Vegan & Vegetarianism: Helpful or Hurtful + Thai-Style Pork Stew {Crock Pot}

Happy Hump Day! Or, Happy Half-Way to Friday Day! 😀

I wanted to start off with a post on the up & coming trend of vegetarianism and veganism. While I understand, respect, and in many cases agree with the reasons people opt to omit meat and animal products from their diet, I do feel many people make this change in diet without understanding the very severe potential consequences of their food choices.

The blogosphere often likes to reference books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The China Study to support vegetarian and vegan diets. I own these books, I’ve read these books, and I agree with many points in these books. However, they strongly represent only one side of this nutritional debate.

I am in absolute agreement that a diet laden with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer when compared to a traditional omnivore diet which includes meat. More specifically, the plentiful amounts of red meat consumed in the average American diet. And while I am 100% agreement that a lower meat consumption has its benefits, I think there should be more emphasis on types and cuts of meat, as well as cooking methods to help reduce saturated and trans fat. But it is fact that it is nearly impossible to intake sufficient vitamins, such as Vitamin B12, in a vegetarian or vegan diet without supplementation. And over time, B12 deficiency leads to anemia.

Additionally, iron, particularly high biological value proteins such as meat, poultry, and fish, which are readily absorbed, are not present in a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are non-heme (plant) sources of iron, however they are not as well-absorbed and require the assistance of vitamin C. Here is where complimentary proteins (amino acids) come into play — a tactic for preventing anemia in vegetarian and vegan individuals. Without a concerted effort to pair proteins, iron-deficiency often occurs.

As for vegan and dairy-free diets that omit animal products, there are other (additional) nutritional concerns. It is estimated that 2/3rds of the American population does not meet calcium or vitamin D needs. The best sources of both calcium and vitamin D are found in dairy and meat, offering 2-4x the amount of calcium and vitamin D than is found in plant sources.

Vitamin D is what I call the “Hollywood Vitamin” — everyone is looking to intake more vitamin D. Low levels are potentially linked hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, tuberculosis, inflammatory conditions, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and increased mortality rates. And most of us know, insufficient vitamin D and calcium lead to decreased bone density and over time, osteopenia and osteoporosis.

In summary, I am not inherently opposed to vegetarian or vegan diets but I am a firm believer that our bodies are best fed through the nutrients available in our food supply. I, personally, trust and believe that there is a purpose and role for every food group, in moderation. Just like with weight loss, it is always a danger, in my eyes, to remove entire food groups from the diet. If you choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, I urge you to do so under the supervision of a physician and have regular blood work. I also encourage you to learn about the potential draw-backs to a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle before jumping right in.

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On a completely unrelated note…dinner! Meat!

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Thai-Style Pork Stew adapted from Cooking Light, as seen on I Made Dinner

2 pounds boneless pork loin roast, trimmed, cut into 4 pieces
2 cups (1 x 1/4-inch) julienne-cut red bell pepper (I used 1 red and 1 green)
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
2 Tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter

Remaining ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 Tbsp 1/4 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

Directions:

To prepare stew, trim fat from pork. Place pork and next 5 ingredients (pork through garlic) in an electric slow cooker. Cover with lid, and cook on low-heat setting for 8+ hours. Remove pork from slow cooker, and coarsely chop/shred. Add peanut butter to liquid in slow cooker; stir well. Stir in pork.

Serve stew over hot rice*. Top each serving with 3/4 tablespoon of peanuts and a pinch of scallions; serve with lime wedge. Serves 6.

*Rice not accounted for in nutritional information

Nutrition Information (per serving): 337 calories; 17.2 g. fat; 91 mg. cholesterol; 654 mg. sodium; 8 g. carbohydrate; 2.7 g. fiber; 38.3 g. protein

Result: This was good…not incredible, but very good. Mr. Prevention said, “it grew on him…and he really liked the peanuts and lime on top.” I enjoyed the simplicity and the flavor of the peanut butter and lime. I would give it a B rating, Mr. Prevention agrees. 🙂 Enjoy!

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Question: Are there any food groups you avoid or limit?

I think I’ve been eating a lot more meat in these cooler months. And I would like to see more fish in my diet…that has been slacking!

Lots of love,

Share With Your Friends!

