Vegetarianism

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Is it a lifestyle or just a healthier way of eating? In 1968 it was hip or cool to not eat meat. The country’s awareness on all levels was changing. A major war was on, ecology was being born, respect for life, the planet, our existence was finite. Some cried out, “Peace, Love, and Rock and Roll.”

The food bible of the 60’s, Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe, hit the bookstores. This became the guide on “how to” become ecologically aware of the inefficient way we were eating. For example, with the production of farm animals for food, it takes 30 pounds of corn to grown one pound of beef. It takes 3 pounds of corn to grown one pound of chicken. Meat not only became a very expensive protein source, but the overuse of our land, fertilizers and pesticides was becoming apparent.

Some people, probably also anti-war, were against killing animals for food. One could obviously get plenty of protein from plant sources. By the way, you need protein for growth, for maintenance of body tissues and cells. Also, protein formulates your enzymes (digestion) and hormones. I wonder where Bill Clinton stood on Vegetarianism in those days.

In any case, Vegetarianism in the 1960’s bore a close resemblance to a true low-fat diet. Cut out the meat and possibly the dairy products and you have the original low-fat diet. There was no such thing as fat-free, just animal-free, therefore low fat. Two groups in America were particularly not happy about this thinking – the meat and dairy farmers.

Some years later Tufts University’s Dr. Joanne Dwyer created an epidemiological study (groups) using a known Vegetarian religious group, the Seventh Day Adventists. She looked at the frequency and occurrence of heart disease, various forms of cancer and obesity among this group. Her findings revealed the Seventh Day Adventists were healthy people compared to the rest of our population. Their incidence of heart disease occurred ten years after the national average. Stomach, colon/rectal cancer were very low among this group. There were fewer obese people as well.

Today the evidence is mounting against fat. Cut back on fat and you improve your chances of not having these diet-related diseases.

There are classifications of vegetarians. First, if you eat any meat, fish, or poultry you are not a vegetarian. The lacto-vegetarian eats dairy products and plant products (grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits). The lacto (dairy), ovo (egg) vegetarian eats dairy, eggs and plant products. The vegan eats only plant products, no animal products at all. From a strictly nutritional point of view, I think the Lacto- (using very low fat dairy products) vegetarian is the ticket. This way you are sure to get your calcium. If you balance your proteins then growth and tissue repair is not a problem.

Balancing your proteins, as stated in Diet For A Small Planet, is not difficult. Some of you may have heard of the culinary expression: “Hopping John,” which on any New Year’s Day meal in the South means including blackeyed peas and rice. Using Salsa or Pickapeppa Sauce is a low-fat alternative to ham hocks for flavoring.

So, when combining a grain (rice, pasta, corn, bread) with a legume (beans, peas, lentils) in a 1:1 ratio such as a cup (rice) to a cup (peas) you have a complete protein meal. The same quality protein as beef, would you believe, with much less fat. India, one billion people, lives on peas, potatoes and rice.

Japan, China, combines rice and soybean products. South America enjoys black beans and corn products. By the way, when mentioning beans, we’re talking: pintos, limas, kidneys, black beans, soy, navy, but not green beans (string beans in other parts of the U.S.).

The lacto-vegetarian diet is healthy for children as well as adults. But again go with the low fat or even non-fat dairy products. Pediatricians still recommend 2% or whole mil products for infants up to two years old.

I am constantly hearing from people, comments on low-fat and no-fat dieting. This is obviously a way to cut fat calories as well as a healthier lifestyle. You do need some fat in your diet, and grains and legumes do supply necessary oils for us, but in reasonably small amounts.

Our awareness is changing toward a healthier lifestyle. We have come a long way, particularly in nutrition since 1968. Most of us today know to increase our fiber and complex carbohydrates (starch) while decreasing fat. The next step is to become a breatharian, living on air alone. The problem is no one has lived to tell about it.

– Freddy Kaye, Ph. D. is a clinical nutritionist in private practice and the faculty nutritionist at Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center teaching resident physicians diet therapy.

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