Continuing on this subject, the article I mentioned in an earlier post praising vegetarianism and attacking meat-eating (and meat-eaters) has just been posted at
My response is below. I have no idea if ANMA will publish it, but the article and my rebuttal should give everyone a good idea of the type of shoddy arguments vegetarians use, especially when it is tinged with religion.
The Endless Mythology of Vegetarianism:
A Reply to Monique Gilbert and Asad Shahsavari
Stephen Byrnes, PhD, RNCP
August 15, 2002
As I expected, my response (1) to Monique Gilbert's piece on high-protein diets (2) generated some hot replies, both from Ms. Gilbert (3) and Dr. Asad Shahsavari (4). I felt this last response from me was in order as both Gilbert and Shahsavari implied in their articles that I was presenting skewed data that was misleading to readers. As we shall see, however, it is my critics' information that is flawed.
At the outset, I should point out that most of the criticisms leveled against me in the two rebuttals have been dealt with at length in my review paper on vegetarianism (5), as well as my cyber-debate with Dr. Michael Janson, MD, both of which are posted on my website. I encourage all readers of the Monitor to carefully peruse both of these works. Additionally, other authors such as Dr. H. Leon Abrams, Jr., (6), Dr. William Jarvis (7), and Dr. Barry Groves (8) have dealt with and debunked the usual vegetarian arguments and I encourage readers also to look into these works.
Rather than reinvent the wheel and repeat the arguments of my paper, I think it best to point out a few egregious errors in the rebuttals, particularly Shahsavari's. Interested readers who wish to dig deeper into these issues may do so by studying the papers and articles mentioned before.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE EMPIRICAL BOX
Dr. Shahsavari's article bears all of the marks of a typical piece of vegetarian apologetics. The pathos, half-truths, and emotionally-charged words like "toxic," "cannibalism," and "murder" are all present. There are also some out and out untruths which need correction.
He claims that he did a Medline search "for specific areas on vegetarianism and meat consumption in relationship to health and disease." His search turned up hundreds of papers, the abstracts of which support his opinion that vegetarianism is a healthier way of life than omnivorism. In his opinion, then, the sheer number of studies that support his view nullify the conclusions of the study I quoted that showed no association between meat-eating and cancer incidence (9). He also claims that contrary studies are done on "select grouping of subjects" and that a "review of the more extensive body of literature, both ancient and modern, regarding vegetarianism and improved health, is overwhelming to the long-term advantages of vegetarianism versus meat consumption."
In the many dealings I've had with vegetarians over the years, there is always a pattern of behavior in how they handle studies and/or clinical data. When the studies or data appear to support their health claims, the material is played up like there is no tomorrow. But when the studies or clinical data either question or flatly contradict their theories, one of four things typically occurs:
1. The conflicting studies and data are ignored;
2. The conflicting studies and data are derided as "isolated incidents" or "anecdotal evidence";
3. The conflicting studies and data are accused of being sponsored by the meat and dairy industries and, therefore, worthless;
4. The conflicting studies and data are said to be "obscure" or published in "obscure" and/or "not well-known" journals (as if that, somehow, detracts from their truthfulness).
Obviously, none of these responses are appropriate. Dr. Shahsavari's handling of the opposing studies and data that I presented in my article fall mostly into #2. But I'm afraid his solution is unsatisfactory and definitely out of line with the scientific method. In his excellent book The Cholesterol Myths, Dr. Uffe Ravnskov defines the predicament Dr. Shahsavari, Ms. Gilbert, and other vegetarian apologists are in:
"If a scientific hypothesis is sound, it must agree with all observations. A hypothesis is not like a sports event, where the team with the greatest number of points [i.e., studies] wins the game. Even one observation that does not support a hypothesis is enough to disprove it. The proponents of a scientific idea have the burden of proof on their shoulders. The opponent does not have to present an alternative idea; his task is only to find the weakness in the hypothesis. If there is only one proof against it, one proof that cannot be denied and that is based on reliable scientific observations, the hypothesis must be rejected." (10)
In other words, you don't dismiss contradictory information by saying that the bulk of the evidence overwhelms it: scientific truth is not determined by some kind of majority vote. In this particular instance, the fact that there is a huge amount of conflicting data on meat-eating, health, disease, and vegetarianism shows that something is amiss in the vegetarian dogma and the supporting "proof" presented.
THE WITNESS OF HISTORY
Does history bear out their claims? If vegetarianism is indeed a healthier way of living than history should show it. This is common sense. But the fossil record and the witness of history do NOT show this and a few examples will suffice to demonstrate it.
