Well-planned vegetarian diets can provide us with all of the protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and calories we need!
For more than 100 years, Hygienists have advocated the avoidance of meat, fish, fowl, eggs, and dairy products, as well as added oil, salt and sugar, and most processed foods. We have encouraged people to eat a diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables with a minimum of spices and other stimulants.
By sharp contrast, the medical establishment has only recently, and reluctantly, begun to acknowledge the inseparable relationship between our diet and our health. Medicine has long recognized that deficiencies can cause disease, but only recently has dietary excess been acknowledged as a significant factor in the evolution of numerous degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and kidney disease.
The diet science supports
The bulk of the scientific literature overwhelmingly supports the contention that human beings function best on a diet derived from whole natural foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes-a diet that excludes animal products. Vegetarian diets provide us with the nutrients we need: protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and sufficient calories.
More and more people are becoming interested in adopting this health promoting diet, but simply understanding the scientific support for it is not always enough to overcome the emotional and social roadblocks to healthful eating.
The most frequently asked questions by people making a transition to healthful eating are these four. What should I eat to insure that I will meet my body's nutritional needs? What foods and other substances should I avoid? Will I enjoy my new diet and feel good physically and emotionally about it? And can I do it?
The answers to the first two questions have been briefly stated above-eat a plant-based diet derived exclusively from whole natural foods, and avoid meat, fish, fowl, eggs, and dairy products, as well as added oil, salt and sugar, and most processed foods. Of course, there is considerable variation in how different individuals approach the specifics of diet, but the guiding principles remain the same. The basic challenges we face are these. How do I get enough to eat to meet my individual needs? How do I avoid excess consumption? And how do I avoid the consumption of health compromising foods and other detrimental substances?
People come in all shapes and sizes. We have different metabolisms, different activity levels, different heights and weights, and different ages, each with individual capacities for digestion. And since each of these factors can change during our lifetime, we always need to fashion a diet that meets our individual needs.
With this in mind, I want to give two examples of daily menus, one for a healthy, active 25-50 year-old female, the other for a healthy, active 25-50 year-old male.
Sample menu for a woman
An example of a health-promoting diet pattern for a healthy, active 25-50 year-old female might be:
Breakfast: fresh raw fruit salad including a banana, apple, and strawberries along with celery and one ounce each of almonds and raw pumpkin seeds.
Lunch: large raw vegetable salad (lettuce, carrot, beets, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, peas, and cucumber) with avocado-tomato dressing and a huge plate of steamed vegetables and a baked potato.
Dinner: raw vegetable plate (carrot, jicama, celery, cucumber) with steamed vegetables and brown rice/lentil stew.
Sample menu for a man
An example of a health-promoting diet pattern for a healthy, active 25-50 year-old male might be:
Breakfast: orange juice smoothie (orange juice, banana, kiwi) and oatmeal with raisins.
Lunch: vegetable plate with avocado dip, steamed vegetables, and potato/vegetable soup.
Dinner: large raw vegetable salad (lettuce, carrot, beets, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, peas, cucumber) with avocado-tomato dressing and a huge plate of steamed vegetables and a bowl of split pea/yam soup over brown rice. If additional calories are required, fresh mixed vegetable juice or fresh fruit could be consumed in the afternoon.
Healthful eating strategies
The quantity and quality of needed nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are clearly provided in abundance by a vegetarian diet. This type of diet also ensures that the percentage of calories derived from fat and protein can be kept within healthful ranges. Another plus is that this type of diet is less stimulating, which dramatically reduces the tendency to overeat. Some individuals find that following the Hygienic food combining suggestions helps them simplify their meals and helps them avoid the tendency to overeat.
Since raw fruits and vegetables are such nutrition powerhouses, one might wonder if the entire diet should be derived from raw foods only. In practice, the attempt to live exclusively on raw foods can present some challenges. Raw vegetables contain only about 100 calories per pound, and much of the available energy (calories) in the food is used up in the process of mastication and digestion, as well as eliminating the high fiber content of these foods. If one were to subsist on raw vegetables only, it would clearly be a full-time job. You would literally have to eat all day long (much like most other grazing animals do).
Problems with all-fruit diets
Fruit is more concentrated, providing about 300 calories per pound. Large quantities of fruit could provide adequate calories, but such a diet would be very high in sugar and low in minerals, which would eventually lead to health problems for many, if not most, people. The patients I have seen who have eaten predominantly raw fruit diets for any length of time often develop multiple health problems including difficulties with teeth, gums, skin, immune system, and nervous system. Increased emotional volatility, fatigue, recurrent fungal, yeast, bacterial, and viral infections are also common.
Introducing raw nuts to the raw fruit diet adds a rich source of nutrition. But the resulting high-fat, high-sugar diet does not appear to work as well as a diet that utilizes abundant quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables with the addition of significant quantities of cooked starches such as vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Cooked starches are rich sources of nutrients, including minerals. Conservative cooking such as steaming and baking causes minimal degradation of nutrients, and cooked starches contain significantly more available energy per volume than raw foods. The cooking process breaks down the starch and fiber, making the consumption of appropriate quantities of health-promoting food both feasible and practical.
Enjoying your diet
The question of whether or not you will enjoy your new diet is somewhat difficult to answer. When making a swift and dramatic dietary change-from a typical western diet to a Hygienic diet-people sometimes temporarily feel physically worse and emotionally deprived. For a very determined person this method can be an excellent choice, and almost everyone can make at least limited positive changes in this direction.
At the Center for Conservative Therapy, we often see people who want or need to make a change rapidly. For these people, a period of therapeutic water fasting followed by a carefully controlled refeeding period speeds the transition. Fasting affects the body in many profound ways. The taste buds are dramatically rejuvenated and the taste of simple food can be truly appreciated. A fast also can enable a person to more quickly get through the sometimes unpleasant physical symptoms associated with detoxification.
Living in the real world
We all live in the real world, with its temptations and seductions. Unfortunately, many things that taste good do not promote health. They have been designed to appeal to our inborn preferences for sweet, salt, and fat. In a natural setting, these substances are scarce, but in our industrial society we have access to virtually unlimited rich, stimulating foods.
To be successful in dietary transition, you must create your own natural environment as much as possible. The most important place to start is your home. Don't bring fats, oils, salt, and sugar, processed foods or animal products into your home-not even "just for company." If you have these temptations around you, you will either succumb to them or spend so much energy trying to resist them that you will become exhausted.
It is important for each person to develop his or her own set of strategies to support a healthful lifestyle. It is also important to review these strategies as well as your reasons for wanting to live healthfully. Re-read the books, listen to the tapes, and watch the videos that helped you make your decision. Attend lectures or seminars periodically both to learn and reinforce your health promoting habits. Cultivate friends who value their health and happiness. Pursue activities and interests that give you a feeling of productivity and emotional nourishment rather than looking solely to food to make you feel good.
Remember, food is fuel. Eat to live; don't live to eat.