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VRG Journal September 1994


Nutrition Hotline

Reed Mangels, Ph.D, R.D.

Where To Find Reliable Food Composition Data

Question: Where can I get reliable information about vitamins and minerals in food in light of recently reported inaccuracies in the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) food composition data? -- S.K., VA

Answer: An October, 1993, report from the General Accounting Office questioned the reliability of the Human Nutrition Information Service's (HNIS) nutrient values. HNIS is an agency within USDA whose functions include the development of tables and computer databases of food composition information. Readers may have heard of Handbook 8 or Handbook 72; both are HNIS publications. Tables such as these are used to determine what Americans are eating (how much fat, vitamin C, iron, etc.) and to make policy decisions. They are considered to be the world's main source of nutrient information. Most computer nutrient analysis programs, tables, and popular books rely on HNIS data as the foundation for their nutrient information.

HNIS gets most of the data it publishes from the food industry and from scientific journals. They were faulted for accepting data without knowing that proper procedures were used for analysis. In some cases not enough samples were analyzed, given the variability of nutrient content of foods.

Despite flaws, HNIS food composition information is the most complete there is. Other options include databases from other countries, food label information, and reports of lab analyses of individual foods in the scientific literature. Each of these has problems. Databases from other countries are not necessarily reflective of foods eaten in the U.S. The average consumer has no way of judging the quality of data on food labels or in articles in the scientific literature.

HNIS has been given specific recommendations to use to improve data quality. For now, although limitations must be recognized, Handbook 8 and other HNIS publications are still the most reasonable sources for nutrient information.

Book & Video Reviews

The Simple Soybean and your Health

By Mark and Virginia Messina

The Simple Soybean and Your Health, by Mark and Virginia Messina, presents a fascinating account of soybeans and their role in disease prevention. The well-researched and clearly written chapters include information on soybeans and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney disease, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and gallstones. Soyfoods appear to be the best sources of substances which reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancer. Soy protein is quite effective in reducing LDL cholesterol.

Besides detailing how dietary changes can reduce the risk of a number of diseases, the Messinas provide practical information on implementing what they term the optimal diet - - grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. They make specific suggestions on a month-by-month basis for making the transition to this type of diet, provide information on all types of soy-foods, include a very practical set of 14 menus, and even give more than 50 vegan recipes which include soyfoods.

It would have been easy for the Messinas to write a book touting soyfoods as the "superfoods" of the '90s. (Remember oat bran?) Fortunately, they have chosen to present a more balanced perspective and have concentrated on explaining how soyfoods are one part of a health-promoting diet.

This book is especially attractive because of its scientifically-based but reader-friendly tone. It would be interesting reading for the general public and for health care professionals. I recommend it highly to those interested in improving their diet, whether improving means adding more soyfoods to an already sound vegetarian diet, or making the transition to a plant-based diet.

The Simple Soybean and Your Health (ISBN 0-89529-611-X) is a 260-page book published by Avery Publishing Group. To purchase the book send $15 to VRG, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203.

Reviewed by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD.

Vegetarian Pregnancy: The Definitive Nutritional Guide to Having a Healthy Baby

By Sharon Yntema

Reliable books on vegetarian pregnancy are scarce. That's why I was excited to see Sharon Yntema's newest book, Vegetarian Pregnancy. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. The book begins with personal accounts of pregnancy experiences from more than 25 vegetarian women. Some of these are touching and inspiring; others contain many misstatements which should have been edited. Many of these personal accounts are excerpted in the next section, which details common pregnancy concerns. This tends to be repetitive. The book concludes with a section on nutrients. I felt that this section was too long and placed too much emphasis on individual nutrients rather than whole foods.

Although her reference list is extensive, Yntema includes a mixture of reliable and unreliable information. Among the misstatements I noted are a call for a dramatic increase in dietary protein during pregnancy, a statement that far less protein is necessary in a plant-based diet than in a meat-centered one, a comment that vegans eat less carbohydrate than lacto-ovo vegetarians, and a statement that the USDA Food Guide Pyramid supports a vegetarian diet.