When the Native Americans of certain parts of Florida switched from their mixed diet of fish, meat, and some plant foods to a diet centered around corn and other plant foods, their health quickly deteriorated. Bone analysis revealed high levels of tooth decay, arthritis, fractures, and infections. Such problems were not present in other tribes that had adequate access to animal protein (11).
Dr. Weston Price's seminal research into traditional diets showed unequivocally that the more vegetarian a people were, the more tooth decay and health problems they experienced. The more carnivorous peoples were always noted as more robust and stronger than more vegetarian peoples with a tooth decay rate of less than 1%. Dr. Price's research also showed that there were no exclusively vegetarian peoples in the world and current anthropological research has borne this observation out (11a).
In his papers, nutritional anthropologist H. Leon Abrams presents archaeological evidence that supports these findings: Skulls of ancient peoples who were largely vegetarian have teeth containing caries and abscesses and show evidence of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases (12).
If it is indeed true that meat-eating and saturated fat cause heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., where is the evidence for this in native peoples the world over who eat high meat diets? Investigations of the Masai and Eskimo, who are almost 100% carnivorous (before modernization), for example, revealed no chronic diseases (13). If the meat=disease theory were true, then logically one would find disease in heavy meat-eating populations, but such is not the case. Therefore, Dr. Shahsavari's claims are false.
Studies have actually shown that as heavy meat-eating peoples like the Masai switch their diet to one based more on corn and beans and other plant foods, their health deteriorates (14). Such evidence does not lend credence to Shahsavari's contentions that vegetarian diets are healthier than meat-based ones.
Research shows quite clearly that as humans abandoned animal foods and fats in favor of more plant foods, our health suffered (15). Skeletal remains of European populations reveal a slow, steady increase in tooth decay from the Neolithic period when agriculture first began until today, where it has skyrocketed (16).
The reason for this is simple: Humans as a species evolved as meat-eaters. For 99 percent of the time of human evolution, humans hunted animals and gathered a limited number of wild plant foods (17). Australopithecines, the first humans, relied heavily on animal foods, both hunted and scavenged (18). Large amounts of plant foods were not viable dietary options for early humans because most plant foods are poisonous in their raw states and early humans did not know how to cook or control fire to cook (19). Therefore, early humans could not have survived on the limited plant foods available because they could not have provided enough calories or nutrients to survive.
The bottom line is this: Humans are not genetically designed to thrive on plant foods alone. This is why our health deteriorates when animal foods are removed from our diets.
This, of course, brings up the question of the numerous studies showing vegetarianism in a positive light. Since we already know that the witness of history is squarely against such notions, there can only be one conclusion to make about modern studies to the contrary: They are flawed in some fundamental way.
Readers should not be shocked by this proposition as it is well known that many things can invalidate a study. When it comes to vegetarianism, these things abound as a few examples will show.
In July 1994, the British press carried headlines like 'Vegetarian diet means longer life' as they reported a vegetarian study from the British Medical Journal which said that vegetarians suffered forty percent fewer cancers and heart disease than meat eaters. (20)
But the public were being misled - the study was badly flawed.
The study's vegetarian cohort was selected through the British Vegetarian Society and the meat-eaters were then selected by the vegetarians themselves. This is hardly the way to conduct an unbiased trial - if they want to prove a point, and what vegetarian doesn't, they will pick those who are most likely to be unhealthy. It is human nature.
The vegetarians were mostly women, while the meat-eating group contained more men. Women live longer than men. In the age range of the subjects studied, men have four times the heart disease of women - enough to confound the figures significantly.
The vegetarians were younger than the meat-eaters. As younger people have a lower death rate, one would expect more deaths among the meat-eaters regardless of dietary influences.
In this study, the two groups were not comparable and the study is therefore worthless.
More recently, the press made a big splash about a study that supposedly showed that teen vegetarians were healthier than their omnivorous companions (21). What did the researchers deem to be "healthier?" A lower intake of fat, especially saturated fat, and eating more vegetables. Of course, you first have to show that eating less saturated fat is indeed healthier, but this was not done, either by the authors of the study or by anyone else, for that matter (22).
There was no front page coverage for a recent study showing that, despite supplementation, vegans had low intakes of calcium, selenium, and vitamins B2, B12, and D (23).
The balance of Shahsavari's article was filled with half-truths and misinformation. For example, his listing of transmissible parasites from animal foods to humans neglected to mention that proper animal husbandry and food preparation techniques eliminate such risks. He also conveniently neglected to mention the fact that plant foods are vectors for infection as well. Schistosomiasis, one of the most widespread parasitic diseases in the world, is primarily transmitted in Asia by eating raw water chestnuts. Additionally, most salmonella outbreaks in America have occurred in plant foods, particularly strawberries.
