Another Reason Not To Eat Meat

As if there aren't enough reasons not to eat meat... According to New Scientist magazine, consuming red meat and dairy puts humans at risk from a rather nasty strain of e. coli.  This particular strain attaches itself to a sugar molecule that humans can't produce, but is ingested when we consume meat and dairy products.

"This toxin originally evolved to attack cattle or some other animals," says Ajit Varki, an expert in molecular medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who was involved in the study. By eating the toxin's intended target we made ourselves vulnerable too, he says.

When unlucky meat-eaters ingest this particular E. coli strain, its toxin kills the cells that line the gut, eventually causing bloody diarrhoea, Varki says. It also heads for blood vessels and the kidneys.

"It's a sort of worst of all worlds if you're a human and you eat some of this stuff," says Paul Crocker, who investigates the biological role of sugars at the University of Dundee, UK. Animals that produce GC naturally have the sugar in blood serum, where it mops up the toxin and keeps it out of the gut.

Varki suggests that other ailments could also be due to GC from meat and dairy as the immune system mounts a response against it. "We think other diseases associated with red meat – cancer, heart attack and autoimmunity - may be explained by this ongoing reaction."

Source:  New Scientist

Don't forget to send us your Thanksgiving Recipes if you'd like to be included in our vegan Thanksgiving recipe roundup.  Rules here.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahhto

Blueberries are one of the 8 things you should eat every day.  The reason being, that they are loaded with antioxidants.  Blueberries also help protect eyesight, promote gastrointestinal health, reduce your risk of colon and ovarian cancer, promote healthy bowel movements, and slow the onset of age-related dementias.  And that's why I put blueberries in my breakfast smoothie.  Unfortunately, Jane doesn't eat blueberries with much regularity.  She prefers them fresh, and we have about a 4-week window in August when they're available to us.  That is, available at a price we can afford.

It looks like scientists are getting close to turning on the genes that will allow tomatoes to have the same health benefits as blueberries.

The purple pigments are potent antioxidants called anthocyanins that mop up the free-radicals that cause cancer and heart disease. Anthocyanins naturally occur in blueberries, blackberries and blackcurrants, but natural tomatoes only contain negligible amounts of the compounds.

Tomato plants have all the necessary genes to create the pigments, but they are normally dormant, so the team inserted two additional genes from the snapdragon flower that trigger these genes to become active.

Source:  New Scientist Magazine -- Purple Tomatoes Could Ward Off Cancer

Of course, this is all still in the early stages.  Toxicology studies need to be performed to ensure that the "enriched" tomatoes aren't hiding negative effects as well.  There is also the question of how this pigment might affect taste.

See World's Healthiest Foods -- Blueberries for more information on the health benefits of blueberries.

Yet Another Reason Not To Eat Meat

Recently, I've been reading a lot about the "natural" human diet. Some people argue we've evolved to be meat eaters, others that we're naturally vegetarians. Obviously, we're pro-vegan here, but the question still rages. Are humans natural omnivores?

A few weeks ago, I bookmarked an article I saw referenced on Vegan.com. It's taken me awhile to get around to reading it, but I'm glad I did. The article, entitled "Mystery of the meat-eaters' molecule" was published in The Telegraph, and postulates that human physiology may not be able to tolerate meat and dairy. The study is being conducted by Ajit Varki, co-director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center at the University of California, San Diego.

Varki has built up a range of evidence that potentially links Neu5Gc, a so-called sialic acid, to chronic disease. This is because the animal version is absorbed by humans as a result of eating red meat and milk products, and there is evidence that the body views it as an invader.

Professor Varki has determined that we are the only primates who do not produce this molecule, Neu5Gc. Instead, we produce Neu5Ac, a precursor to Neu5Gc. So what does this mean?

This tiny change could potentially explain some of the more unusual differences between humans and apes. Chimpanzees do not seem to suffer from heart disease, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis or bronchial asthma - common conditions in humans.

Professor Varki believes that Neu5Gc elicits an immune reaction that might contribute to a whole spectrum of human-specific diseases.

After testing a range of foods, they found the highest levels of Neu5Gc in red meat: up to 11,600 micrograms could be absorbed from the recommended daily serving of beef, 5,100 from pork and 4,900 from lamb. The level in goat's cheese was 5,500, but fell to around 700 in milk and salmon. Cod, tuna, turkey and duck were in the twenties.