There are a number of things to like about this book. Yntema is very positive about vegetarian pregnancy and provides good basic guidelines for a healthy vegetarian pregnancy. She stresses a varied diet, gentle exercise, avoidance of unnecessary medications, and collaboration with a midwife and/or physician. She has many practical suggestions for coping with social pressures during a vegetarian pregnancy. However, I am concerned about some misleading statements which are made in this book and will continue to recommend Rose Elliot's, The Vegetarian Mother and Baby Book, as my preferred resource for pregnancy in vegetarian women.

Vegetarian Pregnancy: The Definitive Guide to Having a Healthy Baby (ISBN 0-935526-21-8) costs $12.95 and is a 336-page book published by McBooks Press.

Reviewed by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD.

The New Road to Being a Vegetarian

By Good Seed Productions

This video features chef Paulette H. Vu and is more a cooking demonstration than an introduction to vegetarianism. Chef Vu starts by introducing some of the less common ingredients in her recipes. She then demonstrates preparing several Oriental dishes, making them look easy and very attractive. The recipes are included in an accompanying booklet.

Unfortunately, the video quality of my review copy was not good, sometimes making it difficult to follow. This video is probably best suited for individuals already familiar with vegetarianism who are searching for an Oriental cooking how-to guide, rather than information on the advantages of a vegetarian lifestyle.

The New Road To Being A Vegetarian video is by Good Seed Productions, 9852 W. Katella Ave., #260, Anaheim, CA 92804.

Reviewed by Brad Scott.

Vegetarian Asia: A Travel Guide

By Teresa Bergen

Readers who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel throughout Asia might want to take along a copy of the new book called, Vegetarian Asia: A Travel Guide. The book includes information on China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Macau, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The author gathered a great deal of the information presented in the guide during a 6-month trip to Asia. Some restaurants are recommended; however, emphasis is on being able to get what you need whether or not the city you visit has a vegetarian restaurant.

As the author states, "There's a lot of vegetarian food in most parts of Asia. The problem is figuring out where to find it and how to ask for it....While meat isn't the center of most dishes, there seemed to be a little bit in most everything."

This book will certainly help vegetarian travelers. My only criticism of the guide is that the author really isn't a strict vegetarian and states it as though it's okay. (She'll "cheat" once in a while and, for example, eat shrimp paste.) This is ironic since she also states that her primary reason for being vegetarian is that she is a strong animal rights activist.

Vegetarian Asia (ISBN 0-9640214-4-7) can be purchased for $11.95 (including postage) from Noble Poodle Press, PO Box 641188, San Francisco, CA 94109 or by calling (415) 922-5843 to place your order.

Reviewed by Debra Wasserman.

Pretend Soup

By Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson

Mollie Katzen, author of Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and Anne Henderson, an early childhood education specialist, are authors of a new children's book, Pretend Soup.

This 96-page hardcover book contains 19 lacto-ovo recipes geared towards children ages 3-8. Each recipe includes information for adults, cooking hints and safety tips, and a list of tools. This is followed by the recipe and instructions. Large drawings depicting the procedures are provided for the young children.

The cookbook is beautifully illustrated and put together. My big criticism of this book is that often high-fat and high- cholesterol ingredients are used in the recipes. In this day and age it is crucial that parents start their children off on a healthy foot. There's no reason to encourage children to consume large quantities of cheese, oil, eggs, butter, mayonnaise, milk, etc.

Pretend Soup (ISBN 1-883672-06-6) is published by Tricycle Press, PO Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707. The book is priced at $14.95 and can be purchased in bookstores nationwide.

Reviewed by Debra Wasserman.

Vegetable Soup

By Jeanne Modesitt and Robin Spowart

Parents of young vegetarian children often have difficulty finding story books with a pro-vegetarian/vegan theme. Jeanne Modesitt wrote such a book and Robin Spowart beautifully illus- trated Vegetable Soup.

The story is about two rabbits who gather ingredients to prepare vegetable soup. The recipe is included.

Vegetable Soup (ISBN 0-689-71523-4) is published by Aladdin Books and costs $4.50 in the USA and $5.95 in Canada.

Reviewed by Debra Wasserman.

Cooking with Nuts and Seeds

By Mary Clifford, R.D.

Ever wonder where the expression "from soup to nuts" comes from? In ancient Rome, nuts were often served with dessert or after it, and this expression was coined to mean "from start to finish".

