The Myths of Vegetarianism
by Stephen Byrne's, ND, PhD, RNCP

MYTH #1:
Meat consumption contributes to famine and depletes the Earth's natural resources.

MYTH #2:
Vitamin B12 can be obtained from plant sources.

MYTH #3:
The body can convert omega-6 fatty acids into omega-3 fatty acids as it needs.

MYTH #4:
The body's needs for vitamin A can be entirely obtained from plant foods.

MYTH #5:
Meat-eaters have higher rates of heart and kidney disease, cancer, obesity and osteoporosis than vegetarians.

MYTH #6:
Saturated fats cause heart disease and cancer, and low-fat, low-cholesterol diets are healthier for people.

MYTH #7:
Vegetarians live longer and have more energy and endurance than meat-eaters.

MYTH #8:
The "cave man" diet was low-fat and/or vegetarian.

MYTH #9:
Meat and saturated fat consumption have increased in the 20th century, with a corresponding increase in heart disease and cancer.

MYTH #10:
Soy products are adequate substitutes for meat and dairy products.

MYTH #11:
The human body is not designed for meat consumption

MYTH #12:
Eating animal flesh causes violent, aggressive behaviour in humans.

MYTH #13:
Animal products contain numerous, harmful toxins.

MYTH #14:
Eating meat or animal products is less "spiritual" than eating only plant foods.

MYTH #15:
Eating animal foods is inhumane.

"An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion" -- Alfred North Whitehead

Bill and Tanya sat before me in my office in a sombre mood: they had just lost their first baby in the second month of pregnancy. Tanya was particularly upset: "Why did this happen to me? Why did I miscarry my baby?" The young couple had come to see me mostly because of Tanya's recurrent respiratory infections, but also wanted some advice as to how they could avoid the heartache of another failed pregnancy.

Upon questioning Tanya about her diet, I quickly saw the cause of her infections, as well as her miscarriage: she had virtually no fat in her diet and was also mostly a vegetarian. Because of the plentiful media rhetoric about the supposed dangers of animal product consumption, as opposed to the supposed health benefits of the vegetarian lifestyle, Tanya had deliberately removed such things as cream, butter, meats and fish from her diet. Although she liked liver, she avoided it due to worries over "toxins."

Tanya and Bill left with a bottle of vitamin A, other supplements and a dietary prescription that included plentiful amounts of animal fats and meat. Upon leaving my office, Tanya looked at me and said ruefully: "I just don't know what to believe sometimes. Everywhere I look there is all this low-fat, vegetarian stuff recommended. I followed it, and look what happened." I assured her that if she and her husband changed their diets and allowed sufficient time for her weakened uterus to heal, they would be happy parents in due time. As they left, I shook my head in disbelief and concern: I knew they were not the only ones.

Along with the saturated fat and cholesterol scares of the past several decades has come the notion that vegetarianism is a healthier dietary option for people. It seems as if every health expert and government health agency is urging people to eat fewer animal products and consume more vegetables, grains, fruits and legumes. Along with these exhortations have come assertions and studies supposedly proving that vegetarianism is healthier for people and that meat consumption causes sickness and death. Several medical authorities, however, have questioned these data, but their objections have been largely ignored.

As we shall see, many of the vegetarian claims cannot be substantiated and some are simply false and dangerous. There are benefits to vegetarian diets for certain health conditions, and some people function better on less fat and protein, but, as a practitioner who has dealt with several former vegans (total vegetarians), I know full well the dangerous effects of a diet devoid of healthful animal products.

It is my hope that all readers will more carefully evaluate their position on vegetarianism after reading this article. It is important to note that there are different types of vegetarianism, including lacto-vegetarian diets (dairy products included) and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets (dairy products and eggs included). The nutritional caveats that follow are primarily directed at veganism, or a diet totally lacking in animal products.