By Anne Morgenthal
If you have been contemplating adopting a plant based diet, now is a great week to take the plunge. Two news stories have been released that may assist in your decision. The first one exposes the link between heart disease and the nutrient found in red meat, L-Carnitine. A study conducted by Dr. Stanley Hazen of the Cleveland Clinic Cardiology Preventative Medical Section determined that Carnitine actually changes the metabolism of cholesterol so that less is excreted by the body and more is attached to artery walls thus raising the risk of coronary artery disease. The second, issued by USA today, states that changes in the beef industry due to the sustained drought in prominent cattle producing states such as Texas may turn beef into a luxury product. Price increases as much as 10% may occur by the end of summer. So, through your decision you will both improve your health and save a lot of money at the grocery check-out.
I am often asked why I choose to practice a vegan lifestyle and my long answer explains in depth ethical, health and environmental reasons while my short answer is that three years ago I realized that because I loved animals, I really didn’t want to eat, wear or exploit them anymore. People always listen to me respectfully, but then usually answer, but what will I eat between two slices of a sesame seed bun or next to the baked potato on my plate? Where do you get your protein if you don’t eat meat or your calcium if you choose to forego dairy?
Of course everyone knows that protein is essential to the growth and repair of our bodies, but there are many sources of protein, in fact, it is in almost everything. If you don’t believe this, think for a moment about where cattle get their protein. Hint, they do not get it from eating other cattle. They obtain it from plant sources, the grasses they eat. The grasses contain amino acids that react with other amino acids that are created in the animal’s bodies and voila…protein is made. Vegans get their protein also from plants along with complex carbohydrates and fiber without the artery clogging saturated fat of animal protein. There are 20 amino acids that our bodies need, 10 of which are produced in our bodies and the other 10, called essential amino acids can all be incorporated through a balanced plant based diet. Interestingly enough, many veggies contain high percentages of protein: mushrooms (56%), broccoli (33%), brussel sprouts (31%), kale (26%), zucchini (30%), spinach (50%), and cauliflower (32%). So, if you make a pasta salad for lunch with whole wheat pasta, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and mushrooms, you will get approximately 1/3 – 1/2 of your daily dietary protein requirements using the World Health Organization’s recommended 29 grams for a woman on a 2300 calorie diet. Shake ¼ c almonds into your salad and you’ve upped your protein intake by another 7 grams.
Calcium is the other mystery nutrient of a plant based diet that everyone always wonders about, and again the answer is that I obtain it from where the cows do, in the grasses they eat. Some great sources of calcium include black beans, tofu, calcium fortified orange juice, non-dairy milks, sesame seeds, collard greens, dried figs, and corn tortillas. It is interesting to note that as more nutrition based research is published, it is becoming evident that the benefits of dairy that were taught in our schools and accepted without question in the past are being revised. Harvard School of Public Health is on the leading edge of nutrition research and has replaced the USDA My Plate with one of their own; the main revision being replacing the glass of milk in the USDA version with a glass of water in theirs.
The Harvard School of Public Health urges consumers to limit their intake of dairy products to decrease incidences of obesity and ovarian and prostate cancers. Concerned about osteoporosis? The HSPH has research that shows that bone loss might very well be caused by heavy dairy consumption. Instead choose alternative plant sources of calcium rich foods such as broccoli, leafy green vegetables and beans.
Diets and healthy eating are a big business in the United States. We are continuously bombarded with new diet books and so-called experts in the media espousing the latest fad for losing the most weight the fastest. Consumers, however, are becoming better informed and searching for information that will point them firmly on the path to a healthy body that will add to the quality of their life, an eating plan that will feed every cell of their body with the nutrients that will nourish and sustain both its structure and activity. If you identify with this group than check out tip #2 on The Harvard School of Public Health website, Tips for Following the Healthy Eating Plate. It asserts that to be your healthiest, eat a plant-based diet.
If you find it difficult to adopt a total plant based diet, take it slowly. In the beginning maybe eat every other meal vegan and adjust gradually to choosing more and more meals from plant sources only. The more you learn about this way of eating you will discover that not only is it more humane and beneficial for the environment, but you will feel a difference in your own health and energy and once experienced, may never want to turn back.
Anne Morgenthal is a retired teacher from Brevard Public Schools. She obtained a B.S in Family and Consumer Sciences from the University of Cincinnati and an M.A. in Career and Technical Education from the University of South Florida. A resident of Avalon Park, Anne is writing her first novel when she is not walking her doodle Sam around the neighborhood.