Indeed, nuts are an appropriate addition to a meal at any stage, and have been used throughout history in main dishes, soups, desserts, and as beverages.

I've selected a few simple recipes that will get you started using nuts and seeds in your own cooking. The nuts and seeds called for are interchangeable; so feel free to use your favorites. Some may add a slightly different flavor (for example, cashews will add a sweeter taste than, say, pumpkin seeds), but all will deepen the richness of whatever dish you add them to.

Broccoli-Almond Pilaf

(Serves 4)

Enjoy this hearty dish.

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and almonds and saute until onions are bright green and almonds are toasted.

Add remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes or until bulgur is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Total Calories Per Serving: 229
Fat: 4 grams

Pignoli Dip

(Makes 1-2/3 cups)

This unusual use of green peas makes for a dip that will remind you of spring. Pignoli are also called pine nuts. You can find them in the gourmet section of most markets.

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate at least 1 hour prior to serving to allow flavors to blend.

Total Calories Per 2 Tablespoons: 34
Fat: 1 gram

Mushroom Pate

(Makes about 1-1/2 cups)

In large skillet, combine broth and mushrooms. Simmer until mushrooms collapse and give up their liquid and broth evaporates.

Remove mushrooms to blender or food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Serve warm or chilled.

Total Calories Per 2 Tablespoons: 34
Fat: 1 gram

Chilled Rice Salad

(Serves 6)

Serve this colorful salad as a side dish.

In large bowl, combine all ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour prior to serving to allow flavors to blend.

Total Calories Per Serving: 155
Fat: 3 grams

Spiced Apple-Pecan Dip and Spread

(Makes 2 cups)

An easy way to jazz up plain old applesauce. Use it as a spread for toast or bagels, or as a dip for cut fruit.

In blender or food processor, combine all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend.

Total Calories Per 2 Tablespoons: 34
Fat: 1 gram

Carrot Pumpkin Soup

(Serves 4)

A thick, creamy soup with the pleasant sweetness of pumpkin.

In large saucepan, combine carrots, onion, oil, and walnuts. Saute about 2 minutes, or until walnuts are toasted.

Add broth. Heat to boiling over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer about 20 minutes, or until carrots are very tender. Stir in pumpkin.

Transfer mixture to blender or food processor. Process until soup is smooth and thickened. Serve immediately.

Total Calories Per Serving: 119
Fat: 4 grams

Native Americans and Vegetarianism

By Rita Laws, Ph.D.

How well we know the stereotype of the rugged Plains Indian: killer of buffalo, dressed in quill-decorated buckskin, elaborately feathered headdress, and leather moccasins, living in an animal skin teepee, master of the dog and horse, and stranger to vegetables. But this lifestyle, once limited almost exclusively to the Apaches, flourished no more than a couple hundred years. It is not representative of most Native Americans of today or yesterday. Indeed, the "buffalo-as-lifestyle" phenomenon is a direct result of European influence, as we shall see.

Among my own people, the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi and Oklahoma, vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. A French manuscript of the eighteenth century describes the Choctaws' vegetarian leanings in shelter and food. The homes were constructed not of skins, but of wood, mud, bark and cane. The principal food, eaten daily from earthen pots, was a vegetarian stew containing corn, pumpkin and beans. The bread was made from corn and acorns. Other common favorites were roasted corn and corn porridge. (Meat in the form of small game was an infrequent repast.) The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers. Even the clothing was plant based, artistically embroidered dresses for the women and cotton breeches for the men. Choctaws have never adorned their hair with feathers.

The rich lands of the Choctaws in present-day Mississippi were so greatly coveted by nineteenth century Americans that most of the tribe was forcibly removed to what is now called Oklahoma. Oklahoma was chosen both because it was largely uninhabited and because several explorations of the territory had deemed the land barren and useless for any purpose. The truth, however, was that Oklahoma was so fertile a land that it was an Indian breadbasket. That is, it was used by Indians on all sides as an agricultural resource. Although many Choctaws suffered and died during removal on the infamous "Trail of Tears", those that survived built anew and successfully in Oklahoma, their agricultural genius intact.

