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Hold the Meat, Eat Some More Plants

Hold the Meat, Eat Some More Plants

When I decided to become a vegetarian some 30 years ago, many people worried about how I was going to get enough protein. There was a copy of France Moore Lappé’s Diet For A Small Planet (1971) in my parents’ house and, after reading it, I was sure it was possible to get enough protein even without meat. Besides eggs and cheese and such, there was of course tofu; my family is Chinese-American and frequently ate tofu already. Plus, as I came to learn, generations of my ancestors in peasant villages in southern China had subsisted on little meat, slicing it thin to make a little go a long way with their vegetables and rice.

As Seattle-based dietician Andy Bellatti writes on Grist, there is protein in almost every food, vegetables included. Indeed, while eating less animal protein is “by and large, the most environmentally friendly dietary decision one can make,” Bellatti argues that we really ought to be focusing on making sure we eat enough plant-based foods. Proper nutrition isn’t just about getting all your vitamins and minerals; we should rather be focusing on chemical compounds called phytonutrients that occur naturally in plant-based foods.

Not only do phytonutrients give vegetables, fruits, beans and grains their colors and aromas. Bellatti describes some of their numerous health benefits:

Quercetin –  a phytonutrient found in apple peels, onions, and tea — is believed to improve blood cholesterol levels and help lower the risk of some cancers. Research on isothiocyanates, abundant in dark leafy greens, has also demonstrated their capacity to help protect against chronic disease. Other popular phytonutrients include lignans (in flax and sesame seeds) and phenolic acids (peanuts, walnuts). Mind you, there are over 170 phytochemicals in a single orange.

Bellatti emphasizes that phytonutrients are “sensitive to processing” — that is, eating an actual apple or orange gives you their benefits, rather than drinking apple or orange juice.

Rather than putting so much of a focus on getting enough meat and protein in our diet, Bellatti argues that we need to eat more whole, plant-based foods. Indeed, Americans, he says, are actually ”in the grips of a nutritional deficit disorder that would be drastically minimized if we all started eating less meat and more plants.”

Many efforts are currently being made to develop synthetic meat; to make “fake chicken” from vegetables that “finally” tastes like chicken. But, according to Bellatti, these efforts to manufacture “shmeat” that resembles the real thing are, however well-intended, misplaced. It is not meat, human-made or nature’s own, that we should focus on in the interest of the best nutrition and health, but on eating vegetables, grains and plant-based foods.

How many of us are making sure to eat that apple-a-day to keep the doctor away?

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Photo by Claude Fabry

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146 comments

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2:09PM PDT on Aug 16, 2013

I do...Thanks, Kristina!

2:19AM PDT on Nov 1, 2012

Thank you :)

12:02AM PDT on Sep 16, 2012

Man, I love eating plants, and reading about how good they are for you is always comforting...but then there was this:
"Bellatti emphasizes that phytonutrients are “sensitive to processing” — that is, eating an actual apple or orange gives you their benefits, rather than drinking apple or orange juice."

=( As someone with a lot of plant allergies, I was told after I got my allergy test that I should completely avoid fruit, and only eat cooked vegetables. Of course I'm not going to do that (just had a few slices of apple, in fact, haha), but still I wonder if there's other people out there like me. Feeling horribly sick any time you eat more than a few bites of any plant foods with stomach cramps and feeling like you're going to vomit, knowing just by the smell of something that eating it will cause you to regret it later, even if you know it's so delicious and supposed to be good for you. Combine this with a wheat allergy and you get some upset!

So eating more plants and holding the meat sounds amazing, but unfortunately it's something not all of us can do successfully =( Tried going vegetarian so many times, only to end up in a lot of pain, have digestive problems, and suffer from a lack of protein. Oiye!

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting debates here, veggies are tasty, but in cold climates unless local/in season these are not cheap. My climate can get to -40, the growing season is short.

One comments: "Dale O. are you sure about that? compared to meat. it is so cheap you'd think it is free compared to meat, it is benign,if people stopped eating any animal in the 1200's, then the fuel and polluton issues would be no issue."

The 1200s? That was pretty long ago and my time machine is offline at the moment. Or are you referring to "the Traditional 1200, a 1200 calorie a day year supply of emergency food for one person or a two persons with a 6 month supply."

The environment is affected also by raising veggies, especially with pesticides/transportation, GMOs (60 per cent of all soy is GMO!)

Some days I don't eat meat and then Dr. Mercola states that one can get mental illness/bodily imbalances by eating whole grains/wheat...love my whole grains and don't plan to give these up...unless one has gluten intolerance.

There is a problem with every source of food. Will continue to eat small amounts of meat/poultry, plenty of veggies, grains...no "side" has a monopoly on Truth, Compassion, Virtue.

When Mother Nature redesigns all life on Earth to survive on eating rock pate, rather than other living entities be it plant, animal or whatever, my diet will change. Until then we all feed on organics. Try and stay away from GMOs plants, toxic pesticides, hormones and crud in factory farm mea

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Try and stay away from GMOs plants, toxic pesticides, hormones and crud in factory farm meats/dairy...organic is healthier. Veggies are tasty. For those saying they taste terrible, not true, don't cook them to mush!

Yes, I will eat small amounts of meat, poultry along with a diet composed mainly of veggies, not to mention fruit which can also be laden with pesticides and be from GMO sources. We can simply follow the path that we choose and not beat others over the head because they do not follow one's particular lifestyle.

There is a carbon footprint that we all leave, we can do our best by reducing it and eating organic if at all possible. Not everyone eats huge portions of meat or even eats it all day. Some believe we should never eat meat, if so, don't eat it and one day if I can eat rock pate and not destroy organic entities, fine-will do the switch. Any recipes?

6:35PM PDT on Apr 2, 2012

Eat real.....

8:43PM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

good article... but i do struggle to eat an apple a day, in fact i struggle to eat an aple a month... love my veges but struggle with fruit...

5:59AM PDT on Mar 23, 2012

Thanks for the advice.

7:13PM PDT on Mar 18, 2012

Thanks for a good article.

4:00PM PDT on Mar 17, 2012

Omega actually has one up on you for science, Jackson.

Almost all of the studies that vegans use to support their arguments are based on bad science or studies about people eating CAFO/Industrial Ag raised foods. For the short term we can all reduce meats and go onto some form of veg fast for a bit and clean out some of those pesticides and hormones, and to keep costs down and stop funding the CAFOs and Monsanto, we need to permanently get away from conventional Ag foods, grow our own, buy sustainable, humane, grass-fed meats. There will never be a day when humans stop being omnivores so most of us will never be able to livelong or well on a vegan diet, but many will be able to go to lower animal-protein levels.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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