His information on CoQ10 is misleading. While it is true that some plant foods contain higher amounts of this nutrient than other plant foods, animal foods, particularly organ meats, provide a far richer source. There is also some question as to whether plant forms of CoQ are as usable by the body as animal forms (24).
His comments about vitamin A and beta-carotene are simplistic and, again, misleading. He claims that animal-derived vitamin A is "toxic" and implies that beta-carotene is just as good as vitamin A. Both of these statements are false. While vitamin A can be toxic, it takes a huge and massive amount to generate toxicity--far more than what you'd ingest in a teaspoon of cod liver oil or a pat of butter. Additionally, it is a mistake to assume that beta-carotene converts easily to vitamin A in the body or to assume that it is a 1:1 conversion. Several conditions are required to facilitate carotene conversion into vitamin A and the conversion rate is hardly optimal (25).
His statement that "There are entire societies and cultures, which have been predominantly vegetarian for thousands of years" is simply wrong. All peoples show a preference for animal foods and animal fats and only turn to agriculture when they have to (26).
His comments on the Hunza are also wrong. He claims that the Hunza "eat a 99% vegetarian diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, eating meat only on an occasional holiday, if at all." He seems to have forgotten the huge role that clabbered goat's milk plays in the Hunza diet--they consume it virtually at every meal. As far as I know, goat's milk is an animal food. It is also more fatty than cow's milk.
His comments on religion and meat-eating are bizarre and incorrect. He claims that "Several major religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam among others, require complete or partial abstinence from flesh foods." I have no idea where Dr. Shahsavari got his education in comparative religion, but it is obviously from a very poor source. While some sects of Buddhism proscribe the eating of meat, all allow dairy foods. Similar tenets are found in Hinduism, but it should be pointed out that Hinduism only specifically prohibits eating beef, not other animal flesh foods. Though Judaism, Islam and some sects of Christianity prohibit eating some animal foods like shellfish, lizards, and pork, ALL of them allow eating of other animal foods. Historically, Jews and Muslims celebrate their most holy festivals of Passover and Ramadan, respectively, with slaughtered lamb.
His twisted attempts to equate meat-eating with cannibalism are laughable. There is something called the Food Chain which he seems unaware of. Humans, like every other species on this planet, participate in it. In this world we live in, life forms feed off of other life forms to survive. Though vegetarians may not like to think about it, death is a reality of life.
Dr. Shahsavari's litany about the toxins in meat are unscientific and hysterical. For example, he states that "only moments after the death of an animal, the bacteria count [rises] into the billions." Where are the references to back up this grandiose claim? How is such a thing biologically possible? Reading this section of his article, one would think that meat is the most toxic substance on the planet. One has to wonder why someone does not keel over dead after eating a hamburger if his claims are true. He even seems to blame "road rage" on meat-eating! What is next? Communism? Pornography? The degeneration of our youth? How about Enron?
His sermonizing about the evils and immoralities of eating meat is nothing but nutritional sophistry designed to play on people's emotions--hardly an academic approach to an issue. He implies that being vegetarian will free us from our barbaric, animalistic nature. He obviously does not know that it was the near vegan Kikuyu tribe of East Africa that carried out the grotesque and murderous Mao Mao terrorist campaigns against white settlers in the 1950s. The Kikuyu's neighbors, the largely carnivorous Masai, caused no problems. I can also tell readers that some of the most vicious hate mail I've received has been from "peaceful vegans." I'd be happy to forward some of these messages, some of which contained death threats, to interested readers. Send requests to DrByrnes~hotmail.com.
His attempts to prove that meat-eating is harmful by quoting the unproven theories of Virginia Livingston-Wheeler are misleading. While it is true that Dr. Wheeler considered commercial chickens to be infected with what she believed was the cancer microbe, her anti-cancer diet allowed for generous amounts of butter and cream, as well as lamb and its internal organs (27). According to Dr. Wheeler, lamb and sheep never get cancer and are therefore safe for eating.
He then attempts to convince readers that eating soybeans will significantly reduce the spread of breast cancer. He also implies that it is soy consumption that protects Asian women from this disease. The studies, however, are conflicting as several have shown soy and its isoflvaones to actually accelerate tumor growths (28). Furthermore, while Asian women do have low breast cancer rates, they also have very high thyroid cancer rates (28a). To use his logic, soy must be responsible for this as well.