George Catlin, the famous nineteenth century Indian historian, described the Choctaw lands of southern Oklahoma in the 1840's this way: "...the ground was almost literally covered with vines, producing the greatest profusion of delicious grapes,...and hanging in such endless clusters... our progress was oftentimes completely arrested by hundreds of acres of small plum trees...every bush that was in sight was so loaded with the weight of its...fruit, that they were in many instances literally without leaves on their branches, and quite bent to the ground... and beds of wild currants, gooseberries, and (edible) prickly pear." (Many of the "wild" foods Anglo explorers encountered on their journeys were actually carefully cultivated by Indians.)

Many of the Choctaw foods cooked at celebrations even today are vegetarian. Corn is so important to us it is considered divine. Our corn legend says that is was a gift from Hashtali, the Great Spirit. Corn was given in gratitude because Choctaws had fed the daughter of the Great Spirit when she was hungry. (Hashtali is literally "Noon Day Sun". Choctaws believe the Great Spirit resides within the sun, for it is the sun that allows the corn to grow!)

Another Choctaw story describes the afterlife as a giant playground where all but murderers are allowed. What do Choctaws eat in "heaven"? Their sweetest treat, of course: melons, a never-ending supply.

More than one tribe has creation legends which describe people as vegetarian, living in a kind of Garden of Eden. A Cherokee legend describes humans, plants, and animals as having lived in the beginning in "equality and mutual helpfulness". The needs of all were met without killing one another. When man became aggressive and ate some of the animals, the animals invented diseases to keep human population in check. The plants remained friendly, however, and offered themselves not only as food to man, but also as medicine, to combat the new diseases.

More tribes were like the Choctaws than were different. Aztec, Mayan, and Zapotec children in olden times ate 100% vegetarian diets until at least the age of ten years old. The primary food was cereal, especially varieties of corn. Such a diet was believed to make the child strong and disease resistant. (The Spaniards were amazed to discover that these Indians had twice the life-span they did.) A totally vegetarian diet also insured that the children would retain a life-long love of grains, and thus, live a healthier life. Even today, the Indian healers of those tribes are likely to advise the sick to "return to the arms of Mother Corn" in order to get well. Such a return might include eating a lot of atole. (The easiest way to make atole is to simmer commercially produced masa harina corn flour with water. Then flavor it with chocolate or cinnamon, and sweeten to taste.) Atole is considered a sacred food.

It is ironic that Indians are strongly associated with hunting and fishing when, in fact, "nearly half of all the plant foods grown in the world today were first cultivated by the American Indians, and were unknown elsewhere until the discovery of the Americas." Can you imagine Italian food without tomato paste, Ireland without white potatoes, or Hungarian goulash without paprika? All these foods have Indian origins.

An incomplete list of other Indian foods given to the world includes bell peppers, red peppers, peanuts, cashews, sweet potatoes, avocados, passion fruit, zucchini, green beans, kidney beans, maple syrup, lima beans, cranberries, pecans, okra, chocolate, vanilla, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, cassava, walnuts, forty-seven varieties of berries, pineapple, and, of course, corn and popcorn.

Many history textbooks tell the story of Squanto, a Pawtuxent Indian who lived in the early 1600's. Squanto is famous for having saved the Pilgrims from starvation. He showed them how to gather wilderness foods and how to plant corn.

There have been thousands of Squantos since, even though their names are not so well-known. In fact modern day agriculture owes its heart and soul to Indian-taught methods of seed development, hybridization, planting, growing, irrigating, storing, utilizing and cooking. And the spirit of Squanto survives to this day. One example is a Peruvian government research station tucked away in a remote Amazon Indian village called Genaro Herrera. University trained botanists, agronomists and foresters work there, scientifically studying all the ways the local Indians grow and prepare food. They are also learning how to utilize forests without destroying them, and how to combat pests without chemicals.

The trend that moved some North American Indian tribes away from plant food-based diets can be traced to Coronado, a sixteenth century Spanish explorer. Prior to his time, hunting was a hobby among most Indians, not a vocation. The Apaches were one of the few tribes who relied heavily on animal killing for survival.

But all that changed as Coronado and his army traversed the West and Midwest from Mexico. Some of his horses got away and quickly multiplied on the grassy plains. Indians re-tamed this new denizen, and the Age of Buffalo began.