Not only did the foreign sugar show up in the body soon after eating, but tests also revealed that many people carry antibodies that react to Neu5Gc - a protective immune response, but one which could trigger damaging inflammation.

Interestingly, we've been reading more and more about how better health can be achieved by eating vegan, or at least cutting down on meat and dairy products. We've found information showing that rheumatoid arthritis can be improved with a vegan diet, and that non-fat and lo-fat milk can be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Of course, Varki's studies are still in their preliminary stages. As he stresses:

"we have not proven any link to disease, just suggested that it is something to explore."

I'm looking forward to reading more about his findings. On a lighter note, Kate posted this YouTube video and commented it's one of the funniest she's seen. I agree, so here it is, it may not be the definitive explanation, but hey, it supports my point of view ;).

For further reading:
Dept of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UCSD
Varki Lab page

Vegetarians Live Longer

The Huffington Post writes today about a study by the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsche Krebsforschungszentrum) which followed 1,904 vegetarians over 21 years.

As vegans, we often hear that our diet could be putting us at risk... we're not getting enough B12, we're not getting enough calcium, and oh yes, what about protein?

Research by a team led by Professor Ibrahim Elmadfa at the University of Vienna found a much better than average intake of Vitamin C, Carotinoides, Folic acid, fiber and unsaturated fats. Where shortcomings may arise is for Vitamin B12, calcium und Vitamin D in a vegan diet. Astoundingly, however, study participants did not suffer from diseases, such as osteoporosis, typically related to inadequate intakes of these micro-nutrients.

Source: The Huffington Post

(Okay, so these researchers don't touch on protein, but we know we can get adequate protein in our diet if we pay enough attention and avoid the "french fry" vegetarian lifestyle. What's that? That is the idea that french fries or other unhealthy food choices are the only options available to us when we go out to eat in omnivore land. Most of the time, you can get a salad or steamed vegetables, at the very least.)

Most impressive of all in the German Cancer Research Center study is this: Vegetarian men had a 50% reduced risk of early death, and vegetarian women a 30% reduced risk.

Mad Cows And Dementia

My mother was recently visiting with a friend. They got around to talking about their kids and she mentioned that Jane and I have been vegan for awhile, and that we've been blogging about our vegan experiences. My mom, who is not vegan by the way (hi mom!), explained veganism to her friend and discussed the cruelty perpetrated on the animals we, as a society, eat. (Go mom!) My mom expressed that it made her sad, to which her friend replied, "I don't care, I like meat." Wow. I know others have talked about experiencing this, but so far, the worst I've heard is, "I don't want to know, I still want to eat meat...."

If the environmental reasons aren't enough, here's a little something I've been reading about which should get those people who like meat to reconsider, at least the beef eaters.

I've been reading Thanking the Monkey and on page 192 Karen Dawn writes

How rampant is mad cow disease? We don't know. A study at Yale found that of forty-six patients clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer's, six were proven to have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) at autopsy. (Ms. Dawn cites Guy McKahann et al., Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders 1989 - pages 100-109.) Other studies have shown that mad cow prions can cause a disease with a molecular signature indistinguishable from sporadic CJD. Therefore there is no way to determine if the many deaths from CJD misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's are actually linked to mad cow disease. (Ms. Dawn cites Michael Greger, MD, "Could Mad Cow Disease Already Be Kliling Thousands of Americans Every Year?" CommonDreams.org, January 7, 2004.) So we cannot know how widespread mad cow disease is in the United States, or whether humans are infected. It seems that the government is in no rush to help us find out.

Yikes! Then there's always this blurb from the National Institutes of Health page on CJD.

The appearance of the new variant of CJD (nv-CJD or v-CJD) in several younger than average people in Great Britain and France has led to concern that BSE may be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated beef. Although laboratory tests have shown a strong similarity between the prions causing BSE and v-CJD, there is no direct proof to support this theory.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NIH)

The more I read, the happier I am that I'm vegan.

Methane – This Is The Solution?

We've been hearing about the potential dangers of methane gasses for awhile now. Discover magazine published an article last week stating that "Methane is a paradox. It increases global warming at the same time that it promises abundant alternative energy." Regardless of the potential as an alternative energy source, most of us regard methane gas as a problem. But I think we'd be better served recommending a reduction in beef/milk consumption than trying to figure out how to reduce the methane emissions given off by cattle. Bossie (generic cow's name) would probably agree.