Dr. Shahsavari attributes the success of Dr. Dean Ornish's plan for heart disease to its predominantly low-fat vegetarian diet. It is well-known, however, that the "Ornish Plan" combines several factors in its approach: meditation, exercise, smoking cessation, emotional counseling, and diet. How does one know which factor(s) produced the beneficial changes seen in some of Ornish's patients? One does not. One thing is certain however, the benefits are NOT from the diet. When the Ornish and Pritikin diets were studied in isolation from other factors, the results clearly demonstrated that, despite the assistance of spousal education and support, the lowest fat group could not tolerate such a low fat diet. It was also found that as percentage of fat was lowered below 30%, traditional lipid profile risk factors for heart disease clearly worsened in direct relation to the degree of lowering of percentage of dietary fat. (29)
While I admire their zeal for their viewpoints, it is obvious to me that their zeal has blinded Ms. Gilbert and Dr. Shahsavari to the truth. From his website, it appears that Dr. Shahsavari is vegan for religious reasons. While he is certainly entitled to his beliefs, they should not influence his academic positions.
As a final comment, the article by Mark Brudnak entitled "Heart Disease and Diabetes: Facts About Coronary Heart Disease," in Monitor 6:3 advises "changing your diet to one low in fat, especially saturated fat, and cholesterol will help reduce high blood cholesterol, a primary cause of atherosclerosis." This claim is false as a recent review paper showed (30).
1. Monitor, March 2002, 6:1.
2. Monitor, December 2001, 5:4
3. Monitor, June 2002, 6:2
4. Monitor, August 2002, 6:3
5. The Myths of Vegetarianism, Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, July 2000; Nexus, April/May and June/July 2002.
6. (a) J Appl Nutr, 1980, 32:2:53-87; (b) The Cambridge World History of Food. K Kiple and K Ornelas, editors. (Cambridge University Press; UK), 2000, vol. 2, 1567.
7. Why I am Not a Vegetarian, American Council on Science and Health, Volume 9 Number 2 1997, posted at http://www.acsh.org/publications/pr...vegetarian.html
8. The Naive Vegetarian, posted at www.second-opinions.co.uk
9. Amer J Clin Nutr, 1994, 59 (suppl):1136S-42S
10. U Ravnskov. The Cholesterol Myths. (New Trends Publishing; Washington, D.C.), 2000, 12.
11. Scientific American, June 2000, 80-85.
11a. WA Price. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 1943. Summary articles on Price's research can be viewed at www.westonaprice.org.
12. J Appl Nutr, 1979, 31:1-2, 43-59.
13. Amer Anthropol, 1977, 79:309-316; (b) Amer J Epidem, 1972, 95:6-37; (c) Food Nutr, 1963, 24:104.
14. Lancet, 1992; 340:1042-3.
15. (a)MN Cohen. Health and the Rise of Civilization. (Yale University Press; CT.), 1989; (b) J. Diamond. Discover Magazine, May 1987, 64-66.
16. C Wells. Bones, Bodies, and Disease: Evidence of Disease and Abnormality in Early Man, New York, 1964; (b) GH Pelto and PJ Pelto. The Cultural Dimensions of the Human Adventure. New York, 1979, 292-301.
17. MD Leakey. Olduvai Gorge, vol. 3. Cambridge University Press; NY, 1971; (b) RB Lee and I DeVore. "Problems in the studies of hunters and gatherers," in Lee and DeVore, eds., Man the Hunter. Aldine Publishing, Chicago, 1968, 3-20.
18. (a) J Appl Nutr, 1979, 31:43-59; (b) MN Cohen. The Food Crisis in History. Yale University Press, CT., 1977, 15; c) Leakey, op cit. (d) Science, 1972, 176:512-4; (e) Southwest J Anthrop, 1969, 25:307-41.
19. J Appl Nutr, 1986, 1,2:24-31.
20. Br Med J. 1994; 308:1667-70.
21. J Adol Health, December 2001, 29:406-416.
22. Science, March 30, 2001, 291:5513 2536-45.
23. Amer J Clin Nutr, July 2002, 76:100-106.
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25. T Brody. Nutritional Biochemistry, Academic Press, 1994, 400-401.
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27. VL Wheeler. The Conquest of Cancer, Franklin Watts, New York, 1984, 148.
28. (a) Cancer Detect Prev, 2001;25(6):527-32; (b) Env Health Perspec 1997, 105(Suppl 3):633-636.
28a. Charles E Searle, Ed, Chemical Carcinogens, ACS Monograph 173, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 1976
29. JAMA, 1997 Nov 12 278:18 1509-15.
30. Q J Med, 2002, 95:397-403.