Friday, July 07, 2006

Vegetarian Diet - A personal and scientific analysis

There were no vegan societies in history. "Vegetarian" ones all had some form of dairy, eggs, fish eggs (fresh or fermented), fish, poultry, etc. Just as eclectic as today. All provided adequate B12, which incidentally can also be supplied by fermented foods and gut bacteria. B-complex vitamins are abundant in green leafy vegetables and whole grains. Organic/biodynamic ones have the benefit of healthier soil and soil bacteria, boosting the B12 content. B12 is only made by bacteria. Meat has it only if gut or soil bacteria provided it, which may not be the case with commercial meat. Anyway, anemia is rare, even among vegetarians. Selenium content also depends on soil content. Food values today are not what they were 50 or 100 years ago: "The nutritional content of U.S. fruits and vegetables has declined over the past 50 years, according to a researcher at the University of Texas. Cited in an article by Scripps Howard News Service, biochemist Donald Davis said that of 13 major nutrients in fruits and vegetables tracked by the Agriculture Department from 1950 to 1999, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C all showed noticeable declines. Declines ranged from 6% for protein, 20% for vitamin C, and 38% for riboflavin. Davis discussed his findings at the February 2006 meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science (St. Louis). He suspected the decline was due to the trend toward encouraging crops that grow the fastest and biggest." See also: I am a vegetarian but not a vegan, largely for practical reasons. But I do not kill animals nor pay others to do so on my behalf. It's an ethical thing just like honesty, recycling & waste stream reduction, having well and septic versus sewage flowing into rivers, having enough trees to supply my oxygen, letting cars cut in front of me in traffic, etc. Compassion and consideration. Yet I take friends and relatives out for meals and buy whatever they want, including meat. I do what I feel is right, compassion above all, which sometimes means not judging your friends. In any case, I get invited to a lot more Thanksgiving meals that way, versus criticising my hosts' diet/meal. Certainly it is far easier to be a vegetarian or vegan today than in our day, when it took 24 hours to make soyburgers, starting with the cleaning and soaking of the beans. Flax meal and flax oil is available almost everywhere to supplement the fish oil type fatty acids, and there are simply not enough fish left in the world for everyone to use fish oil. Supplements help a lot. I do use whey protein isolate for smoothies, too. While range fed beef has some anti-cancer properties, partially due to the omega-3 and CLA fats that are largely absent in today's commercial beef and poultry, the presence of free (heme) iron is often a pro-cancer, pro-infection nutrient without adequate plant pigments, dairy proteins, and antioxidants to bind and control the iron like the forms found in fruits and vegetables. There is the energy efficiency argument, that you have to feed many times as much plant food to a cow and many times the water versus what it would take to produce and eat the produce, grains and beans. Still, marginal land may be best for grazing rather than agriculture. Agriculture was originally about controlling the food supply by collecting, selectively planting and protecting a crop. This led to divisions of labor, economies of scale and ultimately beer. This was more efficient than migrating to follow herds of wild game in much the same way that a beekeeper improves the honey crop over what a wild hive might produce and shares the surplus. What followed from agriculture was lengthening life spans, development of writing and other attributes of modern civilizations, specialists having time to develop new technologies, etc. In the last ice age it was certainly advantageous to eat meat. In a warmer climate with modern grocery stores it is not as necessary. Fresh, local and variety is actually more important for nutrition than a low-fiber, meat-heavy diet.

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