Are animal products putting your health at risk?

The ideal human diet should be composed of 80% carbohydrates, 10% fat and 10% protein. It is plant-based, in forms as close to their natural state as possible. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains.

And we’re not the only ones who think so. Studies from around the world are showing that a global dietary shift to completely plant-based diets would be best for the environment and human health. Such a shift would save an estimated 129 million human lives and avoid 8.1 million deaths per year. It would also save trillions of dollars in health care costs.

Research from the Imperial College London found that eating 7-7.5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day lowered cancer risk, and 10 servings a day lowered the risk of heart attack, stroke and early death. So, steer clear of heavily processed foods and animal products, added salt, oil and sugar – and pile on the veggies!

Diets that completely cut out animal products protect us against early death from disease. Unlike those who eat animal products, those who eat a plant-based diet have lower weights, total and LDL-cholesterol levels, and glucose levels. They also have lower death rates from heart disease and cancer.

But isn’t eating meat healthy?
 

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Fish

Evidence of high levels of toxins, fat and cholesterol, and a lack of fibre mean that fish are not the “health” food they are hyped up to be. Fish and shellfish readily absorb heavy metals and other contaminants (like mercury) from their food and environment and pass the toxins up the food chain. Even modest consumption of moderately contaminated and commonly eaten fish can put people at risk. Classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in humans, mercury exposure can cause irreversible damage to the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, brain damage and memory loss, and can damage a foetus.

New Zealand’s “pristine” waters aren’t exempt from the pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, chlordane, DDT and mercury that accumulate in fish and shellfish. In 2009, a Food Safety Review found high levels of mercury in New Zealand fish, as well as high levels of cadmium and arsenic – both highly dangerous toxins.

Just like in fish, these pollutants are not readily cleared by the body and accumulate over a lifetime. PCBs are known carcinogens that have been shown to disrupt immune function, cause learning disabilities and disrupt neurological development. Dioxins are also carcinogens that have been shown to cause liver damage, weight loss, skin rashes and reduce immune function – exposure is particularly dangerous during foetal development and early childhood.

Regularly eating fish and seafood was associated with a two-fold increased risk of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) due to increased exposure to mercury.

In addition to these toxins, fish is high in cholesterol and most don’t realise that the fat in fish is not heart healthy. High intakes of fish during pregnancy increases the risk of being overweight and obese in childhood.

Luckily, all these toxins and other risks can be avoided because vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and fruit (especially walnuts and flax seeds (linseeds)) contain all the essential fatty acids we need, like omega-3s.

While fish may seem so different to us and other mammals, they are animals that deserve respect. Learn more about fish.


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Chicken

Many people wrongly assume that chicken, “as a white meat” is healthier, but the truth is that chicken contains nearly as much cholesterol as red meat. In addition to potentially contributing to heart disease, chicken servings are typically composed of 50% fat, 30% of which is saturated.

Many people are surprised to learn that much of the world's antibiotics are used on livestock. Most of that is given to intensively farmed chickens to increase growth rates and prevent diseases that would otherwise spread when chickens are raised in such crowded conditions. Such practices have been found to encourage the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria leading to so-called “superbugs”, which endanger both human and animal health.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest declared chicken as the most unsafe meat in terms of bacterial content because more cases of foodborne illness outbreaks were linked to chicken than any other meat or poultry product. Campylobacter and salmonella cases are on the rise and can cause fever, diarrhoea, abdominal cramping and potentially result in serious life-threatening conditions.

The treatment of chickens reared for meat is said to be an example of the most extreme kind of cruelty that can be inflicted on an animal by humans. Learn more about “meat” chickens.


 

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Dairy

Kiwis consume substantial amounts of dairy products, despite scientific evidence that questions their health benefits and points to potential health risks.

Many assume that cow’s milk is essential for bone health, however clinical research shows that dairy products have little or no benefit for bones in children, in teenage girls and even in post-menopausal women. One of the best ways to protect our bones from osteoporosis is to exercise and eat calcium-rich foods like kale, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables and beans. Some people drink milk to obtain vitamin D in their diets, but the best natural source of vitamin D is sunlight. Just five to 15 minutes of sun exposure is enough to meet the body’s daily requirements.

Dairy products like cheese, ice cream, milk, butter and yoghurt are high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Many commonly perceive daily yoghurt consumption with good health, but a Spanish study that monitored diets found that there was no improvement in physical or mental health compared to those who ate less or no yoghurt.

Consuming dairy products has also been linked to higher risk of various cancers, especially prostate, ovarian, lung and breast cancers. One American study found that women who had consumed more than one glass of milk per day had a 73% greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than women who drank less than one glass per day. Another study found that men who consume a diet high in red, processed meat and dairy have a 2.5 times greater risk of death from cancer.

Dairy products have also been linked to health risks for children and can encourage the development of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. For infants, the consumption of cow’s milk is not recommended. In addition to concerns about causing colic (both when consumed by the infant directly or through the breastmilk of a mother who consumes dairy), cow’s milk is also linked to type-1 diabetes.

In addition to the potential for serious disease, dairy products can cause discomfort. Most people are unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance can cause unwelcome symptoms like gastrointestinal distress, diarrhoea, and flatulence. Some studies have even suggested that food allergies can be the result of cow’s milk consumption, particularly in children.
Laced with many contaminants, dairy milk naturally contains hormones and growth factors produced within a cow’s body. In addition to naturally occurring hormones, synthetic hormones can also be used to increase milk production. When treating cows for common conditions such as mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands), antibiotics are used and traces of these antibiotics have been found in samples of dairy products. Pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins are other toxins that have been found in milk and can build to harmful levels in the body putting us at risk of immune, reproductive and central nervous system disorders – as well as cancer.

Cows are gentle animals and the fate of their calves is cruel. Learn more about the dark side of dairy.


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Eggs

Eggs aren’t all they're cracked up to be. Eggs have zero dietary fibre, and about 60% of the calories in an egg are from fat – a big proportion of which is saturated. They are also loaded with cholesterol (about 213 mg per egg), so it’s no wonder that eggs can also increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Consuming as little as three or more eggs per week increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Egg shells are fragile and porous, that coupled with the overcrowded conditions on most egg farms means that eggs are the perfect host for bacteria like salmonella – a leading cause of food poisoning.

Over 3 million ‘layer’ hens live their short lives in cruel conditions, crammed inside wire cages. Learn more about hens.


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Red and other Meats

Red meat has long been associated with various cancers. The World Health Organisation declared red and processed meats “carcinogenic to humans,” and observed an increased risk for pancreatic, stomach and other cancers. When cancer researchers started to look for links between diet and cancer, one of the most noticeable findings was that people who avoided meat all together were much less likely to develop the disease. Just two or more servings of red or processed meat a week can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Red and processed meats have been found to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Heme iron and nitrates found in red and processed meats have been linked to an increased chance of death from conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and kidney disease. Red meat intake during childhood leads to earlier onset of puberty in adolescent girls, which can mean an increased risk of breast cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions later in life. 

100 million animals are cruelly confined in factory farms each year. Most suffer anxiety, illness and degradation with no sunlight, no room to move around and no way to express their natural behaviours. Learn more about why we want to stop factory farming.