The rapid march of science has led to some confusion about what type of diet is healthiest for us.
Q: Is it beneficial or detrimental to your health to stop eating animal products like meat, milk, chicken and eggs?
This is a good question because the rapid march of science has led to some apparent contradictions in best practice and therefore confusion about what type of diet is healthiest for us.
First of all, humans have evolved to thrive on a broad-based, varied diet. And we know that a moderate calorie load to maintain a healthy weight is best, just as Goldilocks said, "...not too little, not too much, but just right."
And the lowest identifiable risk exists among those who emphasize a variety of vegetables, whole grain and fruit in their diet. It has also been established in large population-based studies that fish eaten at least weekly, especially cold water fish such as salmon, reduces the risk of things as varied as macular degeneration and cardiovascular disease.
Low-fat dairy is a rich source of calcium, among other things, which is the one supplement that consistently proves out to be important, most particularly for prevention of osteoporosis. And eggs, which once were knocked for being rich in a type of cholesterol, turn out to be a good source of protein and no significant added risk.
The picture on various meats is coming clearer. Among those who eat red meat every day, for example, the risk of heart disease and colon cancer is noticeably increased compared to those who eat it the least frequently. The statistical risk is even worse for those who eat processed meats, like hot dogs and bacon, every day.
The bottom line on the question of the safety of just stopping these things in your diet depends upon what you substitute in their place and how old you are. If you are an adult, more nuts, whole grains and veggies are just the ticket. Young children need the amino acids only found in meats and milk in addition to vegetables, grain and fruit in their diets.
To be fair, man does not live by studies alone, even if they weren't subject to frequent change. If you have a special event coming up, a prime steak, a juicy hamburger or a gooey dessert might be fun to celebrate with. They taste even better when eaten only occasionally and might even be good for your soul.
Jeff Brown, MD: Have a question? Write to PMD's team of experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.