38 Comments

  1. February 9, 2011 / 7:34 am

    Great post on vegetarianism and vegan diets. I have yet to read the China Study. I did however read the Omnivores Dilemma and thought he made some solid points. I honestly don’t eat much meat and that is more so due to the animal cruelty (I did do my internship with Eric S. Nicole ha). I do not supplement with B12 which may be something to think about, however I am also not that strict about it.
    The recipe looks good too. I saved it so we will see 🙂

  2. February 9, 2011 / 7:38 am

    Having tried a vegetarian diet for a stint, I can say that you have to be extremely diligent in choosing foods that give you enough nutrition. If you have the ethical backing for becoming a vegetarian, it’s a lot easier. However, if you try it for “weight loss” reasons, you may soon discover that chocolate, cheese and Cheetos are “vegetarian” and it kinda defeats the purpose of getting healthier. Or maybe that’s just me…ehem. 😉

    The pork stew looks great, Nicole! I’ve been slacking in the fish dept., too!

  3. February 9, 2011 / 7:45 am

    In the last 6 months or so I have become much more aware of these dietary choices than I ever have been before due to some medical issues that prevented me from eating meat and dairy (among other things). As long as you talk with your doctor and do your research (aka: be smart about it) I think this type of diet is great. It certainly helped me handle my issues and introduced me to a lot of foods and cooking techniques that I wasn’t aware of before (hello dairy free ice cream! SO good!). I still avoid red meat completely, sticking to chicken and fish, and also leave out dairy, caffiene, and anything with a large amount of sugar.

  4. February 9, 2011 / 7:54 am

    Great post-I try and stay neutral on this topic as its so ridic controversial-I say to each their own:)

  5. February 9, 2011 / 8:02 am

    I totally see how you’d be eating more meat in the winter months- it seems like it’s almost always paired with traditional comfort foods…

    I go through phases with cheese. I’ll not eat it for weeks and then I seem to welcome it back into my diet with open arms!

  6. Holly
    February 9, 2011 / 8:39 am

    I definitely have decreased my meat intake (since seeing “Food Inc.” and realizing I can’t always afford organic meat!), but could NEVER completely ban it from my diet. I’m slightly anemic even THOUGH I take multi-vitamins….so I’m constantly working on trying to fit in foods that will raise my iron level – I do think I need to eat more red meat, maybe? For me, personally, I would have such a hard time going without dairy, in particular….and osteoporosis runs in my family, so I”m trying to be proactive!

  7. February 9, 2011 / 8:57 am

    Like you always say – everything in moderation. Personally I just don’t know how people can live without the wonder of meat and dairy (as I finished off my pint of milk today 🙂 ). But whatever floats your boat!

  8. February 9, 2011 / 9:01 am

    Yeah, I definitely agree that going vegetarian or, especially, vegan just willy-nilly is just inviting disaster. You have to do your research and really understand your specific nutritional needs…of course, you could say that for meat-eaters too! Honestly, I think ALL of us, meat-eater or not, could stand to do a little nutritional research and diet analysis! 🙂

  9. February 9, 2011 / 9:02 am

    I eat primarily vegan for ethical reasons. After reading about the treatment of animals and even the treatment of slaughterhouse workers I was completely turned off from eating meat/eggs/dairy. I still do on occasion but I try to avoid using these ingredients in my cooking and baking.

    WRT the calcium/Vitamin D deficiencies, what are your thoughts on the idea that meat and dairy are acidic and draw calcium out of the bones causing osteoporosis in later life? I’ve read that Americans consume the most dairy yet have highest rates of osteoporosis.

  10. February 9, 2011 / 9:36 am

    AMEN SISTER! So glad you posted this. And let’s not forget the fact that many vegans and vegetarians fail to get the recommended amounts of EPA.DHA (which is almost impossible to get from flax and the ever-so-popular CHIA seed). The bottom line is that most people need to talk to a dietitian or other nutrition professional before diving into veganism or vegetarianism, and many bloggers (I won’t name names…..) need to read other books that show the other side of the story. So many bloggers are focused on one-side, and ignoring the n other, but you just can’t do that!

