Vegetarian Diet Reduces Risk Factors for Disease

Dr. Frank Rasler, MD shares his thoughts on preventing disease with a vegetarian diet.

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About the Author: From the perspective of 30 years as an emergency physician with disease prevention training at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Dr. Frank Rasler MD, MPH, discusses your personal motivation for a healthy long life.  Inspiring healthy behavior during a brief patient encounter has been a focus of his clinical care.  

A vegetarian-based diet will reduce many of the risk factors for disease, but frequently we neglect one or more of the other critical issues that promote a healthy, happy long life.  I recently gave a “TEDx talk” on health motivation from the unique perspective of an emergency physician: Health, Motivation and the Near-Death Experience.

Each week in the E.R. we treat hundreds of unfortunate patients for diseases that were preventable. Our healthcare system is sadly skewed to treating diseases after they start, rather than preventing them.

This is a new era of understanding how we can change behavior.  Changing your behavior doesn’t have to be difficult, however it’s often difficult to maintain. There are many, successful behavior modification methods available.  But you need to begin, you need to get started, and if you’ve tried before and gave up, you need to re-start.

Do you know there are a few remaining cultures in this world where people commonly live to be 90 and 100 years old  . . . .  and they are healthy.  Cultures where the elderly have been extensively investigated by physicians and scientists, and found that the diseases we fear with aging don’t necessarily have to start when we’re 50 years old.  Our goal of course is not just a long life, but a healthy, active, mentally alert and happy long life. The key is in reducing your health risk factors, and at the same time model those better habits for those we care about.

Related: Why go Vegetarian

Nutrition is, of course, essential. The four well-known longevity cultures all had diets that were largely vegetarian, but also low in calories and fat.  Multiple other lifestyle factors are also likely important to their longevity and disease rarity: community, activity, nutritional growing conditions, etc.

The Okinawa Centenarian Study was a rigorous 30+ year study by scientists and physicians.  The Okinawan diet (Japan) was only 3% meat/eggs and 2% dairy.

The Abkhasian diet of the Caucasus (Russia) was lacto-vegetarian with nuts as the primary source of fat.  Meat consumption was less than 10% with the fat removed.

Vilcabambans from Ecuador and Pakistan’s Hunza consumed fat and protein almost entirely from vegetable origin.

However, new generations have lost their longevity and disease rarity, presumably by adopting a “western” lifestyle (with less physical activity) and diet habits including processed foods (their calorie, meat and fat consumption have all increased).

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