VEGINATION: Aunt Edna vs. the ADA

If you're like us, you may have friends and family who are still carnivorous. Some of them might love making wisecracks, like, "I saw them put chicken in that carrot cake! Tee hee hee!" More troubling are concerned comments like, "I hope you're getting enough protein!" Or calcium, or iron. Dinner with well- meaning relatives can bring on nightmare visions: are protein deficiency, osteoporosis, and anemia lurking in the shadows of every vegetarian's nutritional life, like Aunt Edna says? Or is she full of bull? For the vegucated, there's a simple answer to the nutritional naysayers: "Go tell it to the ADA." The American Dietetic Association (ADA) position paper on vegetarianism, a 3-page treatise in effect until 1997, cites 24 scientific studies and papers. The summation: "It is the position of The American Dietetic Association that vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritionally adequate when appropriately planned." The ADA makes clear what the meat merchants are trying to obscure: scientific studies show that the closer you are to a pure vegetarian diet, the less risk you face of obesity, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Studies show that colon cancer and breast cancer risks drop precipitously with the elimination of meat and milk. But what about nutrients? PROTEIN: Unless you try to live on yams alone, it is almost impossible not to get enough protein. Yes, meat diets usually provide more protein than vegetarian diets. But humans don't need that much protein, and extra protein drives calcium out and complicates kidney function. Vegetable proteins are not second- class proteins, as was once thought, and you don't have to study food combination charts to get enough. As long as you eat a variety of grains, legumes, vegetables, and nuts, and you're not going around hungry, you will get enough protein. IRON: The ADA says: "Vegetarians are not at greater risk of iron deficiency than nonvegetarians." There's more iron per calorie in most vegetables than there is in any meat. What about dairy? As John Robbins puts it: "You'd have to eat a hunk of butter as big as your refrigerator to get as much iron as you would get from a bowl of broccoli." [Diet for A New America, Stillpoint Publishing, 1987.] CALCIUM: The National Dairy Council, promulgator of food fallacy, would have us believe that only milk can keep us from becoming rubber-boned blobs. The ADA disagrees. Calcium from some vegetables is absorbed as well as or better than calcium from cow's milk. Calcium deficiency in vegetarians is rare. Meanwhile excessive animal protein- found in meat and milk- can actually drive calcium from the body. What does the ADA mean by an "appropriately planned" vegetarian diet? Vegetarians must get enough calories. Luckily, the body has an alarm system- hunger- that tells us when we need more calories. When you're hungry, eat something (not junk), and you'll get enough calories. Eat a variety of foods. Falafel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner doesn't do it. The ADA notes only two nutrients that vegans (pure vegetarians) need worry about- Vitamins D and B-12. If you're out in the sun for fifteen minutes a day, three days a week, your body will produce enough Vitamin D. If not, try D-fortified soy milks and cereals. The body needs minute quantities of B-12. B- 12 supplements can be found at local health food stores, and one 5,000 mcg pill provides several years' supply. It's also in some fortified cereals. So if you get your D and B-12, you can pitch the Flintstones Chewables. For infants, children, adolescents, and pregnant or lactating women, the ADA's advice is the same: eat when you're hungry, eat a variety, and get D and B-12 from fortified foods or supplements. All pregnant women should consider iron and folic acid supplements, but this is actually less critical for vegetarians than for meat eaters. Other than that, don't worry. It's that simple. For a copy of "Position of The American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets", write to The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. Next time Aunt Edna plops pork chops and franks on your plate, plop the facts on to hers!*** Layered ChiliIngredients:4 large onions, chopped 1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped 3 tablespoons salad oil 1 tablespoon each mustard seeds and chili powder 1 teaspoon each cumin seeds and unsweetened cocoa 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 can (about 1 lb.) tomatoes 5 cups cooked kidney beans plus 1 1/2 cups cooking liquid or water, or 3 cans (about 1 lb. size) kidney beans, undrained, and 1 cup water 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste Salt Pink onions (recipe follows) Relish toppings (suggestions follow) 2 limes or lemons, cut in wedgesIn a 5 or 6-quart Dutch oven, cook onions and green pepper in oil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and pepper is soft. Add mustard seeds and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add chili powder, cumin seeds, cocoa, cinnamon, tomatoes (break up with a spoon) and their liquid, beans and their liquid, and tomato paste. Reduce heat and simmer rapidly, uncovered, for about 40 minutes until most of the liquid has cooked away and chili is thickened. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Season with salt to taste (not necessary if using canned beans). Pass pink onions, relish toppings, and lime wedges to layer on top of chili. Makes 6 servings.Pink Onions: in a 1-quart pan over high heat, bring 2 cups water and 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar to a boil. Add 1 large red onion (thinly sliced) and push down into liquid. Return to a boil and cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain onion and let cool. In a bowl, stir together onion, 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon salad oil, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds and salt to taste. Serve at room temperature or cover and chill until ready to serve.Relish toppings: arrange in containers 3 medium-size tomatoes (chopped), 1 can (7 oz.) diced green chilies, 1 medium-size cucumber (chopped), and 1 cup sliced green onions (including tops).[From Sunset Vegetarian Cooking, copyright 1981, Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, CA.]


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