Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi For the Health of It?

By Angie Drobnic

MAY 11, 1998:  While it's become easy to celebrate the healthfulness of a vegetarian lifestyle, those who abstain from meat must still watch their diets. Yes, you, too, can eat like a carnivore without the charred flesh. But interestingly enough, most of the bad stuff in a vegetarian diet still comes from animal products.

Take these examples under consideration:

  • There's about 3 grams of fat in a 3-ounce piece of chicken breast. A 1-ounce slice of cheese can contain twice that.

  • As far as cholesterol goes, a 3-ounce piece of meat might contain 40 milligrams. An egg has over 300 milligrams (mostly in the yummy yolk).

  • If you're going for a meat substitute, soy products aren't necessarily low in fat. About 40 percent of the calories in some soy products can come from fat.
Naturally, a lot depends on what kind of vegetarian you are and what kind of diet you observe. If you're a vegan (no animal products allowed), you're not doing dairy or eggs anyway. But there are other dangers for vegetarians and vegans who are as likely to be ill-informed about nutrition as their meat-eating counterparts.

Calcium, zinc, iron and protein are nutritional components vegetarians and vegans potentially lack, according to local Wild Oats Markets' nutritionist Lisa Herzig. For iron, she suggests eating dried fruit, black beans or molasses. Limited dairy can supply the Vitamin B 12. And dark, green, leafy vegetables like kale or dandelion will provide both iron and calcium.

Fortunately, nutritionists like Herzig, a vegetarian herself, are more accepting of vegetarianism as a healthy lifestyle. "It's not a fad, and it's not crazy. It's become more acceptable," she says. For instance, one of the popular myths of recent years is that vegetarians had to eat complementary proteins at every meal, i.e. mac and cheese or beans and tortillas. Now nutritionists believe that as long as you get the different proteins in a 24-hour period, you're doing OK.

The biggest problem, says Herzig, is that we all eat too many processed foods, which lack nutritious value. Whom she calls "macaroni and cheese" vegetarians are probably eating just as poorly as many meat eaters. The long-term solution for vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike to eat healthy is by becoming informed. If you're a vegetarian who is unfamiliar with foods like kale, quinoa or buckwheat, it might be time to bone up on your food education. Good books to start with are Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders and Brian Ruppenthal or Whole Food Facts by Evelyn Roel. Other resources include the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which can be reached at (202) 872-1488, or the North American Vegetarian Society, at (202) 872-1488. While vegetarians avoid many of the health problems associated with heavy meat consumption--heart disease, colon and lung cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure--it is only through smart eating decisions that they can maintain truly great health.

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