Horses replaced dogs as beasts of burden and offered excellent transportation. This was as important an innovation to the Plains Indians as the automobile would be to Anglos later on. Life on the Plains became much easier very quickly.

>From the east came another powerful influence: guns. The first American settlers brought their firearms with them. Because of the Indian "threat", they were soon immersed in weapons development and succeeded in making more accurate and powerful weapons. But they also supplied weapons to Indians who allied themselves with colonial causes. Because it was so much easier to kill an animal with a rifle than with a bow and arrow, guns spread quickly among the Indians. Between the horse and the rifle, buffalo killing was now much simpler.

The Apaches were joined by other tribes, such as the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Comanches, and Kiowas. These tribes "lost the corn", gave up agriculture, and started living nomadic existences for the first time. It wasn't long before their food, clothing, and shelter were entirely dependent on one animal, the buffalo.

George Catlin lamented this fact as early as 1830. He predicted the extinction of the buffalo (which very nearly happened) and the danger of not being diversified. Catlin pointed out that, were the Plains Indians only killing a buffalo for their own use, the situation might not be so grave. But because the great beasts were being slaughtered for profit, they were destined to be wiped out.

It was the white man who profited. There was an insatiable Eastern market for buffalo tongue and buffalo robes. In 1832, Catlin described a wholesale buffalo slaughter carried out by six hundred Sioux on horseback. These men killed fourteen hundred animals, and then took only their tongues. These were traded to whites for a few gallons of whiskey. The whiskey, no doubt, helped to dull the Indian talent to make maximum use of an animal. Among the tribes who did not trade with whites, each animal was completely used, down to the hooves. No part went to waste. And buffalo were not killed in the winter, for the Indians lived on autumn dried meat during that time.

But now buffalo were killed in the winter most of all. It was in cold weather that their magnificent coats grew long and luxuriant. Catlin estimated that 200,000 buffalo were killed each year to make coats for people back East. The average hide netted the Indian hunter one pint of whiskey.

Had the Indians understood the concept of animal extinction, they may have ceased the slaughter. But to the Indians, the buffalo was a gift from the Great Spirit, a gift which would always keep coming. Decades after the disappearance of huge herds, Plains Indians still believed their return was imminent. They danced the Ghost Dance, designed to bring back the buffalo, and prayed for this miracle as late as 1890.

In spite of the ease and financial incentives of killing buffalo, there were tribes that did not abandon the old ways of the Plains. In addition to the farming tribes of the Southeast, tribes in the Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest stuck to agriculture. For example, the Osage, Pawnee, Arikaras, Mandans, Wichitas, and Caddoans remained in permanent farming settlements. Even surrounded by buffalo, they built their homes of timber and earth. And among some of the Indians of the Southwest, cotton, basketry, and pottery were preferred over animal-based substitutes like leather pouches.

Catlin was eerily accurate when he predicted dire consequences for the buffalo-dependent tribes. To this day, it is these Indians who have fared the worst from assimilation with other races. The Sioux of South Dakota, for one, have the worst poverty and one of the highest alcoholism rates in the country. Conversely, the tribes who depended little or not at all on animal exploitation for their survival, like the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw, are thriving and growing, having assimilated without surrendering their culture.

In the past, and in more than a few tribes, meat-eating was a rare activity, certainly not a daily event. Since the introduction of European meat-eating customs, the introduction of the horse and the gun, and the proliferation of alcoholic beverages and white traders, a lot has changed. Relatively few Indians can claim to be vegetarians today.

But it was not always so. For most Native Americans of old, meat was not only not the food of choice, its consumption was not revered (as in modern times when Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving as if it were a religious duty). There was nothing ceremonial about meat. It was a plant, tobacco, that was used most extensively during ceremonies and rites, and then only in moderation. Big celebrations such as Fall Festivals centered around the harvest, especially the gathering of the corn. The Choctaws are not the only ones who continue to dance the Corn Dance.

What would this country be like today if the ancient ways were still observed? I believe it is fair to say that the Indian respect for non-human life forms would have had a greater impact on American society. Corn, not turkey meat, might be the celebrated Thanksgiving Day dish. Fewer species would have become extinct, the environment would be healthier, and Indian and non-Indian Americans alike would be living longer and healthier lives. There might also be less sexism and racism, for many people believe that, as you treat your animals (the most defenseless), so you will treat your children, your women, and your minorities.

