I am curious what your general philosophy is surrounding food/diet. Do you view humans as evolving towards a “kinder” diet (vegan) or do you see humans as needing the bodies and products of animals? At this point in my life (I am almost 50), I find myself utterly confused and wearied by the conflicting views and beliefs about food. I get completely overwhelmed by all the nutritional information. Also, I have a daughter who has decided to eat as a vegan. I ask you this because I do so much appreciate your intelligent and holistic perspective.
Hi Debra. Thanks for your question.
Well, I can only give you my personal opinion and perspective on this. As you say, this can be a very contentious and personal issue. When it comes to diet, what people elect to do can often be based on personal religious or philosophical beliefs rather than on health. I cannot comment one way or the other about that. Everyone must follow their conscience.
When it comes to health, however, I believe that the appropriate diet is one that is healthy for the person. If someone cannot tolerate gluten — say, it causes severe diarrhea or other symptoms — then they should not eat gluten until their body is healed from this intolerance. If someone is allergic to nuts, then they should not eat nuts until this allergy is healed.
For the rest of us, however, the answer is: eat as balanced and as clean a diet as possible. That means organic whenever possible, avoidance of all GMOs, an emphasis on vegetables and fruits, meat in moderation, whole grains, and avoidance of all processed foods. In other words, home-cooking! I’m also a strong believer in avoiding all forms of artificial sweeteners (they are literally poisons!) and drinking water as your primary beverage — although tea and limited coffee is okay too for most people.
I believe if America made one dietary change and replaced all soda and juices with water, the obesity and diabetes epidemics, and perhaps more, would be greatly reduced. The second change, which subsumes this one, is that if people learned to cook again and ate only what they could make at home, they’d be a lot healthier.
Another problem with most of our diets is that we eat too much. Eating out in restaurants has gotten us into that habit. If you want to assess your portion sizes, I suggest you follow recommendations of Weight Watchers, who provide excellent advice on that matter. Another habit we have developed, due to restaurant eating and advertising, is eating way too many cookies and other sweets. A little treat now and then is okay, but it should be a special thing, not an every day thing. If you are craving something sweet, eat a piece of fruit.
As far as vegetarianism and veganism, especially for children — frankly, I am not a big fan of this. I say this out of the experience of watching other families and their children. Vegetarianism is doable for some children if their parents really know how to balance their diet and bring them up to eat healthily. But children can be fussy eaters and it’s often hard to given them proper nutrition, regardless of the diet we provide. (One good strategy, however, is to have the whole family eat together for meals — that is, set a good example of everyone eating a healthy, balanced diet at the same table.)
Unfortunately, I have seen children in vegetarian homes become quite obese because they end up living on things like bread, pasta, and cheese. Not a good idea. Veganism has the added difficulty of lacking first-class proteins in the form of eggs and dairy, and possible deficiencies in vitamins like B12. I suppose it is possible to compensate for this with grains, nuts, and beans. But realistically, I personally believe that first-class proteins and nutrients are necessary for children’s bodies, including their brains, to grow and mature properly. For example, I know one boy who insisted on veganism as a child — in fact, he grew up to be an animal activist, so that was truly his life passion and I respect that. However, as a teen and young man, he was gaunt and weak, when he should have been at the peak of his vigor.
Another problem with vegan and vegetarian diets is a tendency to eat a lot of soy products as meat and dairy substitutes. Unfortunately, almost all soy is now GMO. In addition, there are many people who now believe that soy is not a healthy food in large quantities because of its estrogenic properties. Even the Japanese eat soy mostly in fermented form and in smaller quantities.
In other words, there may be some families who can make veganism (or vegetarianism) work, but in most cases, I think it’s too risky to play around with veganism for children. Our children can’t get a redo on their childhood growth. If children want to become vegan, they can do so as adults. If they insist, let them simply be vegetarian as they grow up and demonstrate their ability to properly manage their diet, growth, and health.
Finally, you don’t say how old your daughter is. If she is pregnant, I believe that the same holds true for pregnant women as for children. We can hold true to our beliefs and take what comes — for our own bodies. A pregnant woman, however, needs to think of the life growing within her. I believe she needs more balanced nutrition than a vegan, and perhaps even a vegetarian, diet can provide.
My two cents! I know that many will disagree! While our minds and souls may be evolving away from eating animal-based foods, I don’t think our bodies have quite done so yet.