The vegetarian diet

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Just remember to eat your mushrooms. Graphic by the US Department of Agriculture.

Lunch and Learn: How shall we sort our protein priorities?

by Manuel Paez

Dr. Tom Watkins, a visiting scholar at FSU Panama, gave a lecture titled ‘How shall we sort our protein priorities’ on the 19th of July, 2016. In this lecture he spoke about how the opinion of western academics regarding vegetarianism has changed over time, and about the benefits of having diets with little or no meat; he also spoke about studies which have shown that animal protein may increase the risk of osteoporosis, which is when bones become fragile or brittle due to a lack of density.

In the past, nutrition experts thought that meat was a necessary part of a balanced diet — since plants do not make a variety of vitamins that are essential for metabolic processes that our bodies need to make energy; such as vitamin B9, or folic acid.The consensus was that we are able to not eat meat for a while and be fine, but that eventually our bodies would become deficient in folic acid, which would lead to symptoms such as weakness, tiredness, and pale skin. However, we now know that this is not necessarily true, since edible fungi produce folic acid and other essential vitamins.

As a student in UC Berkeley, Dr. Watkins decided to see what not eating meat would do to him, he found that his energy levels increased and that he began to feel better overall — which contradicted what his professors had told him.

In 1971, Walker and his team conducted a study in South Africa, where the compared the bone densities of Bantu women, who lived in a rural area and did not eat much meat, and caucasian women in cities. Back then, it was thought that having more children was bad for women’s bone health, and that getting enough calcium was enough for good bone health, however; the study found that Bantu women had better bone health, despite having more children and not getting significantly more calcium than the women from cities.

Native Americans in Alaska have diets that are very high in animal proteins and low in carbohydrates, and they tend to have below average bone densities as they age. Seventh Day Adventists, other other hand, are vegetarians, and they have above average bone densities as they age.

All of this information backs up the idea that animal protein is worse for bone health than plant protein. The reason for this may be because animal protein has a higher percentage of Sulfur than plant protein, which is changed into Sulfuric acid in our bodies. Studies on fishes that live in lakes that are highly acidic show that those fishes have lower bone densities than the ones in normal lakes.

In conclusion, plant protein is better for our health than animal protein, however; plants alone are not enough for a balanced diet since they lack certain vitamins, so fungi need to be incorporated into vegetarian diets.

 

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