Eating a Small Amount of Animal Products

Adapted from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live:

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

I do not know for sure. A preponderance of the evidence suggests that either a near vegetarian diet or a vegetarian diet is the best. In the massive China-Cornell-Oxford Project, reduction in cancer rates continued to be observed as participants reduced their animal-food consumption all the way down to one serving per week. Below this level there is not enough data available. Some smaller studies suggest that some fish added to a vegetarian diet provides benefit, which is likely a result of the increased DHA fat from fish.1 This same benefit most likely could be achieved on a strict vegetarian diet by including ground flaxseed and nuts that contain omega-3, such as walnuts. If you want to get the benefit from the additional DHA contained in fish yet remain on a strict vegetarian diet, you can take plant-derived DHA.

Whether or not you are a strict vegetarian, your diet still must be plant-predominant for optimal health and to maximally reduce cancer risk. A vegetarian or vegan diet may be healthy or unhealthy, depending on food choices, but a diet similar to the one most Americans consume—i.e., one containing a significant quantity of animal products—cannot be made healthful. For those not willing to give them up, animal products should be limited to twelve ounces or less per week. Otherwise, the risk of disease increases considerably. Many of my patients choose to eat only vegan foods in their home and eat animal products only as a treat once a week or when they are out.


1. Pauletto, P., M. Puato, M.G. Caroli, et al. 1996. Blood pressure and atherogenic lipoprotein profiles of fish-diet and vegetarian villagers in Tanzania: the Lugaiawa Study. Lancet 348: 784-88; Key, T.J., G.E. Fraser, M. Thorogood, et al. 1999. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 70 (3): 516-24S.
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