Why Discuss Vegetarianism
This week I am inspired to write about some pros and cons of meatless eating, because I have a new friend who does not eat meat. The reason he doesn’t eat it is not that important, but I feel that there may be reason to be concerned that his nutritional needs are not being met.
My new friend was hit by a car in November of 2010, and this shattered his ankle. Since the accident, he has had 3 surgeries, the most recent one being a month ago. The bone is not healing optimally. There could be various reasons for the suboptimal healing, and I’m not an expert in that area, but I do know that physical injuries like fractures and surgeries cause an increase in the body’s protein needs. Protein is essential for tissue repair, and injury causes short term metabolic changes that increase protein breakdown and losses, as well.
Proteins and Vitamins from Meat
Some individuals who choose not to eat meat simply eat everything else they enjoy, and do not really think about what is needed to replace the nutritional value of meat. The typical American diet contains more than enough meat and protein, and there is a common perception that omitting meat is a healthy thing to do.
There are some nutrients, however, that are provided in greater abundance, or in more readily absorbed forms, by meats (meaning muscle or organ tissue of any animal, including chicken and fish). Iron is one of those nutrients. Zinc is another, but it is also found in dairy products, unlike iron. Dietary vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in meat, dairy, and eggs. Meat is also an important source of other B vitamins, such as thiamin (B1) in pork, for example, and niacin (B3) made from the amino acid tryptophan.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Deborah Kauffmann, RD, discussed the topic of protein chemistry and the concept of complete vs incomplete protein. With that background knowledge, we know that omitting meats and/or other animal foods takes away a major dietary source of protein, which must be replaced by other dietary protein sources in sufficient amounts and complementary combinations.
How Much Protein?
The amount of protein recommended for healthy adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (based on a weight that does not include very much excess fat). To get your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. So, a 200 lb man who does not have a lot of excess fat would need about 91 grams of protein per day.
The “average man” is only 154 lbs, so only needs about 56 grams per day, when not recuperating from an injury. These recommendations are based on the assumption of a mixed diet which includes some high quality protein (from either animal sources or soy) and an adequate amount of energy from carbohydrates and fats to allow the protein to be used for maintenance and repair rather than for energy.
No More Meat? What’s Next?
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what other foods are needed, and in what quantities, to meet protein needs when meat is omitted.
First of all, some protein is provided by dairy foods and eggs. If these are also omitted, a larger quantity of plant proteins is needed. Current guidelines in the U.S. recommend 3 cups of milk, or the equivalent from other dairy sources, in one day. Milk provides roughly 1g of protein per fluid ounce, so 3 cups provide 24 grams.
A large egg provides about the same amount of protein as one ounce of lean meat, which is 7 grams of protein.
The following plant food servings provide about the same number of grams of protein as one ounce of meat: 1 Tbsp peanut butter, ¼ cup cooked dried beans or peas, or ½ ounce nuts or seeds. Grains and vegetables provide smaller amounts of protein, and lower quality protein which must be complemented by the higher protein foods.
No Dairy? Plant-Based Decisions
Remember also that omitting dairy requires replacing the calcium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin D that dairy normally provides, as well as replacing the protein. If you choose not to consume any animal products at all, it is very important to make good choices among plant foods in order to meet your nutritional needs.
All this counting of grams is something that is not exactly “intuitive.” Over the years, each culture has developed dietary patterns that have been successful in meeting the nutrient needs of populations. When individuals get away from the traditional eating patterns of their culture, nutrition sometimes suffers. Normally, we think of this as applying to Asians who come to the U.S. or to Native Americans who may have adopted the worst of modern American eating patterns. But, it could also apply to a person who stops eating meat and/or other animal products, and does not make the transition to substituting other protein rich foods for meat.
Historically, dietary guidelines developed for the U.S. have included dairy as an important source of calcium, since dairy has traditionally been included in the American diet. Other cultures have other ways of getting calcium, and modern food fortifications give us some alternative sources to dairy as well. That could really be a blog topic all by itself, but I just wanted to touch on it as a part of this blog.
What the Government Says
Although many may have feelings of distrust toward our government when it comes to nutrition recommendations, the US Department of Agriculture is an important source of information about the nutritional value of foods. That department has historically been charged with the task of performing much of the scientific analysis that is required to determine the nutritional content of foods.
