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India is the “diabetes capital of the world”, experts say

What is the link in India between being the most vegetarian country in the world and being defined as “the diabetes capital of the world”? The experts’ opinion.

India, the country with the most vegetarians and vegans in the world for religious faith, is the “the diabetes capital of the world“. Strange designation if we think that these types of vegetable-based diets are defined as the healthiest. But yet the data is clear. The city of Chandigarh has the highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the country, and the state of which it is capital, Punjab, has 75% of the population following a vegetarian diet.

Several experts expressed their views on the matter and the Indian Dietetic Association recently issued a statement claiming that 84% of vegetarians in the country are proteins deficient, compared to 65% of meat eaters. In fact, in the subcontinent, significant increases in the consumption of processed wheat, sugar and vegetable oils have been observed over the last 50 years, which have overtaken animal fats.

Also one of the most eminent dieticians of New Zealand, Dr. Caryn Zinn explained: “Calorie for calorie, meat is more proteinaceous and nutrient dense than vegetables. Of course, one can have a very healthy vegetarian diet but the majority of vegetarians in the world are clearly not following this”.  Recently there has been a lot of media clamour suggesting that the adoption of a meatless or animal-free diet is the best choice for human health and the planet, but this statement is not evidence-based: in fact the totality of evidence does not find a valid association between the consumption of red meat and a reduced life expectancy, and even the association between saturated fat and heart disease has been totally debunked.

A large observational study conducted in Australia in 2016 concluded that, contrary to popular belief, vegetarians do not live longer than non-vegetarians and similarly, a large Austrian study published in the prestigious medical journal PLOS 1 found that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health, with higher incidences of cancer, allergies and mental disorders, a higher need for health care and a poorer quality of life.

Red meat is one of the best sources of zinc and vitamin B12, we don’t need less meat but better meat,” said Dietitian and organic farmer Diana Rodgers. “Well-managed cattle can also be one of our best tools at mitigating climate change”, Rodgers added, citing a study that shows cattle can sequester carbon by observing the entire life cycle. In fact, an independent report from the US Department of Agriculture predicts that the total removal of farm animals would only reduce US greenhouse gases by 2.6%, but at the same time a plant-only system would cause more caloric diets, worsening essential nutrients deficiencies.

To further confirm these observations comes the testimony of Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a well-known British cardiologist who is successfully conducting a campaign against excessive sugar consumption, a problem that concerns diets that exclude nutrient-dense foods like meat and fish.

“My mother’s ultra-processed vegetarian diet contributed to her premature death,” says Dr. Malhotra. “Her vegetarian diet forced her to take vitamin B12 and iron supplements. Protein deficiency led to sarcopenia, a decline in muscle mass, which limited her mobility even further. Unfortunately, my mother’s devout religious faith to avoid consuming animal products, combined with a high starch, high sugar diet, was ultimately to the detriment of her health”, concludes Malhotra. “These tragic cases are not unusual in my job as an NHS cardiologist, but can be avoided by following a complete and well-balanced diet”.

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.