Without realizing it, the Indian warriors and hunters of ages past played right into the hands of the white men who coveted their lands and their buffalo. When the lands were taken from them, and the buffalo herds decimated, there was nothing to fall back on. But the Indians who chose the peaceful path and relied on diversity and the abundance of plants for their survival were able to save their lifestyles. Even after being moved to new lands they could hang on, re-plant, and go forward.

Now we, their descendants, must recapture the spirit of the ancient traditions for the benefit of all people. We must move away from the European influences that did away with a healthier style of living. We must again embrace our brothers and sisters, the animals, and "return to the corn" once and for all.

(Rita Laws is Choctaw and Cherokee. She lives and writes in Oklahoma. Her Choctaw name, Hina Hanta, means Bright Path of Peace, which is what she considers vegetariansim to be. She has been vegetarian for over 14 years.)

Notes from the Scientific Department

VRG Speaks to West Florida Dietetic Association

Vegetarian Resource Group Nutrition Advisor Suzanne Havala, MS, RD, presented a full-day workshop on vegetarian nutrition to the West Florida Dietetic Association in Pensacola, Florida, on April 22nd. Approximately 50 dietitians attended, as well as some other interested residents of Pensacola who read about the workshop the day before in an article that ran in the Pensacola News Journal.

VRG Takes Leadership Position in Federal School Lunch Reform Efforts

The Vegetarian Resource Group is continuing to take an active role in efforts to improve this nation's child nutrition programs, with a particular emphasis on reforming the school lunch program by bringing it in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and allowing for greater diversity and food options.

Adding to those efforts, VRG has joined a coalition, Advocates for Better Children's Diets (ABCD). This coalition is comprised of twenty- two organizations, including the American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, Children's Defense Fund, and others. The coalition has developed a statement of principles and a list of recommendations for ways to assist schools in complying with national dietary recommendations, which will be shared with Congress and with USDA.

Additionally, VRG nutrition advisor, Suzanne Havala, has joined The American Dietetic Association's Child Nutrition Advisory Committee as a representative of the ADA's Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. The Advisory Committee will help draft ADA's legislative positions regarding recommendations for program changes and testimony on child nutrition programs.

VRG Has Booths at State American Dietetic Association Meetings

The Vegetarian Resource Group has been very busy doing outreach to dietitians. We have exhibited in state meetings in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid Available

Colorful copies of the new Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid (8.5 by 11 inches) are available for purchase in single copies or in bulk. Write to: The Health Connection, 55 West Oak Ridge Drive, Hagerstown, Maryland 21740 or call 1-800-548-8700 or 301-790-9735 to order. Prices are:

Scientific Updates

A Review of Recent Scientific Papers Related to Vegetarianism
By Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D.

Vegetarian Diet Has Potential For Reducing Health Care Costs

Certainly vegetarians have lower rates of many chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and some cancers. A study of California Seventh-day Adventist vegetarians and non-vegetarians suggests that vegetarians also use fewer medications, have fewer surgeries, and use fewer health services.

Specifically, 70% of vegetarian males and 57% of vegetarian females reported that they did not use any medication regularly compared with 30% and 21% of non-vegetarian males and females, respectively. Non-vegetarians used aspirin and tranquilizers more than twice as often. Vegetarians were less likely to have had surgery in the past year than non-vegetarians and vegetarian males were less likely to have had X-rays.

The author of this study feels that one of the most effective ways of reducing total health care costs would be for the population at large to adopt a vegetarian diet. See: Knutsen SF. Lifestyle and the use of health services. Am J Clin Nutr 1994; 59(suppl):1171S-2011S.

Cancer Incidence among California Seventh-Day Adventists

The incidence of various kinds of cancer in Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA) living in California was compared with cancer incidence in Connecticut residents (not SDA). About 48% of the SDA studied were vegetarians, mainly lacto-ovo vegetarian.