More Reasons Not To Eat Pork

I used to be an avid fan of The Simpsons. I still like the show, and watch the reruns often, but I don't watch it nearly as much as I used to. That doesn't stop me from quoting the show however. One of my favorite quotes is from the Episode "Lisa The Vegetarian."

Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No!
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

Most of my friends and family members are omnivorous. Many of them believe they are doing the "right" thing by eating organic foods. I've put right in quotations, because right is a subjective term, and organic is perceived as being a better choice than conventionally produced foods. However, it appears this isn't necessarily the case, for pork at least.

“Animal-friendly, outdoor farms tend to have a higher occurrence of Salmonella, as well as higher rates of parasitic disease,” said lead study author Wondwossen Gebreyes, associate professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University.

Site: The PigSite.com

Wondwossen Gebreyes and colleagues at Ohio State University in Columbus tested US pigs for antibodies - telltale signs of infection - to pathogens that can also affect humans. They found traces of Salmonella in 39 per cent of pigs raised in standard indoor pens and routinely given antibiotics, but in 54 per cent of organic pigs raised outdoors without the drugs.

This poses a dilemma, says Gebreyes: giving pigs routine antibiotics favours antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but not giving them drugs means more animals carry Salmonella, which causes a million cases of food poisoning a year in the US alone.

Site: New Scientist Magazine

It gets even better... Gebreyes' team found traces of Toxoplasma in 7 percent of free-range animals but only 1 percent of conventional pigs. They also found two organic pigs infected with Trichinella. This is particularly troubling as Trichinella is virtually non-existent in livestock in the the US and Europe, although it is still found in wildlife populations. Finding this parasite in two pigs of the 600 tested is 23 times its average frequency in US pigs.

Any way you slice it, it looks like the "magical animal" isn't so wonderful. If you eat conventionally raised pork, you are contributing the overuse of antibiotics, pollution, and a more inhumane treatment of animals (among other things). If you eat "organic" pork, you are potentially exposing yourself to bacterial infection, contributing to the contamination of groundwater with pathogens such as Salmonella, and contributing to a slightly less inhumane treatment of pigs (among other things). The costs of eating meat are simply too high.

More On Tomatoes and Salmonella

Over the last few weeks we've been hearing about salmonella in our tomatoes. Here's some more news that's disconcerting. Apparently washing produce doesn't necessarily remove salmonella. According to Lauran Neergaard, AP Medical Writer, if a tomato is warm and the water rolling over its surface is cold, then the fruit will absorb that water through any opening in the skin including the stem scar. If there is salmonella present on the tomato skin, it can enter the fleshy part of the tomato and the bacteria multiplies. Ms. Neergaard suggests we should wash our tomatoes, but not in cold water.

To guard against salmonella washed into the water in turn being sucked into the tomatoes, producers often keep wash-water 10 degrees warmer than the incoming crop, says food-safety scientist Keith Schneider of the University of Florida...

In fact, salmonella may be particularly hard to prevent in a variety of crops because birds, reptiles and amphibians carry it - the same reason children should wash their hands after handling a turtle, iguana or frog. The tomato industry's guidelines already advise surrounding fields with bare soil "buffer zones" to discourage reptiles.

This is the 14th salmonella outbreak associated with tomatoes since 1990.

The FDA has launched a Tomato Safety Initiative to learn more about how salmonella gets onto and inside tomatoes. Industry practices in Virginia and Florida (the origin of several previous outbreaks) are being studied and Florida's agriculture department will begin enforcing so-called "tomato best practices" on July 1st. The FDA is also asking for the authority to set preventative controls for growers and suppliers of foods linked to repeated outbreaks of serious illness, such as tomatoes and leafy greens. Congress hasn't yet acted on that request.

Ms. Neergaard doesn't mention groundwater contamination as an issue, as discussed in this New Scientist article:

The bacteria probably come from groundwater contaminated with animal faeces, he says. Once Salmonella gets on and into a tomato, the fruit acts like an incubator. Bacteria divide even in the cool temperatures of packing houses. "If you get a few samples into the internal tissue, then they will grow for sure."

