Vegetarian or Semi-Vegetarian: Which is Better?

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming, newly revised version of Dr. Fuhrman's book Cholesterol Protection for Life.

Is a vegetarian diet healthier than a diet that contains a small amount of animal products?

We do not know for sure. The preponderance of evidence suggests that either a near-vegetarian diet or a vegetarian diet is the best, especially for patients with heart disease. In the massive China-Oxford-Cornell Project, reduction in heart disease and cancer rates continued to be observed as participants reduced their animal-food consumption all the way down to 1.7 small servings per week. Under this level, there is not enough data available.

Some smaller studies suggest that a small amount of fish added to a vegetarian diet adds benefit, which is the result of the documented benefits from the increased DHA-fat from fish. This benefit can be achieved and heart reversal maximized on a strict vegetarian diet by including flaxseeds and nuts that contain omega-3 such as walnuts and the addition of a DHA supplement. Whether you are a strict vegetarian or not, your diet still must be plant-predominant to achieve protection against both heart disease and cancer.

Certainly, more than a few small servings per week of animal foods (even if low in saturated fat) starts to increase cholesterol significantly and, in population studies, we observe an increasing incidence of heart attacks in susceptible individuals.

Most of my heart patients choose to follow a strict vegetarian diet. They do not want to chance putting even a little bit of gasoline on the fire. By taking a supplement of DHA fat, and utilizing a vegetarian diet, we see a dramatic end to their chest pains (angina), increased exercise tolerance, and most often, a reversal of their heart problems forever.

It is important to note that a vegetarian or vegan diet is deficient in meeting the nutrient needs of most individuals for vitamin B12; supplementation is essential. Some unique individuals with a genetic need for higher amounts of non-essential amino acids may feel healthier with a very small amount of animal products added to their diet, but this increased requirement that is rarely observed can also be met with a nutritional supplement that supplies the required need, such as extra carnitine and taurine.

It is also important to make sure Vitamin D intake is adequate in those not getting sufficient sunshine to meet their Vitamin D needs. Deficiency of Vitamin D is epidemic in America and this deficiency does not merely contribute to the development of osteoporosis, but to cancer and heart disease as well.

The supplementation plan in this book complements a healthy vegan diet to assure nutritional completeness and to maximize results. This recommended diet plan is rich in calcium and iron from green vegetables, contains adequate protein, and is otherwise extremely nutrient dense.

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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Cindi Taylor - January 12, 2006 4:34 PM

I have read the book and carefully followed your plan for about 4 weeks before a routine CBC from my doctor revealed my bilirubin count was high. Could this be the result of switching my diet?

Henry Abbott - January 12, 2006 5:03 PM


Thanks for the comment.

That's a question that you should really put to Dr. Fuhrman directly, which you can do a few different ways--by joining his member center, for instance, or by making a phone appointment. (Click "Ask Dr. Fuhrman" above.)

We hope the blog is a good way to have many kinds of health conversations--but for a number of reasons (privacy, Dr. Furhman's time, the lack of a case history, to name a few) it's not so great for one-on-one medical consultations.

MAURETTE Eric - January 13, 2006 12:23 PM

Thanks for your article which answer (partly) some of my concerns since I am fallowing Dr Fuhrman's diet (I am even eating salad at breakfast) and I was worried about articles I read here and there that a vegetarian diet could accelerate aging by speeding glycation (Is it the truth?).

In your article you say it's possible to supplement with taurine and carnitine but what about carnosine (since in an article I read it was this substance which was said to be hightly protective against glycation and to be lacking in a veggan diet ?

Sincerely yours,


Joel Fuhrman - January 14, 2006 8:27 PM

Increased levels of advanced glycation end products do increase in a person eating a diet rich in processed foods, white flour and sugar. They also increase from overcooked and barbequed meats. One of the advantages of the diet-style I recommend (which can be vegan or can include a small amount of animal products) is that it is extremely nutrient-dense and designed to have a high nutrient-per-calorie ratio. It is designed to resist the formation of glycation-end-products and be the most longevity promoting and protective diet-style possible. For example, reversal of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, headaches, and autoimmune diseases are routinely noted.

The studies on carnosine are interesting, but not enough studies have been performed on humans to accurately ascertain whether we would be better off supplementing with it or not. Too often the community selling supplements distorts the research to make the substance sound like it is the fountain of youth and we can't live without it.

For the person's question earlier, a higher bilirubin level could be a harmless genetic varient (Gilbert's syndrome) or it could represent another problem such as a gallstone. It is not the result of eating healtheir these last 4 weeks, but your doctor should re-check you again to make sure it stable and not a sign of a developing health problem.

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