Vegetarian Myths and Facts

Without question, many people have indeed improved or recovered from serious disease by following HIGH QUALITY, CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED vegetarian diets.  And without question, a well constructed vegetarian diet (especially one that contains at least some animal protein and fat) is far better than the Standard American Diet high in refined grain, sugars and poor quality fats.

But more often than not BOTH the choice to become a vegetarian - or vegan - AND just how a high quality vegetarian diet should be constructed are based on inaccurate, incomplete  or conflicting information from a wide variety of mostly commercially-backed sources rather than from sound science or what is shown in the historical record.

In addition many people commit to less-than-healthy vegetarian diets for political or environmental reasons that are not firmly grounded in facts. The media is often complicit in what amounts to a disinformation  campaign, if at times only by default.

For example, contributing to the idea that vegetarian diets are - in and of themselves - somehow inherently good for us were the early and widely reported successes of clients of the Pritikin Institute which during the 1970's helped popularize the idea that low fat, high carb diets were actually key to certain health conditions, especially heart disease and weight management. However, as Ann Louise Gittleman (who was director of nutrition at the Pritikin Center) later revealed in her book Beyond Pritikin, many of these same clients later gained back at least as much weight as they had lost even while following the same low fat diets.

Even worse, and although heart problems often cleared up for Pritikin clients, many developed new health problems ranging from arthritis to chronic yeast infections to unwanted weight gain to PMS problems and more. Gittleman, along with countless other authors, went on to write numerous books which advocated a diet that included more animal protein and fat.  Unfortunately,  a substantial portion of this kind of information - along with substantial historical information on healthy diets - never made the mainstream and the diet wars continue today unabated.

Dr. Ron Schmid presents a good summary of his experience and findings with respect to the Prititkin program in his book Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine:

"For several years I worked in a large New York medical practice with individuals on the Pritkin diet for heart and circulatory problems. Larger amounts of high-quality animal foods, especially fish, shellfish, and liver, enabled people on the diet to follow the routine more consistently and yielded greater improvements than seen in individuals following the standard Pritikin regime. Because of his success, Pritikin wrote that his diet is 'the world's healthiest diet. . . ' and that 'for centuries the hardiest, most long-lived peoples in the world have thrived on these foods' . . . [Indeed it is true that] for centuries, the hardiest, most long-lived peoples in the world have indeed thrived on fresh vegetables and whole grains - among other foods. But the strongest of these cultures - in which cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases were extremely rare - used substantial portions of the highest quality animal-source foods. . .Pritikin's work is significant and important. . . But selective use of circumstantial evidence is misleading, and the program does not consider evidence from anthropology, human evolution, and recent medical research  . . . Yet no reference is made to other traditional cultures eating large amounts of animal protein and enjoying similar resistance. .  .That Pritikin's program has been of benefit to many individuals is undeniable. But the same program helping initially may not maintain an individual's health." p87

Here are a few little-known facts:

As we have said many times on other pages, the Weston A. Price Foundation provides some of the best, most well-documented food and nutrition information that we have found on the web. This foundation submitted written testimony on several occasions to the USDA "Guidelines Advisory Committee", and had the opportunity to speak before the Committee in public hearings.
For full text click here. We include a few pertinent comments below (together with our own modifications in brackets).

(Maybe now  our Top 14 Foods page makes more sense?)

Of course, many people commit to vegetarian style diets not so much on health principles as the notion that vegetarianism will help conserve energy resources, reduce the need for chemicals, end cruelty to animals, and increase world food supplies. Internationally respected organic farming expert Mark Purdy helps dispell some of these myths in an article posted at the Weston A. Price website.

Here is an excerpt:

Whilst [these things] are true in consideration of the intensive, grain fed livestock units, the traditional mixed farming unit raises livestock for meat and milk off extensively managed, low input grassland systems; and each acre of well-managed grassland can produce four harvests a season of high protein forage utilising its all-inclusive clover plants as a green manure for fixing free atmospheric nitrogen into the soil. Whereas, an arable cropping system will only yield one or two crops per season, and will remain largely reliant on the inputs of artificial fertiliser for its nitrogen source; one ton of which requires ten tons of crude oil in manufacturing process. [This is important because 40% of all grain is fed to commercial livestock. . . Furthermore] Well mananged grassland is rarely sprayed with pesticide/fungicide/herbicide, not even on the most chemically oriented of farms. Yet virtually all vegetable and arable systems receive an average of ten chemical sprayings annually; through from the initial seed stage to the final storage of the produce. Vegetables are so heavily sprayed that the more perceptive elements of the medical establishment have actually linked the victims of a mystery, novel neurological syndrome . . .  to the fact that they are all vegetarians in common. One team led by Dr. David Ratner . . . bloodtested several isolated cases of those suffering from this syndrome, and found that various organo-phosphate pesticide residues intensivley present in their vegetarian diet were responsible. Once the victims were convinced that they should return to a diet including meat and milk products, their symptoms and abnormal blood enzyme levels normalised rapidly.. . ."

