Pro: Vegetable-based diet provides healthy option
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Shortages of cropland, fresh water and energy resources worldwide, require about 4 billion people to live on a plant-based diet.
But there may be nutritional benefits to a diet that includes only vegetarian foods, an Austin-based nutritionist said.
Christine Marquette, a registered and licensed dietitian with Marquette Nutrition and Fitness, endorses a meatless diet to her clients. Marquette lives a vegetarian lifestyle herself.
"I was never a big meat eater, so it was an easy transition for me," she said. "But there's a lot of research to support that plant-based diets help lower blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce your risk of some cancers, stomach cancer in particular," Marquette said.
Many of Marquette's clients are new vegetarians, or interested in transitioning to a vegetarian diet, she said.
"If I have a client who wants to continue to eat meat, I tell them to reduce the portion size, as well as choose meats that have limited additives, and are organic, free range and not pumped up with various hormones," Marquette said.
The nutritionist explained the way beef and chicken are raised for slaughter, they're often fed a diet that is unnatural to them, so they often become become ill. To ward off illness, the animals are fed many antibiotics and hormones to keep them healthy, which is then transferred to the meat-eating consumer when it's bought in the grocery store.
"The animals can become overwhelmed with antibiotics," she said.
For dissenters of the plant-based diet that claim the vegetarian will be protein deficient, Marquette said, plants offer a sufficient amount of protein.
"That's not a legitimate argument. Virtually all foods have protein in them," she said. "When a particular food, like corn or broccoli, or potatoes is compared to one egg, it will not have the same amount of protein. But when you eat enough of those foods, you will get the same amount of protein, so you can meet your protein needs with plants."
And for minerals such as iron, Marquette said, legumes are better than meat.
"Iron is higher in beans than it is in meat. A lot of people don't know that," she said.
Marquette said whether or not you're eating meat, it's difficult to get a natural amount of B12, which is associated with meat-based diets. So, if a person decides to become a vegetarian, she encourages a B12 supplement.
Organic Emporium owner Phylis Canion, who is also a registered naturopathic doctor and certified nutritional consultant, agrees the human diet should be made up of mostly vegetables and water, with the next largest category reserved for fruit, then fish, poultry and healthy fats. Canion said people, in general, eat too much meat, too many processed foods, or genetically modified foods, and too many variations of artificial sweeteners.
Though she isn't a vegetarian, she eats mostly vegetables, abstains from red meat, and eats a small to moderate amount of organic poultry, fish, and pork.
"It's how you employ the diet as to how well it works for you. Different levels work for different body types and lifestyles," said Canion, discussing nine categories of vegetarianism that may or may not be inclusive of some dairy and meat products.
"I think our bodies are designed to process all foods including meat. But having said that, there are things we need to eat less of," Canion said.
Canion said one of the reasons she opened Organic Emporium, which sells organic items, vitamin supplements, and unprocessed foods, was because many clients were coming to her with dietary problems, and having a hard time finding foods that were compatible with their digestive systems. The high content of processed foods, hormone and antibiotic-infused meat and dairy products, encouraged Canion to have a store in Victoria where people could eat food in their healthiest and most natural state.
"In grocery stores, labels are latent with processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food coloring and emulsifiers. Even if you are vegetarian, these will not benefit the digestive system," she said. "I'm a label person. I don't eat red meat. ... I eat the product that isn't overprocessed."