One of my New Year’s resolutions (actually, the only resolution I’ve made so far) is to give up meat, dairy and eggs again in 2013. Like the times I’ve gone vegetarian or vegan in the past, my concern has little to do with animal welfare and everything to do with personal health. And this time I’m more convinced than ever that, for personal health, a meat-free and dairy-free diet is best.
My reasons have varied the previous times I’ve given up meat or meat and dairy, but most were vaguely related to health or weight (though I’m hesitant to emphasize anything but overall health when talking diet, going vegan is a great way to quick-start weight loss). If you’re aiming for optimal nutrition, cutting meat and milk and cheese makes sense in an simplistic or maybe intuitive way–less saturated fat, less sodium, less cholesterol (providing you’re replacing these mainly with fruits, veggies and whole grains, that is).
As I began reading and writing more about nutrition, I also began to worry about the things like growth hormones and antibiotics that go into modern meat and dairy products, or the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in conventionally raised grain-fed livestock. Both of those are still valid concerns–but easy to get around by only consuming organic milk, meat and dairy from hormone-free grain-fed animals.
I got pretty comfortable with the idea of eating mostly vegetarian or vegan, but buying what I considered healthy meat and dairy foods occasionally; or not cooking and eating meat and dairy at home but only when eating out or at parties. That kind of philosophy brings its own problems–it’s easy to start making way too many exceptions. But that’s a surmountable type of problem. The reason I currently believe (and that’s as strong a statement as I’ll make about it, because nutrition is complicated, and disease even more so) that eating a meat and dairy free diet is best for overall health is due to the nutrition classes I’ve been taking recently.
The courses are overseen by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study. Unlike many famous nutrition gurus, Campbell has done some serious legwork; a longtime biochemist, professor and nutrition researcher, he started studying the effect of diet on animal and human health in the 1950s. Back then, Campbell was no proponent of veganism–he’d grown up on a dairy farm, and his early research focused on the importance of animal protein. But the more research he did on diet and health (or, more specifically, on diet and disease) the more Campbell became convinced that a “whole foods, plant-based diet” was best. He’s been vegan himself since around 1990–though vegan and vegetarian aren’t terms he uses.
“I never intended to seek out evidence to support vegetarianism or veganism because of any preconceived ideas or experiences,” he told an interviewer in 2007. “Indeed, I tend not to use the ‘V’ words because they often infer something other than what I espouse.”