So why would anyone want to consume a Low Fat Vegetarian diet? Obviously, one could easily follow one or the other, so why put the two together?
NOTE: If you are a die-hard meat eater, then please do us both a favor and just skip this page. I’m not trying to offend anyone here – just presenting men with an alternative that I believe will help their arteries, erections and general health.
My answer to that is simple: low fat vegetarianism is the safest way to follow BOTH the best of the supercultures around the globe and the latest research that we have to date. Now that is a bold statement that many men would consider controversial at best, but I think I can back that up with some good evidence which I will outline below.
Another thing to consider is that lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, whether low fat or not, has a nice advantage in my opinion, because it allows some dairy and eggs in one’s diet and that really improves the flavor for many Westerners. It’s an adjustment, but not a quantum adjustment. Of course, if you are going to go Low Fat vegetarian, you have to stick with largely non fat dairy/yogurts and egg whites, but that still allows for a substantial amount of good tasting food for most men.
1. Elite Supercultures. John Robbins wrote a health bestseller where he chose the four most elite supercultures from around the globe (Hunza, Vilcabambans, Abkhasians and Okainawans). He did a great job at documenting their diet, exercise and social routines. These supercultures are simply astonishing to read about – see my page on Healthy at 100 – because they simply have NO chronic disease. Imagine a society with NO hypertension, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. These peoples actually have achieved nearly perfect health. The eyes of the Hunza do not even age! Their lenses do not atrophy and harden like ours!
You may be objecting and saying, “Well, sure, I could live without a heart attack or cancer if I died at age 43!” However, these four people groups are known for incredible longevity. John Robbins chose them because of the high number of people that live into their 90’s and past 100. Again, someone in their late 80’s and 90’s in these cultures are anything but feeble: they usually are walking long hours, climbing up hills and mountains with minds still sharp and full of humor and life.
These people have done with ease and simplicity what we have not been able to achieve in the West with the 100’s of billions that we have spent on health care. I would also add that there is fifth very similar group: the Tarahumara native people of northern Mexico who also have incredible longevity and live a very similar lifestyle without hypertension, heart disease and all the other chronic disease conditions that plague the U.S. and Europe.
So how do they do it? First of all, they don’t take Prozac or statins. Amazing, eh? They don’t even take supplements! Can you imagine someone in their senior years not on four medications and a half dozen supplements?!? .
Their secret is their lifestyle and, if you look at their diet, a couple of things stand out immediately:
- Low Fat. They eat low fat, generally less than 20% of total calories. Now a classic low fat diet is fat in the 10-15% range. The Tarahumara eat diet near 10% of total calories as fat. The other cultures are a litle bit above this but not much. They are definitely less than Meditteranean even and much less than the lion’s share of people in a modern, industrialized societies.
- Vegetarian. All of these cultures do eat a little meat. But meat is a luxury in most of the world and these cultures are no exception. Actually, the Okinawans are a “modern” culture but still do not eat a lot of meat. Again, the meat these cultures do eat is a very minor part of their diet and is mostly used for “seasoning.”
Yes, the Masai and the Eskimos are impressive cultures with great cardiovascular health and eat a lot of meat and fat. But the best of the best supercultures with unprecedented longevity are cultures that rely almost entire on plants for their nutrition. In addition, we do not have access to the kinds of meats that the Masai and Eskimos (at a reasonable cost) for reasons I’ll discuss below.
2. Vegetarians and Mortality. Low carb and Paleo folks love to criticize the way most vegetarians eat, saying that 1) grains high glycemic, anti-nutrient foods; the high carb levels cause loss of insulin/glucose control; and on and on. However, these criticisms of vegetarian diets ignore one important fact: vegetarians do VERY well in mortality studies. Sure, many vegetarians eat too much wheat and refined carbs. But, in spite of that, I document in my Vegetarians and Longevity page four large studies that show that vegetarians have the best mortality rates and live the longest. Now Paleo and Low Carb folks argue that vegetarians live longer simply because they live healthier lifestyles, i.e. don’t smoke and manage their weight better. There may be some truth to this, but the fact is that the research shows that a largely or entirely plant-based eating regimen is the current gold standard.
Remember: meat eaters are trying to play catch up. Perhaps they will some day. Perhaps some brand of Paleo will win eventually and become the new gold standard – who knows? But, for now, it’s hard to beat vegetarian / plant-based eating, especially when you consider that many vegetarian foods tend to boost nitric oxide and lower blood pressure. And, according to one large study, Vegetarians Have Equal or Better Testosterone. So you get solid testosterone, improved blood flow and nitric oxide and stellar longevity. What’s not to like??
