Grass Eaters?

I recently saw a graphic which had several panels, each with a caption under it. The first was labeled, “What others think I eat!” and pictured a field of grass. The seoncd said, “What my boss thinks I eat!” and pictured a bed of daisies. The final panel was labeled, “What I really eat!” and pictured a sumptuous table of delicious vegetarian food.

It is certainly true that over the years there has been much misunderstanding about what vegetarians eat. While a relatively small percentage of the population follows a vegetarian dietary pattern, this group has grown rapidly in the last few decades. 

Years of research has demonstrated that a balanced, well-chosen vegetarian diet has distinct benefits, and provides all the nutrition humans need. It has been almost 60 years since the publication of the first comprehensive research demonstrating this. Yet some questions still persist.

As a lifetime vegetarian nutritionist I was delighted to see the publication in June of a 45-page supplement to the Medical Journal of Australia titled “Is a vegetarian diet adequate?” This publication very candidly examines the concepts and controversies of plant-based eating.

While targeted at health professionals, this issue is a valuable resource for anyone consuming or contemplating a vegetarian diet. Unlike much excellent published research, each article in this issue is “open-access,” meaning it is available without charge on the internet. 

The topics include the economic and ecological advantages of plant-based eating; the quality and quantity of protein in vegetarian diets; how vegetarians get adequate amounts of zinc, iron, vitamin B12 and the omega-3 fatty acids; and concludes with very practical advice on how to prepare healthy and tasty plant-based meals.

If you only have limited time (like most of us!), do not neglect to read the last article, as it is a wonderful summary of the advantages of plant-based eating, meal planning tips, shopping tips, and cooking tips. The publisher and authors actually encourage the reproduction of this article for educational purposes!

So, if you are a vegetarian and your family or friends think you only eat grass, you now know where to find information to help dispel myths like:

  • You can’t get enough protein on a vegetarian diet.
  • Vegetarians need to combine proteins at each meal.
  • Vegetarians need to take supplements.
  • Dairy foods are the only good source of calcium
  • Pregnant women should not be on a vegetarian diet.
  • Children can’t thrive on vegetarian diets.