The voice on the other end of the phone was desperate.
“I can’t believe she wants to do this,” the lady shrilled. “My 15-year-old is not being rational.”
Was my patient’s daughter running away, dropping out of school, getting a body part pierced? No, she just wanted to become a vegetarian. It was my job to set up a meeting and, as a nutritionist, fix her and steer her back to consuming animal flesh. But maybe not so fast.
Whenever a concerned parent calls me and seeks deprogramming for their kid on the meatless train, my first question is, “Has your child viewed the following documentaries recently: “Meet Your Meat,” “Forks Over Knives” and “Food Inc.?” Of course they have; no 15-year-old voluntarily gives up their McNuggets and midnight Papa John’s.
I’m not a stranger to the meat-free idea. When I was 14, my parents moved us from the inner city to rural Lakeside hoping for a life that connected us more to nature (OK, livestock) and open space. But when I saw a neighbor’s steer standing on all fours in the morning and hanging from a mobile butcher’s truck after school I, too, declared I would never eat meat again! That lasted about a week. Then I joined El Capitan’s Future Farmers of America and raised a prize-winning champion pig. We all know that after a Junior Fair auction our animals aren’t given a retirement pasture in Ramona to live out their days.
I was still courting the idea of becoming a vegetarian and even attended The Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City, founded by America’s top vegetarian chef, Annemarie Colbin. Her two best-selling books, “The Book of Whole Meals” and “The Natural Gourmet” were ever-present in my kitchen becoming well-stained over the years with red lentils and umeboshi paste. Unfortunately, my Montana-raised husband was highly skilled on the grill, and veggie kabobs as a main course were not an option.
For many, the reason for pursuing a plant-based diet includes disease prevention, longevity (as proven by the Loma Linda Seventh Day Adventist Study) a healthier weight, and convictions related to religious or philosophical beliefs. It’s well documented that a vegetarian diet may offer a reduction in chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, intestinal disorders, colorectal cancer, osteoporosis and metabolic syndrome.
Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, George Bernard Shaw, Tony Campolo, Mike Tyson and even Mister Rogers were/are all vegetarian. For social and economic reasons as well as concerns for sustaining our environment, those eating no meat point out that a bovine requires nine pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.
Planning a nutritious vegetarian diet
Yes, it is possible and safe to reduce or eliminate your animal protein consumption, but the two areas I discuss with my patients who would like to try a vegetarian diet are complementary vegetable proteins and concerns about possible dietary deficiencies.
I never meet a patient who is protein-deficient but, because nine of the 20 amino acids we require cannot be manufactured in the body, carefully combining plant proteins such as beans with grains or legumes and peas with nuts and seeds, for example, ensures a balanced and complete protein intake.
A greater challenge is for those who eliminate all animal products from their diets. Vitamin D, B-12, riboflavin, calcium, iron and zinc deficiencies can be problem nutrients for vegans or even vegetarians.
I recommend a few books to my patients, all available on Amazon, if they are serious in seeking vegetarianism. They are: “The New Becoming Vegetarian,” “Low-Carb Vegetarian,” and “Living Vegetarian for Dummies.” I noticed the USDA’s old food “Pyramid” from 1992 morphed recently into the newer, more relevant “food plate” example. For the first time the divided sections for fruit, grains and vegetables also included the word “protein” rather than meat.
You can visit www.choosemyplate.gov where you can plan, analyze, and track your food and physical activity on mobile, tablet or desktop.
Check out the great recipes and downloads as well. As for me and my pursuit of eliminating meat from my diet, I came to a compromise: I like to call it being a “step-vegetarian.” I only eat animals that are themselves vegetarian. I let them do all the work and I benefit. Seriously, in all things practice wisdom and moderation, realizing we are stewards and caretakers of this beautiful creation around us and are only given one earthly body to care for and cherish.
May you thrive and experience health this month!
— by Kimberly Ruby
Ruby is a certified nutritionist at University Compounding Pharmacy, has been in the wellness industry for more than 20 years. She has been facilitating one of the longest-running weight management support groups in the nation, meeting weekly in the North County for 10 years. Her health segments have appeared on several local news channels.