NOTE: Realistically, most vegetarians probably eat a lot of wheat. Wheat is a highly genetically modified food and is also high glycemic compared to all the other whole grains. Many vegetarians probably often eat a lot of fructose from fruit, dried fruit, honey. In other words, they often do many of the things that the omnivores accuse them of. But here is the key: in spite of it all their “sins”, they still have done better than meat eaters in study after study. (You can read about my issues with wheat in this page on A Review of Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis.
Now this is where I am headed: eating an imperfect vegetarian produces good results. Imagine what is possible if you tune a vegetian diet. You start to see why the most elite supercultures live without chronic heart disease. And this is where I argue that combining a low glycemic Low Fat Diet with vegetarian diet provides the best of all possible outcomes. In other words, why not just eat like the above supercultures?
BAD SCIENCE: There were a few mortality studies that showed that low cholesterol increased mortality risks. As expected, the Paleo and Low Carb advocates jumped all over this without really thinking it through. Of course, a low fat diet, which leads to much lower cholesterol levels, is healthier as the above cultures all show. So why the negative mortality results? Let me quote from Dr. Gould, a doctor who successfully reversed arteriosclerosis in many of his patients: “In these large population studies, there is a small percentage of people who have preexisting medical conditions, such as cancer, depression, alcoholism, gastrointestinal diseases, or addictive behavior such as drug addiction or smoking, all of which reduce appetite and may impair nutrition in association with every low cholesterol levels. These preexisting conditions not only lower cholesterol levels but may also cause death unrelated to cardiovascular disease. Therefore, in such studies, there may be an association between death caused by the preexisting nonvascular disease and low cholesterol levels. However, if the people with these preexisting nonvascular medical conditions are screened out and removed from the analysis, there is no increase in deaths associated with the low cholesterol levels.”  He then cites three large population studies that support the above.
Look at the benefits that you would likely get from low glycemic Low Fat vegetarianism:
a) Diabetes and Prediabetes Reversal (Partial or Complete). Dr. Bernard has done extensive research and found that a plant-based, low glycemic, Low Fat Diet – contrary to what critics say about higher carb diets – usually partially or even completely reverse prediabetes and diabetes. Of course, exercise, weight loss and sometimes HRT (testosterone therapy) are required to gain complete victory. See my links on Low Fat Diets and Diatetes and Testosterone and Diabetes for more information.
b) Low Fat Diet Benefits. I have documented 10+ Benefits of a Low Fat Diet, including prostate cancer protection, telomere improvements, increased blood flow – most fats slow down blood flow – decreased blood pressure, an improved testosterone-to-estradiol ratio – the list goes on and on! And the one most important benefit for many men is a partial reversal of their arteriosclerosis. Most men over the age of about 35-40 with erectile dysfunction and/or low testosterone are going to have significant arteriosclerosis. This gives them a chance to improve that naturally and get the lining of those arteries pumping out more nitric oxide once again!
c) Fruit and Vegetable Benefits. The research-backed benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption also go on and on and includes everything from improved erections, decreased stroke, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension risk, less dementia, lowered inflammation and protection from many kinds of cancer. (Try to purchase organic when possible.) For details, see my link on 15 Benefits of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption.
So if you combine a Low Fat Diet with Vegetarianism, you are bound to get some incredible synergies. By the way, do NOT listen to the standard Paleo and Low Carb arguments that eating a lot of fat is natural. With the exception of fish, which is high in heart healthy, inflammation-lowering omega-3’s, and nuts, which are packed with arginine and antioxidants, virtually all foods prior to a few thousand years ago were low fat. Wild game is usually low fat. Almost all plants and fruits are low fat. Low Fat is how humans developed and all the modern oils and fatty dairy are a modern invention.
Even if you believe that Paleo is the way to go, it’s impossibly impractical in my opinion. Why? Because it is very difficult to eat fish more than once a week without getting significant methylmercury and PCB exposure. And modern livestock and poultry are almost always corn fed, hormone-injected and high fat. This is just not natural and makes eating meat like the natives impractical for modern man. Sure, there is range-fed beef out there with good omega-3 levels and less fat. But have you seen the price? The great majority of us cannot afford range-fed beef or poultry and will end up eating the nasty stuff.
If I could find inexpensive low fat meat cuts out there, I would probably eat a little meat similar to the Okinawans or some of the other supercultures mentioned above. By the way, the Apostle of Low Fat, Nathan Pritikin, ate meat regularly – but just a little – and he died with perfectly clean and clear arteries. But I simply cannot afford it and don’t have time to drive all over the place looking for decent low fat cuts of meat. It’s much easier just to stick to vegetarian.
1) Heal Your Heart, by K. Lance Gould, M.D., p. 67