Mark Purdy has also done extensive research into the possible causes of Mad Cow disease, and has linked it to the use of chemicals to which commercial livestock are subjected, together with an excess of certain minerals contained in "scientific" feeds and the use of organophosphates and other chemicals on livestock. He points to his own organic, pasture-fed herd in England as evidence that healthy, humanely treated animals do not succomb to Mad Cow. (However, tainted meat may not be the only source of the human form of Mad Cow, as there have been little-publicized reports of long time vegetarians contracting the human form of Mad Cow.)

In terms of food production, it is true that the industrialized countries dependent on mammoth agribusiness farming have been experiencing very troublesome declines in yields at least since 1980 while increasing numbers of people around the world are dying from starvation or suffer from malnutrition. Althought the two seem to be linked, in fact they are not. For example, according to information posted at and as supplied by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, the world has been producing enough food to feed every man, woman and child on the planet somewhere around 4.3 pounds of food each and every day, and this includes one pound of meat milk and eggs.

Furthermore and according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 78% of malnourished children under the age of five are actually living in countries with EXCESS food.  Finally, as Peter Rosset, executive director of the Institute for Food and Development tells us, "We've reviewed the data from every country for which it is available, comparing the productivity for smaller farms versus larger farms. By productivity I mean the total output of agricultural products per unit of area - per acre or hectare. For every country for which data is available, smaller farms are from 200 to 1000 percent more productive per unit of area." From this perpective, giant agribusiness farms seem to be a contributing factor to the problem of world hunger and starvation, while small farms actually present a true solution.

Finally we conclude with some contemporary observations from Dr. Ron Schmid's Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine;

"Many individuals have recovered from diseases on vegetarian diets. Most have included dairy foods or at least occasional fish or poultry in their regimens. When well balanced, such natural foods diets are far superior to those diets rich in commercial meat, white flour, and sugar eaten by most people. Strict vegetarian diets that exclude all animal foods (known as vegan diets) often result in better health and the alleviation of serious problems . . . But the success of vegan diets is usually self-limiting. By avoiding all animal foods and animal fats, nutrients essential for development of optimal strength, resistance to disease, and reproductive capacity are lacking. Individuals on strictly vegan diets may thrive for several weeks, months or even years, but in the vast majority of cases problems eventually appear." pp18-19

"Those vegetarians eating no animal-source foods often develop problems involving mineral metabolism and vitamin B12 deficiencies or both. But until then many strict vegetarians feel good, and such exclusively vegetarian diets often intitially help people suffering from chronc diseases. However, the addition of animal-source foods of proper quality enhances results."  p74

"The [macrobiotic] type of diet has indeed been followed in many parts of the world at times, particularly in the Far East where population growth in geographical areas with limited resources necessitated the use of more grains and less foods of animal origin. Traditional cultures with choices, however, always have used more animal-source foods than the tiny percentage macrobiotics advocates. The notion that whole grains formed the basis of the diet of all cancer-free societies is entirely contrary to information from scores of anthropologists, nutritionists, and medical researchers who have investigated this subject since [1900 or] the turn of the [twentieth] century." p94

"Small children eating macrobiotic diets with their parents sometimes show failure to thrive (slow growth, underweight and lethargy) due to deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins (especially vitamin D), vitamin B12, essential fatty acids, calcium, and perhaps other nutrients. These children and their parents, who are often fatigued and sickly, suffer from a lack of raw food and animal-source nutrients; dietary adjustments invariably have led to marked improvement within weeks."  p95

For further Reading see our recommended reading list.

Also: Article titled Myths of Vegetarianism

and abstract on Mortality in Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians

and this article on Mortality in Brittish Vegetarians