Friday, 14 May 2010

If Eating Meat is so Necessary, Why are Vegetarians still Alive?

As I've said before, the meat industry has done a really good job of convincing us all that we need meat in order to get proper protein and iron. Many people continue to eat meat on the basis that they think they need it to survive.

But think about it...picture in your head a vegetarian that you know who has not eaten meat for years. He or she is still walking around, right? Still breathing, still functioning, still able to support the weight of their head with their neck, right? If we need meat so badly, how is that possible?

Because we don't need meat to survive. That statement is not a theory, a hypothesis, or an idealistic flight of fancy, it's a FACT. We don't need meat to survive. Fact. What's more, we don't need it to be healthy. Don't believe me? Well, you shouldn't just take my word for it.

The Dietitians of Canada website contains the following position: "It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritinally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." The UK's NHS website points out that, "Studies have suggested that, in general, vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes."

Aside from these national institutions there are plenty of medical studies that emphasise the healthiness of vegetarianism. In 2008, Dan Buettner published The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, (UK), (Can), a study of five areas of the world in which people regularly lived active lives past 100 years of age: Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda California, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, and Icaria, Greece. What did all the areas have in common? Considerations such as family, active social lives, no smoking, and moderate physical activity featured in all five areas; as well as, a plant-based diet. Pig is not a plant, in case you were wondering. These areas were not expressly or ethically vegetarian (except Loma Linda), but any meat was occassional and supplementary.

You may have heard of Dr. T. Colin Campbell's The China Study, (UK), (CAN), a report on the China Project. The project was a survey of various studies conducting in 65 mostly rural counties in China, and the relationship between cancer, death rates, and diet (as well as lifestyle and environmental factors) conducted by Cornell University, Oxford University and Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine over the course of 20 years. Campbell and his son conclude that animal-based foods are linked to heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. They recommend the avoidance of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, and the adoption of a whole-foods, plant based diet.

So what do you eat on a whole foods, plant based diet? Plenty! One of the most commonly asked questions of vegetarians is, "so (confused pause), what do you eat??" Here's a quick breakdown.

Asparagus, artichoke, avocado, arugula, beets, boy choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, corn, carrot, eggplant, garlic, green beans, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, pumpkin, potatoes, peppers, peas, spinach, squash, turnip, tomatoes, zucchini.

You know you're supposed to be eating 5 servings a day. That's a MINIMUM. Meaning, eat more than that.

Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, bananas, apples, pears, rhubarb, cherries, plums, peaches, grapes, mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit, pomegrates.

Yes, I put vegetables and fruits in two seperate categories because you need lots of BOTH OF THEM.

Whole Grains:
Barley, oats, quinoa, bulgar, wheatberries, amaranth seeds, millet, whole-wheat couscous, buckwheat, brown rice, wild rice.

Dr. Atkins can suck it. And no, I don't feel mean saying that about him because he's dead, because he made large personal gains from marketing a diet that's really unhealthy, and hundreds, maybe thousands of people's health is going to suffer for it. You need carbs. You need complex carbs. Grains have been at the centre of our diets for many a year before we ever had an obesity epidemic.

Kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, red lentils, brown lentils, puy lentils, black beans, white beans, pinto beans, split peas, split yellow peas, soy beans.

I love beans and lentils! And you will too once you get to know them. Beans earthy flavour and comforting texture will kill your sugar cravings, and lentils are wonderfully-versatile little flavour soakers. Chock full of protein, fiber, and complex carbs, this family are a vegetarians best friend.

Healthy fats:
Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, olives, avocado.

Yes you need healthy fats in your diet. No, you shouldn't eat the entire bag at once. All of the above foods are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats. And they're delicious! None of them in their raw forms contain trans fats or dietary cholestorol. But dont go NUTS, try to stick to a handful or two a day.

Tofu and Tempeh:

Contrary to what many people think, vegetarians do not exist entirely on tofu! But tofu is a great food to include in your diet here and there. Tempeh is fermented tofu, and has an appealing, meaty texture. Tofu is high in calcium, protein, and isoflavones (believed to prevent certain kinds of cancers). Miso, another soy product, is also incredibly healthy and delicious!

Agave nectar, brown rice syrup, date sugar, maple sugar, barley malt syrup, molasses.

I'm not going to claim that I never eat sugar. Because that would be a bold-faced lie. But the above sweeteners are much gentler on your system and blood-sugar levels, and even have nutrients (gasp!) in them. I'll do another blog later on to explain the different uses for each one.

Different health experts have somewhat differing ideas about the ratios of all of the above elements in your diet. Some advocate a lot of starch, some less. If you have specific health problems, you may want to look at the research of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. Neal Barnard to see if they can help you. But for most of us, I believe that as long as we are eating 90% of our diet from these foods and observing general guidelines, we will find what's best for our individual needs.

I'll be frank, I have no formal training in health and nutrition. I'm not a doctor. But I'm pretty sure I know more than many, many doctors about nutrition. Why? Because doctors aren't trained in preventative medicine. Preventative medicine would otherwise be known as your diet and lifestyle. I'm not saying this to take a shot at individual doctors. It's not their fault. They didn't design the educational systems that don't prioritize nutritional, and provide their students with fewer hours of nutritive training that high school students. Many doctors themselves have come forward to condemn the current system for its lack of attention to the importance of diet. So instead of listening to your doctor, listen to me. No, I'm joking. But don't rely on your GP's advice, because unless they have taken a special interest and done research on nutrition, they just may not be the best person to help you. Instead, do the research yourself. Read the studies above, and many other like them, and learn for yourself what you should be eating. Most of us would admit that we probably don't know a whole lot about preventative medicine, but there are informed people out there, because they taken it on THEMSELVES to learn about food. You must read the research, and you must decide for yourself what makes sense to you.

Vital Vittles

Super Duper Healty Miso Soup

3 sections soba noodles
1 block of tofu, cut into 1"x2" rectangles
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small knob ginger, minced
1 tbsp sweetener like barley malt or brown rice syrup
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup carrot, cut into strips
1/2 cup daikon (Japonese radish), cut into strips
2 heads bok choi, ends removed (also known as pak choy)
1-2 scallions, chopped
1-2 big spoonfulls miso paste

Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the noodles. In the meantime, combine in a flat bowl or pie plate the oil, soy sauce, sherry, vinegar, garlic, and ginger, and place the tofu in the bowl to marinade. Marinade on each side about 5 minutes. In a soup pot, cook the mushrooms, carrot, and daikon in some water, on medium-high heat. Add about 4-5 cups of water, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Add the tofu, and any remaining marinade liquid. Mix the miso in a small bowl or cup of water, and stir into soup. Add the boy choi and simmer lightly for a few minutes. Take off heat and sprinkle scallions on top.

Makes 3 big portions.

Note: You can fry the pieces of tofu in canola oil before you marinade it, but doing so obviously makes the dish less healthy. But delicious.