Doctor’s Tip: The case against meat — epidemiologic evidence

Dr. Greg Feinsinger

A few months ago, these columns included a series about what to eat every day for optimal health, based on Dr. Greger’s daily dozen. Today’s column gets back to a series of what foods to avoid for optimal health — so far, salt, sugar, added oil, and processed food have been covered.

For the most part, gold standard double blind, placebo-controlled studies can’t be done with nutrition. (How can you have placebo food, and how can you follow for years what people eat?)

Epidemiologic studies are an alternative source of solid evidence. They involve looking at large human populations, see what they eat, what diseases they get, and what they die from. Some of these studies are summarized below:

THE CHINA STUDY:  T. Colin Campbell, a PhD nutrition scientist on the faculty at Cornell, was the lead scientist in this study, which was done in the 1980s. He and his colleagues found that the people in China who couldn’t afford to eat animal protein had a much lower incidence of the chronic diseases that sicken and kill people on a typical Western diet: obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, autoimmune diseases such as MS, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and many form of cancer (especially breast, colon, and prostate). Now that the Chinese are becoming wealthier, they are eating more Western-type food, and unfortunately are suffering and dying from our diseases.

NORWAY DURING WORLD WAR II: The Norwegian diet is high in meat and dairy, and as a result they have a high rate of heart disease. During WWII they were occupied by the Nazis, who kept these products for their own soldiers. The rate of heart disease plummeted during the war, but a few years after the War, as a result of eating animal products again, the rate of heart disease in Norway went right back up to where it had been.

KOREAN AND VIET NAM WARS: Autopsies on soldiers killed in these wars showed hardening of the arteries in almost all the American kids, but none in the Asian kids. This was due to differences in what they ate rather than genetics, because when these people immigrate to our country, they have the same rate of heart disease as the rest of Americans.

THE BLUE ZONES are five areas of the world where people live particularly long and healthy lives:  Okinawa, the highlands of Sardinia, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, Ikaria Island off the coast of Greece, and the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California (who for religious reasons are at least vegetarians if not vegans). The common threads among these five populations are that they eat minimal to no animal products, they all eat legumes daily, and they engage in frequent low-intensity physical activity.

There is a good, small book published in 2019 called “How to Eat,” by nutrition writer Mark Bittman and globally-recognized expert on nutrition David L. Katz, M.D. They point out that for health as well as environmental reasons, getting protein from vegetables like beans and lentils is preferable to protein from beef and other animal sources. They go on to say that “meat is either absent entirely, or eaten in small amounts, in all the valid contenders for ‘best diet’ for human health.”

CORRECTION in last weeks column on health fair lab results: After TSH it should read high TSH means hypothyroidism, low TSH means hyperthyroidism.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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