SDA males had lower rates of many cancers including cancer of the lung, esophagus, stomach, large intestine, and bladder. SDA males had higher rates of prostate cancer. SDA females had lower rates of breast, colon, stomach, and lung cancer, among others, but higher rates of endometrial cancer.

This study did not examine cancer rates among SDA vegetarians compared to SDA non-vegetarians except to report that meat consumption was not associated with higher risk of prostate cancer in men and that risk of bladder cancer was twice as high in those with a high intake of meat.

For more information see: Mills PK, Beeson WL, Phillips RL, Fraser GE. Cancer incidence among California Seventh-day Adventists, 1976-2011. Am J Clin Nutr 1994; 59(suppl):1136S-2011S.

Macrobiotic Diets and Children

A report on nutritional status of children in The Netherlands consuming macrobiotic diets raised some serious concerns. These children had retarded growth, decreased muscle tissue, and slower development of speech and language. Deficiencies of iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D were detected in a number of the children.

The authors did not feel that the results were due to a lack of experience with the macrobiotic diet because all mothers of children who were studied had followed a macrobiotic diet for more than 3 years. In general, parents had a high level of education.

Most infants were breastfed and were started on solid foods at close to 5 months. The weaning diet consisted of sieved porridges from whole-grain cereals, vegetables, sesame seeds, and legumes. Fruits were rarely given and fats and oils were avoided in children under 2 years. Animal products were also avoided.

The following recommendations were made for macrobiotic children:

  1. Add dietary fat at a level of 25-30% of calories;
  2. Add a vitamin B-12 source [Reliable sources for vegans include fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk, and vitamin B-12 supplements];
  3. Add at least one serving of dairy products [Vegan calcium sources include dark green vegetables, calcium supplements, calcium-fortified soy milk];
  4. Reduce fiber intake of children 2 years and younger.
The authors caution that the results of this study applied only to children on macrobiotic diets and did not necessarily apply to children on other vegetarian diets. See: Dagnelie PC, van Staveren WA. Macro-biotic nutrition and child health: results of a population-based, mixed-longitudinal cohort study in The Netherlands. Am J Clin Nutr 1994; 59(suppl):1187S-2011S.

Myths and Realities about Protein from Plants

Vernon Young and Peter Pellett confirmed what Vegetarian Journal readers have heard before, namely that plant proteins can adequately meet protein and amino acid needs and that it is not necessary to consume complementary proteins at the same time.

In a thorough discussion of plant protein sources they point out that worldwide, plants provide approximately 65% of the edible protein supply. In North America, animal products supply about 70% of dietary protein while in the Far East, only 20% of dietary protein comes from animals. Worldwide, plants provide 84% of calories, mainly from cereal grains (51% of calories), and animal products provide 16% of calories.

Young and Pellett label the following statements as myths: Plant proteins are "incomplete"; plant proteins are not as "good" as animal proteins; plant proteins alone are not sufficient to achieve an adequate protein intake; plant proteins are not well digested; animal assays are satisfactory ways to determine the value of proteins for human nutrition. These myths are commonly presented as fact in both popular and professional literature. This article represents a powerful message that these are truly myths and cannot be used to justify eating meat.

See: Young VR, Pellett PL. Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr 1994; 59(suppl): 1203S-2011S.

About this document

These articles were originally published in the September/October 1994 issue of the Vegetarian Journal, published by:

The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-VEGE

Subscriptions to the Vegetarian Journal are $20 annually. (Canada and Mexico: $30; foreign: $40)

What is the Vegetarian Resource Group?

Our health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and individuals to bring about healthy changes in your school, workplace, and community. Registered dietitians and physicians aid in the development of nutrition-related publications and answer member and media questions about vegetarian diets. The Vegetarian Resource Group is a non-profit organization. Financial support comes primarily from memberships, contributions, and book sales.

The contents of this article, as with all The Vegetarian Resource Group publications, is not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

For questions or comments on this article, please contact Bobbi Pasternak at bobbi@vrg.org. This article may be reproduced for non-commercial use intact or with credit given to The Vegetarian Resource Group.

HTML by: Jonathan Esterhazy / Manitoba Animal Rights Coalition / jester@mail.cc.umanitoba.ca

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Last Updated
March 5, 1998

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The contents of this web site, as with all The Vegetarian Resource Group publications, is not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

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