The Vegetarian Dietary Lifestyle
For more than 125 years, Seventh-day Adventists have advocated a vegetarian diet. This is consistent with the belief in the wholistic nature of man and that whatever is done should be to the honor and glory of God. Our Creator has provided a plan that can yield a healthy, vibrant life. The vegetarian diet should be part of this healthy lifestyle and numerous scientific studies now confirm that this can lead to significant health benefits with greater length and quality of life.
The entire world is recognizing the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Much of this understanding has come from studies showing that SDA's practicing a vegetarian lifestyle can live longer and healthier.
Where do meat analogs fit in?
Man's original diet was vegetarian, consisting of "herb bearing seed" and "fruit yielding seed". The SDA church early recognized that a vegetarian diet was superior to one that contained meat and these principles of diet and health were recognized and emphasized by Ellen G. White. Although it was recognized that the meatless diet could provide adequate nutrition, Mrs. White also encouraged that foods to take the place of meat be made available and that these could help make the transition to a meatless diet. Out of this background came the development of commercially produced meat substitutes primarily prepared from nuts, grains, and vegetable proteins. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, Loma Linda Foods, Worthington Foods, Sanitarium Health Food Company and many other companies around the world began to provide innovative products that could be used in place of meat in the vegetarian diet.
Why choose meat alternatives?
There are a variety of reasons for choosing alternatives to meat: health benefits, ecological benefits, philosophical reasons, convenience, and taste. Today, the health benefits are a major reason why many people are eliminating or reducing meat in their diets. Fat and cholesterol rank as the top concerns of consumers, and they are eating less red meat and more fruits and vegetables. Meat analogs can be part of this healthy diet because they provide a source of vegetable protein, vitamins, and minerals without the high saturated fat and cholesterol of animal products.
Concern about the environment has also created renewed interest in vegetable protein foods in the world. It is recognized that five to ten times more protein can be produced per acre of land when it is consumed as vegetable protein instead of being converted inefficiently into animal protein and meat. The savings in water and other resources are also significant. Many individuals in the world also have eliminated meat from their diets because they have religious or philosophical objections to meat consumption. Finally, meat analogs are often chosen because they provide a convenient and good-tasting addition to daily meals. For all of these reasons, the trend towards consumption of less meat, and greater interest in vegetarian foods and meat analogs is growing significantly.
How about their nutritional quality?
Meat analogs can be a nutritious source of vegetable protein and add variety and good nutrition to the vegetarian diet. Most commercial products have nutrition information on their product labels, but the following discussion provides general information on their nutritional quality:
Meat analogs contain varied sources of vegetable protein such as soy and wheat, and depending on the product, may also include egg whites or dairy protein as additional sources of protein. A vegetarian diet should include a wide variety of foods, and the inclusion of meat analogs in the diet helps to provide multiple sources of protein to insure a balance of essential amino acids. The diets of most vegetarians usually contain an adequate variety of proteins.
Scientific studies have confirmed the adequacy of plant proteins in the human diet. A variety of plant proteins from legumes, grains, nuts, and vegetables will provide adequate quantity and quality of protein in the vegetarian diet. Meat analogs are a convenient way to add additional sources of plant protein to the vegetarian diet.
Meat analogs do not contain animal fat and therefore are low in saturated fat and cholesterol free. They are also typically lower in total fat and calories when compared to the meat counterparts. Meat analogs contain only vegetable oils, principally corn oil and soy oil, which are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and are cholesterol-free unlike animal fat, which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Recently, the American Heart Association, the Surgeon General, and the National Academy of Sciences have recommended that a daily diet contain less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat and less than 30 percent of total calories from fat. The General Conference Nutrition Council recommends that 20 to 30 percent of calories come from fat for optimal health. Occasional use of higher fat foods such as olives, nuts and the higher fat analogs is allowable as long as the fat in the total diet is within the above range. Because there is a wide range of products available, the nutritional labeling for commercial meat analogs and other foods should be consulted, to guide in food choices.
Vitamin and Minerals
Commercial meat analog products are typically fortified with additional vitamins and minerals that are usually found in meat. These may include Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Niacin, and Iron. Sodium in commercial products come from the ingredients and flavorings used, and by reading the labels, appropriate products can be selected.
Although lacto-ovo vegetarians consume adequate amounts of biologically active Vitamin B12, most, if not all, total vegetarians should take a source of Vitamin B12, and for this reason meat analogs are fortified with this vitamin. Therefore, the General Conference Nutrition Council supports the recommendations of the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization Science and Nutrition Board, the National Academy of Science Food and Nutrition Board, the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association. The recommended dietary allowances for Vitamin B12 is 3 mcg per day. The most common biologically active form of Vitamin B12 is cobalamin.
What is recommended?
The General Conference Nutrition Council recommends a vegetarian diet as part of a healthy lifestyle. Whether you want to eliminate all animal products, are practicing a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, or are trying to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, meat analogs can help to provide a variety of protein(s) in the diet, are low in saturated fat compared to their meat counterparts, are cholesterol free, and provide additional vitamins and minerals. When combined with increased use of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and (optionally) low fat dairy products, meat analogs can add taste, convenience, and variety to the vegetarian diet.