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Unrefined Plant Food Consumption vs. The Killer Diseases

I insist that our low consumption of unrefined plant foods is largely responsible for our dismal mortality statistics. Most of us perish prematurely as a result of our dietary folly.

Populations with low death rates from the major killer diseases—populations that almost never have overweight members—consume more than 75 percent of their calories from unrefined plant substances. This is at least ten times more than what the average American consumes.

I'm skeptical that they only included 12 out of the ~196 countries that exist (and "Korea" does not have a "North" or "South" in front of it).

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    Does distillation count as a refining process? – Dr. belisarius Mar 19 '13 at 3:00
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    correlation !=> causation. Are you interested if the correlation exists, or do you understand the claim as assuming causation, which would be supported by "is responsible for" in the quote? – Suma Mar 19 '13 at 7:16
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    or maybe unrefined plant material causes such high incidence of death by other means (like food poisoning or simply natural toxins in the plant material) that people have no chance to die of heart disease. Good example are potatoes, which when eaten raw are quite toxic. Of course this is tongue in cheek, and an example of Suma's statement. – jwenting Mar 19 '13 at 7:32
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    Comparing % of deaths is misleading as it can easily change by other causes of death: whoever dies of malaria at age of 5, will not die of cancer nor heart disease. A society that is very successfull avoiding all kinds of accidents and injuries (including everything from household/sports/work accidents over traffic to poisons), avoiding or curing infections, avoiding drug abuse, and maybe even allergies will have long life expectancy. And as age is not considered a valid cause of death, what is left are basically cancer, CVD, and COPD. ... – anonymized Mar 20 '13 at 23:08
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    ... (Sidenote: if the society is also quite successful at keeping CVD, COPD, and cancer patients alive, the prevalence of these diseases will increase. I.e. many people having cancer (but not immediately dying of if) can be a symptom of a very advanced medical system. So, if comparisons abot such "old age diseases" are made, they should be stratified/standardized by age. At least for en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hepatocellular_carcinoma (liver cancer), Laos has a high incidence (new cases / #people each year) both with and without age standardization (German version). – anonymized Mar 20 '13 at 23:20
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Heart Disease

There are multiple peer reviewed studies that point the link between meat-eating and heart disease, as well as meat consumption causing people to die earlier.

This was an experiment that followed up 44,561 UK men and women for around 11 years, and concluded:

Consuming a vegetarian diet was associated with lower IHD [ischemic heart disease] risk, a finding that is probably mediated by differences in non-HDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure.

This review looked at nut consumption:

nut consumption seems to protect against ischemic heart disease (IHD). Frequency and quantity of nut consumption have been documented to be higher in vegetarian than in nonvegetarian populations. [...] Importantly, nuts have similar associations in both vegetarians and nonvegetarians.

Cancer

The thing about unrefined (raw) plant foods and cancer is rates for some types of cancer are lowered by eating your veggies, while other types of cancer don't seem as influenced by diet.

But overall, yes.

Our results suggest that vegetarians have a significantly lower ischemic heart disease mortality (29%) and overall cancer incidence (18%) than nonvegetarians.

Note however, they also say:

In conclusion, the overall cancer incidence and mortality from ischemic heart disease were significantly lower, but there were no associations of a vegetarian diet with all-cause mortality and mortality from circulatory and cerebrovascular diseases

This looks at some studies, and discusses the strength of the evidence and the criticism of it - particularly warning of confounding factors.

General Mortality

The study, published in the European journal BMC Medicine, comes on the heels of a 2012 Harvard University study that found people who ate just 1.5 ounces of red meat daily were more likely to die early deaths than people who ate less than that. The latest study, which chronicled more than 500,000 people from 10 European countries, found those who ate the most processed meats (including ham, bacon, sausages, and ready-to-eat packaged meats) were most likely to die prematurely.

The Vegan Health: Disease Rates page cites many meta-analyses looking at both mortality rates and heart disease rates of vegetarians compared to omnivores.

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I have been unable to find too much clear and believable data... this site looks thorough but not entirely trustworthy, though if you trust it you can easily see that the cancer and heart disease numbers in this graph are completely made up. You can find more formal-looking sources, for example, for the USA and for Thailand, which agree with the previous conclusion.

Anyway, the whole claim is ridiculous. The phrase "Most of us perish prematurely" is meaningless; when exactly is the correct time to die? Is death by suicide, car accident, diabetes or Alzheimer's any less premature than death from leukemia?

And speaking of premature death, the life expectancy in Hungary is significantly higher than in Laos... although the rest of the countries in the graph don't show much correlation.

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    " The phrase "Most of us perish prematurely" is meaningless; " well said. There is no premature death, except maybe being murdered. – jwenting Mar 20 '13 at 10:22
  • I would say that death by hunger, disease, accidents or violence can be treated as premature. Cancer can show up in younger people but it gets more common as you age, as do several other diseases. If you compare average death age from Laos and, let's say, Denmark, it will become obvious. It's hard to develop cancer if you die from malaria or lack of antibiotics. – T. Sar Oct 9 '17 at 10:47
  • Also, in countries with bad medical care, hearth diseases and cancer might not even get diagnosed and reported, making these statistics hard to compare between different countries. – Philipp Oct 10 '17 at 13:35
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The graph is incorrect.

I will just look at Hungary vs. Greece for now, but other counties' data are available at the same source.

                            Hungary.........Greece

 Coronary Heart Disease.....30.29%..........26.17%

 Lung Cancers................7.84%...........6.81%

 Colon-Rectum Cancers........4.70%...........2.67%

 Breast Cancer...............1.94%...........2.26%  

 Pancreas Cancer.............1.68%...........1.72%  

 Stomach Cancer..............1.51%...........1.40%  

 Oral Cancer.................1.38%...........0.38%  

 Prostate Cancer.............1.13%...........1.93%  

 Bladder Cancer..............0.88%...........1.18%  

 Leukemia....................0.87%...........1.56%  

 Lymphomas...................0.82%...........0.87%  

 Liver Cancer................0.72%...........1.48%  

 Ovary Cancer................0.64%...........0.61% 

 Oesophagus Cancer...........0.55%...........0.22%  

 Skin Cancers................0.53%...........0.40% 

 Cervical Cancer.............0.49%...........0.22%  

 Other Neoplasms.............0.42%...........0.01%  

 **Total**..................55.57%..........49.87%
  • The food side of looks unlikely as well. I think Thai people eat a lot of white rice, which is a high calorie refined plant food. I think it's unlikely that 75% of their calories are from unrefined foods. – bdsl Jun 7 '17 at 20:59

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