DEAR DR. BLONZ: After my last health exam, I've decided to make the move to a vegetarian diet. I currently eat pretty well, having meat no more than a few times a week and fish at least once. I have heard many things concerning the lack of protein and of one kind of vitamin B in typical vegetarian diets. Do these concerns have any validity? Should I be taking a certain supplement in addition to my multivitamin? -- H.M., San Diego
DEAR H.M.: Health statistics for groups of vegetarians include lower rates of heart disease, obesity, obesity-related diabetes, colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis, kidney stones, gallstones and diverticular disease. Though some gains are connected to the lifestyle that's frequently adopted along with the new eating habits, these findings are certainly impressive.
Protein is rarely a problem for vegetarians eating a varied diet. However, if you are going to adopt a vegan diet -- that is, one with no animal products at all (no meat, fish, dairy or eggs) -- sources of certain essential nutrients will be harder to find. These nutrients include calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 (the "B" you were referring to), vitamin D and riboflavin. You can get all of these nutrients in foods, but if you want a supplement for added insurance, these nutrients are the ones to look for. Again, if you continue to eat dairy and eggs, this is less of an issue.
In general, becoming a successful vegetarian means learning which foods are required for a complete diet. These food selections and combinations become very important -- especially with children and pregnant or lactating women. There are resources you can consult for more specific information. Nutritiondata.com provides a convenient nutrition breakdown of many foods, and it can suggest those that are rich sources of specific nutrients. Other online resources include the Berkeley Wellness Letter, tinyurl.com/le7r7l9, and the National Institute of Health MedlinePlus page: tinyurl.com/kwm6j3.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Please don't be offended, but I am curious about where you went to school and what you studied. You are called a nutritionist, but many people use this title. Do you have a degree in nutrition? Are you a registered dietitian? -- S.S., Phoeniz
DEAR S.S.: It's never a problem to answer these questions. You are correct that many call themselves nutritionists; unfortunately, there is little regulation associated with the term's use. It is definitely "buyer beware" when seeking advice.
I did my undergraduate study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where I studied psychology, and my graduate degrees are from the University of California at Davis. I earned a master's degree in nutrition, working on a problem involved with food toxicology. My doctorate was also in nutrition, and I did research on the role of insulin in the development of obesity. I am not a registered dietitian. There is a brief bio online at blonz.com/bio.htm.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.