  11. February 9, 2011 / 9:56 am

    I’ve actually been transitioning to a vegetarian diet BECAUSE of health reasons–my gallbladder responds negatively to meat. I’m also just not enjoying meat very much anymore. Ethically, it’s also becoming a struggle. I’m not completely set on it yet and have (very slowly) started reading “Becoming Vegetarian” (written by two RDs). I want to make sure I do it correctly in order to get all my nutritional needs. I’ve already talked to my doctor who has made recommendations. This was certainly an interesting post. What has surprised me the most (not about you) is how uncomfortable and negative people are about vegetarianism.

  12. February 9, 2011 / 10:07 am

    I omit meat because I feel better both physically and psychologically, and I also mainly omit dairy (although not entirely) because I tend to feel my best and most energized on a vegan diet. I’ve never had any trouble with my calcium or iron intakes (I’ve been blood tested multiple times on the latter) because so many other foods are adequate sources. For instance, dark leafy greens, healthy in all other aspects as well, are good sources of both calcium and iron. I agree that it takes some conscious effort to eat a balanced, healthful vegetarian/vegan diet, but isn’t that any diet? I certainly do denounce anyone for eating meat. To each is his own. But I undoubtedly believe that a balanced vegetarian diet is the most healthful, to both the body and the environment. Also, I’ve read a lot about milk not always being the best source of calcium because of its high protein content, which is said to block absorption of calcium. I’m not sure what your thoughts are on that? I feel like we’ve been brainwashed. A lot. But I think choosing the right diet is definitely an individual decision that’s meant to be up to the individual person.

  13. Mathea
    February 9, 2011 / 10:37 am

    I have been working to reduce my intake of red meat since I read The Pink Ribbon Diet last year. While not written about vegetarianism, it makes several points about disease risk and made me realize that a middle ground- less meat, more vegetables/fruit- is probably the best for me.

  14. February 9, 2011 / 10:43 am

    I love that you posted about the other side of vegetarianism/veganism. I definitely believe many people jump into them as a “diet” and don’t understand the nutritional background. Wonderful post!

  15. February 9, 2011 / 10:45 am

    I loved this post. I’ve dabbled with being a vegetarian but it didn’t work well for me at all. I realized that I definitely need some meat in my life!

  16. February 9, 2011 / 11:35 am

    I think the important point is to make well-informed choices about what we eat and also to think about why we eat what we eat. I agree that jumping into a new way of eating without the necessary (and reliable) research can be very dangerous. Personally, we have decreased our meat as well as dairy consumption a lot over the last few years as we feel that it’s better for our health as well as the environment. We still eat some meat and chicken, but only once or twice a week, and only in small portions. By eating a lot less meat and eating more grains and beans (which are cheap), I’m able to only buy grass-fed beef and organic chicken. We also eat wild fish a few times per week as well as quite a few egg whites. We also eat some Greek yogurt, but not as much as before.

    For me, making changes slowly works best. I’m leaning towards maybe not eating any meat at one point, but I’m taking it very, very slowly.

  17. February 9, 2011 / 11:40 am

    I completely agree that people need to educate themselves before making any decisions about major diet changes. A friend of mine decided to become vegetarian (I still dont know her reasoning) without doing any research first. She wound up having to go to the doctor and get a bunch of supplements because all her hair was falling out. People dont understand its not as simple as just cutting out meat. Theres so much more to it than that.

    I’ve actually been thinking of going to the doctor for bloodwork just because. I dont eat much meat or dairy (other than cheese) in general, and I never have. I would like to be sure Im getting enough nutrients into my body.

  18. February 9, 2011 / 11:44 am

    Thank you for posting this! It is great to hear from another RD on this issue. I am reading The China Study now and it is VERY interesting to say the least. It has me considering greatly reducing my animal product consumption. However, I am also finding some holes in the research presented in the book.

  19. February 9, 2011 / 11:59 am

    Great post, Nicole, and I absolutely agree about moderation being best! Thanks for the time you put into this post, I really learned a lot!

    Your stew looks seriously wonderful, love those thai flavors in there!

  20. February 9, 2011 / 1:22 pm

    Great post Nicole! 🙂

    I agree that most people do not have the knowledge base to make a safe transition to the veg and vegan lifestyle. They just assume that it’s healthier because their friend has done it or a celebrity (ahem – Oprah :))

    P.S. Love your recipes!