Currently, the U.S. government has put some useful nutritional information and tools at our fingertips on the internet. There is also a lot of advice about weight loss offered on the internet by the government, but it is not quite as extreme as you might think, given all the hype that surrounds us daily about the “epidemic” of obesity.
Personally, I think it is nice to have some useful nutrition data at my fingertips, and I just choose to ignore any hype about weight loss and dieting, and anything that seems overly prescriptive. If you take that cautious approach, you might find some benefit in browsing the website www.choosemyplate.gov. Once there, if you click on the tab labeled “Supertracker and other tools”, then click on “daily food plans” then click again on the words “daily food plan” just under the heading, you will arrive at a screen where you can enter your age, gender, weight, height, and activity level. If your Body Mass Index is under 35, you will then be offered a list of recommended servings from each food group. If you BMI is over 35, however, you will be greeted with a page that talks about weight loss and provides several links to guide you through weight loss decisions. My way of dealing with the weight issue was to put in the highest weight that did not put me over a BMI of 35, then to say that I wanted a plan that would maintain my current weight. The calorie level recommended would still be lower than what it takes to maintain my actual weight, but that is the best we can do, given the built in constraints.
The idea is to get a sort of menu planning guideline, if you want one. It’s just nice to be offered some fresh ideas, though there is really a bit too much restriction of fats, sugars, and “empty calories” for the plan to be considered compatible with a “normal eating” or HAES approach. It really is more like a restrictive diet in that way, but the recommended servings from the protein and dairy groups do give you an idea of what it takes to meet protein recommendations.
Once you get to the place where servings are recommended, you will see some choices on the right. You can save or print a PDF of your recommended plan or of a meal tracking worksheet. The best data, however, is offered by the third option, which is the Supertracker. The Supertracker option will put you into a new website, where you create a profile that you can save. You can type in the foods that you have eaten and get total nutrient values for the day. While most dieters would be interested in the calories, fat, and such, the aspect I like about the Supertracker is that it will show you your intake of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and various types of fat. One thing I don’t like about it is that it does not appear to offer an itemized list of nutrient content of each food. I think the Supertracker does give you the option of looking up the nutrient values for a particular food, though. The problem with the daily totals is that there could be some nutrient data missing for some foods, so the total may not give you an accurate picture of your intake.
Maintaining a HAES Approach
I see the Supertracker as having some value as a kind of “dietary checkup.” I would NOT recommend obsessing over keeping track of what you eat every day. That is not what “mindful” or “intuitive” or “normal” eating is about. Personally, I see it as a way to do a “reality check” on how much I am really eating, if it seems like I am running into a problem of not being able to get sufficient nutrients or something. It is a helpful tool to check for nutritional adequacy and maybe do some tweaking of food choices to improve the nutrient profile, if needed. This would be something that should probably be put off until you feel you have succeeded in achieving the mindset of NOT dieting. If you find that this Supertracker tool just puts you in the frame of mind to count and obsess over calories and such, then please stay away from it!
Ok, so now it’s confession time for me. I did NOT fit enough movement into my schedule this week. Sigh. I had intentions of at least fitting in one movement session today, but it didn’t happen. I have always been a person who prefers mental activity to physical activity, so giving movement a high priority is a really challenging thing for me to do, especially at my current age, weight, and physical condition. But, it is something I especially NEED to do at my current age and physical condition. So, I am planning to report success in this area next week!
Did you see the awesome offer to attend a showing of STRONG! I’m going to try to go. Will you?
My interest in nutrition developed from the weight issues I had in my youth. My sister and I always tended to be heavier than other kids, and we were teased about it, so naturally I wanted to "fix" myself by dieting. That worked pretty well in my teenage years, but adulthood was much more challenging. I started out as a dietitian who advocated dieting, but due to my own experience with my weight and dieting, as well as my extensive study of the subject of weight management, I have become an advocate of Health at Every Size. The first fellow professional who influenced my "conversion" was Ellyn Satter, who is also a dietitian. I got my Bachelor's Degree in Dietetics in 1975, (LSU) followed by a Master's in 1981(Univ of TN), and a PhD in 1997 (Univ of TN). I have worked in longterm care, public health, and one hospital. For the last 8 years, I have been teaching at the college level. I am the proud mother of a 24 year old son, and have been single since my divorce in 1993. That is when I moved to Atlanta from Cookeville, Tennessee. I moved around a lot in my childhood due to my father's job, but my parents grew up in Texas, and that is where my roots are. I lived in Brazil for 3 years as a teenager, and one of my sisters still lives there.