At the moment there don't seem to be any clear cut answers as to how to prevent this from happening. But for now, wash your tomatoes in warm water.

An End to Animal Testing?

An article published by the Associated Press, dated February 14th, indicates there may be an end in sight to live animal testing of potentially toxic chemicals and products as it relates to the safety of human usage of these chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program and the National Institutes of Health have signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" to develop and implement new methods of testing. The "new" technique is known as high throughput screening (HTS). It is currently being used in the pharmaceutical industry for drug development, and by genomics researchers. It involves combining chemicals with human cells. Robotic machinery can then determine, within minutes, if there are any signs that the chemical being tested requires further investigation -- i.e. damage to the cells, changes to cellular structure, or even cell death. Similar technology is expected to help reduce animal testing in Europe.

The intent of the agreement is to increase the number of chemicals tested, and improve the validity of the data. Tests done on animals do not always accurately predict how human cells will react with a particular chemical. In addition, the expectation is that the cost to test new drugs and chemicals will be markedly decreased as the time and resources required to fully test a new chemical will be drastically reduced.

According to a related article in the New York Times today (Feb. 15), the main testing agency, the National Toxicology Program, has fully tested just 2,500 chemicals in 30 years. The new approach could screen that many chemicals, at 15 different exposure levels, in a single afternoon, said Christopher Austin of the NIH's Chemical Genomics Center. That could significantly reduce or even eliminate the backlog of new drugs awaiting testing/approval.

Information from these tests will then be combined with data from previous animal tests and computer modeling to predict likely outcomes. Scientists will have to retest proven chemicals with the new technology (HTS) and compare the results with years of previous animal research to see if the new testing is as reliable at predicting harm. Currently HTS is used to test positive results as scientists are searching for chemicals and drugs which perform a certain function. HTS will now be used to look for negative results: damage to human cellular structures.

The agencies acknowledge that full implementation of the shift in toxicity testing could take years because it will require scientific validation of the new approaches.

It's a wonderful example of what scientists always hope for, says Francis Collins, director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute. "You develop a technology for one purpose, and you realize, 'Goodness! We can use it for something else!' "

We're still a bit removed from the day when animal testing will no longer be deemed "necessary." The expectation is that HTS will be tested and further refined over the next five years.

According to Dr. Catherine Willett, of PETA, "These agencies have been resistant to change in the past and this represents a paradigm shift in their thinking. There is no reason to use animals for specific toxicology tests. You can replace them with a battery of non-animal methods designed around the biology."

Cloned Meat has been Approved by the FDA

The FDA approved the cloning of cattle, swine, and goats for human consumption on Tuesday.

"Extensive evaluation of the available data has not identified any subtle hazards that might indicate food-consumption risks in healthy clones of cattle, swine, or goats," the 968-page "final risk assessment" concluded.

"Thus, edible products from healthy clones that meet existing requirements for meat and milk in commerce pose no increased food consumption risk(s) relative to comparable products from sexually-derived animals."

But the FDA said it needs more information to determine the safety of meat and milk from cloned sheep. The FDA also concluded that food from newborn cattle clones "may pose some very limited human food consumption risk."

-- reference link

Europe's food safety agency has endorsed meat and milk products from cloned animals, however the decision on whether or not to allow the sale of these products to consumers is still pending.

Why would we need to clone animals for meat products? In essence, it is a high-tech method of selective breeding. By cloning only the most prized milk and beef producers, breeders can ensure higher-quality milk and meat products.

It isn't likely that you'll see cloned meat at the supermarket any time soon. It's too costly to slaughter these animals, instead they will be used for breeding stock. According to the experts, it will likely be three to five years before most consumers see milk and meat products from their offspring.

Of course, the issue of how these foods will be labeled is still up in the air. Will carnivorous consumers even be able to determine if the meat they are buying is indeed cloned?

I'm a vegan, so this issue won't impact my shopping experiences. But I can't help but wonder if anyone else is as nervous about this as I am. As wonderful as scientific advances can be, are we ready for this? Just look at how often the FDA approves a drug for use, only to have it recalled a few years later because of significant unanticipated consequences. Do we know enough? Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.

So today, I have another reason to be very happy that I'm vegan. And I wonder, if cloned meat actually hits the shelves, will that spur other people to become vegan as well?