diet argue that studies have shown that the longest-lived animals had low-calorie vegetarian diet, and that rats fed high protein, high fat diet had the shortest life span.

The studies of Dr. Paul Dudley on the Hunzas of Pakistan, who have amazing longevity, showed that they subsist on spartan and vegetarian diet of nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables and a little goat milk.

Fresh and/or dried apricots are their staple food.

The Hunzas’ lifespan is 140 years.

Numerous other studies have shown that, all other factors being equal, non-meat diet is more conducive to healthier lifestyle and a longer lifespan.

Vegetables and fruits

Vegetables and fruits have phytochemicals that are good for our body.

Twenty-three epidemiological studies have shown that diet rich in grains and vegetables reduces the risk of colon cancer by 40 percent, and breast cancer by 25 percent.

Some of the hundreds of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are: lycophene, ellagic acid, lutein, flavanoids, saponins, monoterpenes, phthalides, phenols, ajoene, cassaicin, coumestrol, genistein, sulforaphane, zeanthin.

Our mothers were right in cajoling us to eat vegetables and fruits while we were growing up.

Too bad, most of us didn’t listen.

But since we are now wiser and know better, let’s educate our own children and persuade them to eat more vegetables and fruits — and less animal meat — for better health.

The incidence of cancers, heart and kidney diseases, diabetes, hypertension and obesity among vegetarians is much lower than among meat-eaters.

Vegetarian who’s who

If you are a vegetarian, you’re in good company.

Some of the famous vegetarians include Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Buddha, Plutarch, John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Mahatma Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, Benjamin Franklin, Shakespeare, Vincent van Gogh, Leo Tolstoy, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Voltaire, Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rabindranath Tagore, Mark Twain, Robert Browning, Linda and Paul McCartney, John Denver, Richard Gere, Kim Basinger, Steven Spielberg, Cameron Diaz, Josh Hartnett...etc.

Strength, vigor and vitality

The belief that vegetarians are weak and sickly is a myth.

Elephants, bulls, cows, carabaos and some dinosaurs (plateosaurus, brachiosaurus, etc.) are a few of the strongest animals known to man — all herbivores.

Various studies comparing athletes who are carnivores and herbivores revealed astonishing findings: Vegetarian athletes fared 2 to 3 times better, with greater endurance and better recovery time, compared to their meat-eating counterparts in similar sport activities.

Vegetables with protein

Vegetarians get their protein from soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, lima and pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, peanuts, almonds, cashew, sunflower seeds and other nuts, broccoli and other vegetables, wheat, grains, brown rice, potato and eggs and dairy products.

These sources easily meet the daily requirement of between 60-80 grams of protein, even for vegans.

So, animal meat is not really essential for health and life.

Our prescription

A daily low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber diet of fish and a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains (brown rice instead of white), with occasional red meat, if desired, coupled with abstinence from tobacco, doing daily exercises, maintaining proper weight, drinking a glass or two of red wine with dinner, taking a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement, taking time off with friends and/or family for rest and relaxation on weekends, visiting the doctor for check-up as advised, and adequately treating any existing medical condition (hypertension, diabetes, etc.) is our prescription for  health, peace, happiness and better productivity.

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