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It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to askdrgourmet@drgourmet.com and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

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Ask Dr. Gourmet



Am I healthier than my friend who eats meat?

I am a vegetarian, but I still eat fish. From eating fish do I still get all the nutrients I need as I would if I ate red meat? I also eat a fair amount of beans, milk, soy milk, eggs and cheese. As a matter of fact I had two vegetable and cheese omelets last night. My friend is getting on my case about being a vegetarian and telling me that I will die before he does because of my diet. He said I should switch back if I am just eating junk food, but I was only eating junk food for a day, when I usually eat healthy, and he eats twinkies everyday. I also take a one a day multivitamin everyday. Am I healthier than my friend who eats meat, or is he healthier than me? Also, do multivitamins even work at all? Are they helping?

[Note: This message was received from an email address that appears to be associated with students at a university. Dr. Harlan has responded with that in mind.]

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Filets of salmon being roasted

I will respond to each of your questions one at at time.

> I am a vegetarian, but I still eat fish. From eating fish do I
> still get all the nutrients I need as I would if I ate red meat?

The fish is clearly healthier for you and you are getting all of the nutrients in the fish that you would from eating red meat. There's plenty of iron in fish, for instance and in fact seafood often has more iron than red meat. Fish has far less saturated fat and the fats are of the type that has been shown to prevent heart disease and stroke. Eating 3 servings of a fatty fish like tuna, salmon or halbut has been shown to reduce the risk of sudden death by 50%.

> I also eat a fair amount of beans, milk, soy milk, eggs and
> cheese. As a matter of fact I had two vegetable and cheese
> omelets last night.

Beans are legumes and are exceptionally good for you. Soy is a legume as well. There is research showing that eating four servings of legumes a week can reduce the risk of heart disease by more than 20%. Eating milk and cheese in moderation is a good idea. Dairy products are high in calcium. Choose lower fat dairy products like 1% milk, reduced fat cheeses and non-fat yogurts. Eggs are good for you and eating them 3 times a week or so is fine.

> My friend is getting on my case about being a vegetarian and
> telling me that I will die before he does because of my diet.

He is wrong.

> He said I should switch back if I am just eating junk food, but I
> was only eating junk food for a day, when I usually eat healthy,
> and he eats twinkies everyday.

Eating junk food every now and then is OK. It's when it is a daily part of a person's diet that it causes health problems. Stick to your healthy diet and splurge every now and then. Leave the twinkies to your misinformed friend.

> I also take a one a day multivitamin everyday. Am I healthier
> than my friend who eats meat, or is he healthier than me? Also,
> do multivitamins even work at all? Are they helping?

There is some evidence that taking a multivitamin every day is beneficial. It is especially true for young women of child bearing age. Multivitamins have 400 micrograms of folic acid (folate) and this has been proven essential at preventing birth defects such as spina bifida. Every female of child bearing age (whether using contraception or not) should be taking at least one multivitamin per day. Many young women need iron supplements as well.

There are many studies to support that a vegetarian diet is very healthy and that vegetarians appear to live longer than those on a typical western diet. Likewise, eating fish is very healthy. It sounds like you have taken good control of your diet at a time when it is really important. Be proud of this.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet