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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Go veg for pleasure and health

  Many people I know are dietary fatalists: they eat what they want and rationalize their poor choices by saying that "everyone" gets heart disease, "everyone" is overweight, and "everything" causes cancer. But it's just not true. People who are vegetarian, for example, have much lower rates of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes than people who aren't. Veggies turn up in study after study as preventing certain types of cancer.

I'm going to provide a bit of mainstream pro-vegetarian propaganda here, in support of those of you who being asked why you are choosing the delicious pad Thai "J" instead of pad Thai with meat, or are getting the super vegetarian burrito (rice, beans, sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes, salsa, cheese) or vegan burrito (rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, lettuce, chili peppers, onions) rather than one filled with red meat and rice. You could be choosing these foods for pleasure - the super veg burrito is obviously much more interesting and tasty than the meat + rice version - but I write about food pleasure all the time, so this entry will emphasize health.

Wait! You can't possibly get all of your nutrients from plants, can you? I want to be healthy!

Vegetarians can and do get their nutrients from plants (or plants and products animals make, but which are not made OUT OF animals), and don't get many diseases at the high rates of omnivores., the website of the American Dietetic Association, "the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals," routinely updates their research publications about vegetarianism. Vegetarian Diets (vol 109, Issue 7) has an abstract which provides an overview to the 16 page research paper attached thereto. Excerpts from the abstract:
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes....The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid, built by the faculty in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health ( is a replacement for the replacement to the ag-industry influenced MyPyramid, which Harvard describes as "often [] based on out-of-date science and influenced by people with business interests in their messages." There are handouts! There are graphics! And there are key quick tips in the sidebar, including:
3. Go with plants. Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest.
4. Cut way back on American staples. Red meat, refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks, and salty snacks are part of American culture, but they’re also really unhealthy. Go for a plant-based diet rich in non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. And if you eat meat, fish and poultry are the best choices.
Yes, someone is willing to come out and tell you that red meat is bad for you, and you can make more sensible choices. But you knew this.

In comparison, The American Heart Association's page on Vegetarian Diets ( is a little weak.
Are vegetarian diets healthful?

Most vegetarian diets are low in or devoid of animal products. They’re also usually lower than nonvegetarian diets in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.
It's odd to say that vegetarians "seem" to have lower risks of these diseases when their are studies available which prove that they do.

What about protein?

Again, The American Heart Association's page on Vegetarian Diets dismisses this popular myth:
Protein: You don't need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs.
Also valuable: the note that "complementary proteins" - the idea that you have to combine certain foods together to get protein, are bunk. (This protein-combining myth still persists in some documentation on the NIH's website, to my surprise.)

This wouldn't work for me. I'm athletic.

The research paper abstracted at the American Dietetic Association's page above, found here as a PDF, notes that vegetarian diets are suitable for competitive athletes, and busts other myths.

What about iron? Aren't all vegetarians anemic?

The National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute's Iron-deficiency Anemia page ( notes that:
Vegetarian diets can provide enough iron if the right foods are eaten. For example, good nonmeat sources of iron include spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, certain types of beans, dried fruits, and iron-fortified breads and cereals.
(Of course, the only people I've ever known who were anemic ate meat.)

A few other resources:

US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health resource page on vegetarianism ( on their shares pages have links to additional resources.'s vegetarian tipsheet emphasizes easy adjustments you can make, especially if you're new to being veg and aren't yet eating a wide enough range of foods to feel confident that you can meet your nutritional needs. I don't recommend generally, for the reasons Harvard listed above, - they take industry input over science input - which I've written about extensively in the past.

If you are the sort of person who would rather be scared into doing good, just go to, do a search for the term "meat," and read the first many pages of results.

A note to fans who are influenced by food writers who lack a background in science: I know some of you are in the thrall of culture writers who "defend" foods and say you should eat things that are really bad for you - like red meat - because they make you a normal American and allow you to relish our culture. Writers like that may also defend smoking, or driving, or other lifestyle choices, but that doesn't mean they have your best interests at heart. Don't say "because the food writer told me so" as a reason you won't live to see your grandchildren graduate from high school.

Speaking of food writing: you know I'm a foodie, and I don't make my food choices based on health alone. I live in San Francisco, where it's easy to eat like a queen (ahem) vegetarian-style just about anywhere. If you are looking for ideas, you can always visit my food page and its included index of my recipes.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:03 AM

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Obama's First State Dinner: Vegetarian

  Hooray for India! Marking first state dinner, Obama welcomes Indian prime minister (, 11/25/09 edition) provides the menu:
Samuelsson worked with the White House kitchen staff to create vegetarian dishes in respect for Singh, who does not eat meat. Foodies, start your engines. Guests will begin with potato and eggplant salad and White House arugula -- the bitter greens favored by food snobs clearly no longer are deemed a political faux-pas -- with onion-seed vinaigrette. Following some red-lentil soup, there are two main courses: roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, along with chickpeas and okra, or green curry prawns with caramelized salsify, smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati rice.

Washing it all down are American wines: a 2008 sauvignon blanc from Napa Valley (Modus Operandi), a 2006 Riesling from the Willamette Valley (Brooks "Ara"), a 2007 Grenache from Santa Ynez (Beckmen Vineyards) and a sparkling chardonnay from Monticello (Thibaut-Janisson Brut).

Dessert includes a pumpkin pie tart and a pear tatin and an extravaganza of brittle, petits fours and pralines.
(You will note that there was an alternative non-vegetarian course of prawns available. Whatever.)

I had to look up "tatin" at, which means in baked upside down style, more or less.

It's a shame I didn't have a thing to wear, and so couldn't attend.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:19 PM

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Meat consumption contributes to climate change. But you probably knew that.

  Yes, aside from the dramatically increased heart disease and cancer risks, all the other adverse health issues, the water quality issues, and the scary energy policy issues associated with meat-eating, there is a big, meta-impact to the planet. Science/Nature | Shun meat, says UN climate chief (, 9/7/08):
'The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.'...
The UN considers the entire cycle associated with meat production and consumption, including clearing land to raise animals, producing grain to feed them, shipping them, and so on.

None of this should be news to you: you've surely read about the massive water consumption required to produce a pound of meat for human use, and even books about food written by omnivores talk about the massive energy inputs in oil required by agribusiness. But you may not have put all of that together into a big-picture view. Do that here now.

(Any of you out there who don't 'get' climate change may simply interpret the details of the article to translate to "pollution," which you may understand through more direct experience as something that is bad for you. (That is the fun part of most arguments against the existence of climate change: those arguments tend to favor increases in pollution for purely economic reasons, unhinged from all known science about the effects of pollution on us and our economies.))

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:22 PM

Sunday, September 23, 2007

  Dumb Arguments Against Vegetarianism. I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Pollan, which is a great book aside from his complete inability to understand vegetarianism on any substantive level. I think it's a cultural thing - he admits right from the start that he is just doing this temporarily as an experiment, and immediately becomes self-conscious because he only knows omnivores, and doesn't wish to inconvenience them with this dietary need that he is looking for excuses not to stick with...

Although his generally thoughtful book is nowhere near as frivolous on the subject, it reminded me of the poorly reasoned anti-veg article I read earlier this year in my favorite news magazine, and of how I never got around to posting some of its defects, or the defects of many foolish arguments against eating a healthy, plant-based diet. Without picking apart that article point by point (which would bore me), I posted my all-time favorite list of Dumb Arguments Against Vegetarianism on a new webpage. There are plenty of other arguments, but they don't make me roll my eyes the way these do, so they're not my 'favorites.'

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posted by Arlene (Beth)1:51 PM

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