  21. Jane
    February 9, 2011 / 1:40 pm

    Great post. This is off subject, but I would love to know your thoughts on “Food Combining”. I am just now reading about it, and find it very interesting. I also find it difficult to apply “food combining” to my every day. Thanks.

  22. February 9, 2011 / 2:20 pm

    Great post Nicole. Although I am not an RD, I can tell you, I have seen up close the consequences of following a vegan or vegetarian diet without supervision…as one of my husbands associates had his whole family on one…including his children, which run an even greater risk for sever problems when done without proper knowledge and supervision. These kids, as they became young adults, had severe mental health issues, enough that they needed to be hospitalized…and it was determined they had hormonal imbalances due to inadequate nutrition all because of their diets which included no meat. Very dangerous. Well, that’s my two cents to the story….

    I don’t avoid any food groups. I do avoid fried foods. I do limit things like chocolate and sweets…but live without them…NO WAY! haha

  23. February 9, 2011 / 4:34 pm

    I think the only food that I have completely omitted is milk (bc I honestly never really enjoyed drinking it) and i’ve cut way back on yogurt (bc the kind I WANT to buy is PRICEY!) but I cannot give up any one food group. Like you, I believe in moderation, I just think Americans have a tough time understanding what that means! I have parents that eat meat with just about every meal. They don’t know HOW to cook with out meat. I think veganism is chosen for the wrong reasons by MOST individuals. I think there needs to be a lot more education on the topic and explanation for reasons why veganism is chosen. I think vegetarianism is a much more reasonable lifestyle but you’re right, most people following this type of diet end up eating a lot of processed foods and lack variety or proper pairing. I’m glad you spoke up to address this issue because you’re right, a lot of vegan talk is floating around the blogosphere. Oh these trends. I’m sure most will find it is not the lifestyle for them, I just think a lot of bloggers idolize other bloggers. You have to do what you feel is best for you and look at EVERY perspective! Too much one-sided ness. I guess that’s just us being dietitians though. There is no perfect eater!

  24. February 9, 2011 / 5:51 pm

    totally agree with you re: getting your labs check! so important to remind my doctor at my physical to also check my b12 and iron!

  25. February 9, 2011 / 6:02 pm

    Thank you for this informative post. It’s nice to hear this, I am definitely not interested in becoming a vegetarian or vegan. I love vegetables, fruits, whole grains etc but I also love dairy and meat. I do try to buy to make better decisions when it comes to the animal products I purchase in order to make sure my family it getting the best.

  26. February 9, 2011 / 6:54 pm

    Your thoughts on this come at the perfect time! The reason I decided to go 90% vegan was because I too don’t really agree with eliminating animals completely. However, I do think more people should include more plant based foods in the diet.

  27. February 9, 2011 / 10:04 pm

    Great post! I recently watched a documentary called Earthlings that broke my heart. The animal cruelty (as well as environmental reasons) is the main reason I try to limit animal proteins. Now saying this, I do still will eat animal proteins at times. I think it is good if people cut back on animal proteins but there really isn’t a need to eliminate it.

  28. February 9, 2011 / 11:54 pm

    Great post (as always) I’ve sent it to a couple of friends who can REALLY use the info. Thanks again for all your wise words, have a great week.

  29. Amy
    February 10, 2011 / 12:12 am

    This post makes me quite upset and possibly offended. Just for starters, vegetarians and vegans have been around for millenia. It is not an “up and coming trend” spurred on by media or certain influential authors. And I feel you are narrow-mindedly underestimating the power of plant based diets to provide complete nutrition – I have seen far more expert opinions endorsing vegetarian and of course with more careful knowledge and planning) vegan diets as being complete. I choose to eat sustainably, compassionately, and mindfully, and feel your sentiment relegates this to some sub-par standard. I am so disappointed too because I had really enjoyed your blog up until now.

