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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



Q: I have several questions about diet....

Do you have patients who suffer from health problems due to their diet?
What kind of problems could develop from an unhealthy diet?
Do you have patients who suffer from health problems due to a vegetarian diet?
What kind of problems could develop from an all-vegetarian diet?
Do you support the idea of a non-animal diet?
Are there illnesses that can be cured by eating the right nutrients?
Do you encourage children to be vegetarian too?
Do vegetarians generally live longer?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Here are the answers to your questions.

Do you have patients who suffer from health problems due to their diet?

Yes, of course. I would say that at least 50% of my patients have significant health problems from their diet and / or weight problems.

What kind of problems could develop from an unhealthy diet?

Almost everything -- diabetes (Type 2 as well as exacerbation of Type 1), coronary atherosclerotic heart disease, leg problems (such as chronic edema), arthritis, lung problems, gastroesophageal reflux, etc.. These are just the physical problems. There are emotional issues that are tied up in being overweight as well.

Do you have patients who suffer from health problems due to a vegetarian diet?

No. There are few vegetarians in mainstream America (I practice in the country) and those that are usually are looking for a healthier diet.

What kind of problems could develop from an all-vegetarian diet?

The main problem that can develop is that you may not get all of the essential amino acids in your diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and your body can make some amino acids but there are eight that have to come from foods that you eat. Meat based protein sources have a complete set of amino acids but plant sources don't.

So, eating a complete vegetarian diet requires some research so that you can properly combine foods for a complete set of amino acids (eating beans and rice together for example). Some vegetarians eat eggs and this is an animal protein as are dairy products like milk and cheese.

Strict Vegans don't eat any meat product at all and as such have to be careful with their diet in getting a complete set of amino acids. Other than the issue of complete proteins there is nothing wrong with a diet that doesn't contain meat. There is a great deal right about it in that these diets are usually lower in saturated fat.

Careful scrutiny of a vegetarian or vegan recipe is important, however. Many recipes are just as high in fat and calories as those that contain meat.

Do you support the idea of a non-animal diet?

Sure!

Are there illnesses that can be cured by eating the right nutrients?

There is no proof that I am aware of that eating any particular nutrient can cure illness.

Certainly it has been proven that a diet that is very low in fat along with exercise and stress reduction can reverse atherosclerotic heart disease. There is some evidence that eating a healthier diet (low in fat) may prevent some cancers. There is very good evidence that eating a lower salt diet along with more fruits and vegetables and less animal protein can lower blood pressure. Clearly with problems like diabetes careful control of concentrated sugars and lower fats combined with a weight reduction diet can help to lower blood sugars to the point that one doesn't need insulin or pills.

Do you encourage children to be vegetarian too?

I don't have children in my practice and I am not a pediatrician. Certainly there is nothing wrong with raising a child as a vegetarian as long as you have enough information about the different types and choose foods wisely.

Do vegetarians generally live longer?

I don't know of clear evidence of this.

Thanks for writing.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet