Today there are approximately 375 million vegetarians worldwide.
Many people label themselves as vegetarians, yet their overall food intake may be somewhat different. This is due to the fact that the term ‘vegetarian’ represents various types of diets. These include:
There are numerous myths surrounding vegetarianism. The most popular misconceptions deal with proper protein intake and vitamin B12 deficiency. Our protein requirements are based on our need for 23 different amino acids. Presently nine are recognized as being essential. These amino acids are: valine, isoleucine, leucine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine, lysine and histidine (essential in the diets of developing children).
How Much Protein do You need?
Our protein needs are easily satisfied by plant foods. In order to insure sufficient intake, some vegetarians follow the ancient practice of protein complementation. Other cultures, especially in the East where meat is a luxury item or prohibited for religious beliefs, have been implementing this technique for centuries. This concept alleviates the protein inadequacies of many plant foods due to their ‘limiting amino acids’. For example, if a food contains 90% of all 9 essential amino acids, but only 50% of tryptophan, then the total utilization of this protein will be limited to 50%. However, when foods are combined to complement such amino acid limitations, the quality of the protein food is substantially enhanced. Two or more plant foods eaten together can equal or far surpass the protein quality of beef. Also plant foods are more easily digested than animal foods. A cup of rice remains in the gut for approximately 1-2 hours after ingestion, whereas a piece of steak with saturated fat and cholesterol lingers for as long as six hours. Nutrition researchers are now agreeing that most Americans get too much protein in their diets. Even many vegetarians are consuming greater than desirable amounts for optimum health and wellbeing.
Less Is More!
There are very strong links between high protein diets and many chronic degenerative diseases. These include: osteoporosis, an imbalance due to the demineralization of calcium from the bones, which is higher among postmenopausal women; kidney disease; various forms of arthritis including gout; arteriosclerosis and cancer. Animal protein in particular is associated with the increase in breast and colon cancer in the United States.
The average American is consuming approximately 100 grams of protein per day; nearly doubling the generous amount recommended by the ‘Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council’. In light of all the recent scientific findings, people should clearly be directing their concerns to lowering their protein intake instead of worrying about where to get more.
In his groundbreaking book, "The China Study", T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, reports the connection between a high animal protein diet and diseases like cancer and diabetes.
He emphasizes a plant-based diet for vibrant health and longevity. The information in this book, based on a 40 year career of studying the effects of meat consumption on the health of rats and humans, is eye opening and a must read.
Another fallacy about vegetarianism is the scare that those who follow its doctrine will eventually fall prey to pernicious anemia. This popular view is based on the notion that only animal products supply us with vitamin B12. However, there are various adequate plant sources of this nutrient. Fermented soy foods such as tempeh contain nearly 15 mcgs. in a 100 gram serving. This provides almost 500% of the recommended dietary allowance for B12. The micro algae spirulina supplies 255 mcgs. per 100 grams and the same amount of the seaweed, kombu, contains 27 mcgs. Also if a person is following a lacto-vegetarian diet, they will be deriving B12 from milk products. If eggs are included this is an additional source.
If you are gluten intolerant or need to omit all grains from your diet, there is still a plethera of plant-based foods to choose from including nut & seed butters and flours.
What's your reason for choosing vegetarianism?
Each individual has his or her own personal reasons for choosing the vegetarian cuisine. Be rest assured that a high quality nutritious non-flesh diet is healthy, economical, ecologically sound, humane and last but not least an incredibly delicious style of eating.
© Copyright 2017 Mary Ann Reidy, M.S
Published in “Growth Magazine”
"The China Study" T. Colin Campbell, PhD & Thomas M. Campbell II M.D.
2006 Benbella Books.