    • Nicole
      Author
      February 10, 2011 / 6:22 am

      Amy, I am sorry you feel that way. I believe we are all partial to the diets and lifestyles we choose. With that said, I do feel dietitians have the unique education and experience to best represent both sides of nutritional debates. If you re-read the post, I highly endorse and believe best a diet rich in plant-based foods. And it is fact that veganism and vegetarianism is on the rise. With that being said, these individuals need to 1) educate and 2) eat mindfully, just as you said. Unfortunately, many individuals overhauling their diet with good intentions do not know enough about food and their nutrients to make the optimal decisions, but I am so glad that you do. Thank you for your comment, and I do hope you continue reading. If not, I understand. We are all entitled to our own opinions. Thanks for reading.

      Nicole

      • Amy
        February 10, 2011 / 7:51 pm

        Hi Nicole – Thank you so much for replying! I really appreciate your thoughtful response and the grace with which you handled a negative post. In retrospect, I think I judged this too harshly (yes, I was quite tired and cranky last night, and no, this is not really a good excuse.) I am not sure I agree with everything you wrote 100%, but for the most part your post IS balanced and you do offer quite practical and helpful information. In claiming offense I now realize I sound exactly like one of those uber-defensive, holier-than-thou vegetarians (believe it or not, I really am NOT one!) to whom I am generally compelled to shout “shut up!” Anyway – just wanted to let you know that of course I will still subscribe to your blog – I get a lot out of it (after I make mentally make non-meat substitutions in some of your recipes…) You have a very impressive, tireless life and all your posts are quite entertaining and educational. Thanks again. 🙂
        -Amy

  30. February 10, 2011 / 10:15 am

    I’m just getting to this now, but it’s a really interesting post. I’ve always eaten meat and I’ve firmly believed that an animal protein-based diet is ideal for me. But now that I’m sick, I’m considering going on a vegan diet to see if it helps. I guess for me it’s less about weight loss, ethical reasons (sorry), or anything. It’s that I’ve gotten to the point where I’d go on a dog food diet if I thought maybe it could help the pain. 🙂

    Also, I learned something interesting about vegan diets and diabetes, which I never would have guessed. Apparently there’s research that shows people with diabetes can achieve lower blood glucose levels on a vegan diet than the conventional, medium-carb diet or a low-carb diet. It surprised me since vegan diets get something like 75 percent of calories from carbs.

  31. February 10, 2011 / 12:34 pm

    I am a vegetarian, but I have been for years, mostly because I never liked the taste. I was too young to even know or understand those other reasons, so they never even applied to me. Those helped me later to know I did make the right decision, but it was never why. As a kid, vegetarian meant cheese pizza 5 nights a week…far from healthy. My mom eventually made me read some books and eat vegetables. This is also a slippery slope for people looking to use this as a way to stay thin. Not everyone who is a vegetarian has an eating disorder, and that is not what I am implying, but it makes a logical and acceptable way for someone to cut foods out without people asking too many questions about their eating habits or weight. It can be dangerous when used as a “cure all” for weight problems. It can have it’s benefits, but only if it is the right choice. If you like chicken, you do not have to give it up forever just to get the benefits of eating a vegetarian diet. I think this is headed to a fad that can ultimately bring a loss of credibility to an area where so many RDs and professionals, and vegetarians have worked hard to legitimatize as a true, healthy diet.

  32. February 10, 2011 / 4:59 pm

    This was a very informative post. I do agree that it’s becoming trendy, and maybe for all the wrong reasons and neither of these diets should be used for weight loss as the primary goal. There are many benefits to vegetarian and vegan diets and it’s best to be under medical supervision (either western or eastern) to determin what works best for each individual. I’m doing ‘vegan for a week’ and I’m not sure that I’ll maintain it, but I am learning a lot about my food intake and where it comes from.

  33. February 10, 2011 / 7:35 pm

    Education is the path through which everyone should approach their diet. It is notable, however, the way that each individual has their own dietary needs. I’ve been a vegetarian and occasional vegan for 16 years–over half my life–and have thrived on it. I get my blood checked on a regular basis and it’s only in the past year that I’ve had any problems with slight iron-deficiency anemia. I was surprised how many people associate vegetarianism with ill health simply because I’ve always done so well.

    However, I do have friends who have tried a meat-free diet and the response from their body was overwhelming: go back to eating meat, please. As I said, diets work on an individual basis.

    What bothers me is the politics of government-issued nutritional guidelines–the lobbyists from the big meat and dairy industries, ensuring that their products are included in excess in the Standard American Diet.

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