One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the incidence of vegetarianism in countries like the United States. Culturally we are led to believe that:
Vegetarianism = good health
I agree with this attitude in certain respects, although I think there is much more to health than just not eating meat. My own opinion is more concerned with the other side of the equation:
Lack of vegetables in our diet = poor health
A survey that appeared in TIME magazine in 2002 reports that around 4% of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians. Is this a good thing? I’m not really sure. My gut instinct tells me that it is not so much the lack of meat which is beneficial but rather, higher consumption of fruits and vegetables which provides positive health benefits.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells us to:
Consume a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables while staying within energy needs. Two cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables per day are recommended for a reference 2,000-calorie intake, with higher or lower amounts depending on the calorie level.
The definition provided by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control is:
One cup refers to a common measuring cup (the kind used in recipes). In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100% vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group. One cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the fruit group.
The Harvard School of Public Health states:
There is compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
So we know from the research and government advice as well as our own experience that consuming fruits and vegetables is good for us. The question is, why are so many Americans today not eating enough of these foods?
I believe that the idea that we have to become a vegetarian to be healthy is wrong and is in some ways counter productive. Having the attitude that “I’m not going to be a vegetarian so why should I even bother having any fruits and vegetables?” is very dangerous.
A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that:
non-Hispanic African-American children and adolescents consumed significantly more dark-green vegetables and fewer mean deep-yellow vegetables than Mexican-American and non-Hispanic white children and adolescents.
This is not to suggest that the children eating more vegetables are vegetarians, simply that they eat more dark green vegetables. The point is that, we are looking in the wrong direction when we focus on avoiding meat consumption. Instead we should really be thinking about increasing the quantities of fruits and vegetables in our own as well as our children’s diets.
When we look towards Asian countries like Japan and Korea, we can see that meat and fish is a huge part of their diets. But at every meal, they also eat vegetables. The Japanese eat greens on a daily basis and in Korea, kimchi is eaten at most meals. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the percentage of vegetarians in these countries is much lower than in the U.S. but actual fruit and vegetable consumption, much higher.
There’s a story in here somewhere. Hopefully we can interview one of our Asian friends in the future so we can learn more about diets and vegetarianism in the Far East.