On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Reintroducing Meat Not a Problem

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Our daughter has eaten mostly vegetarian throughout her teens. She is not a vegan -- she eats seafood and dairy -- and she has been happy and healthy with her diet. Now comes an ideal opportunity to study in Chile, a country not known for its vegetarian proclivities. She will live and work in a rural area, and will need to conform to the normal dietary patterns of her host family.

Is there a "best" way to reintroduce meats such as chicken, beef and pork into a body that hasn't been exposed to them in years? We are concerned that initially she will be unable to digest this food, and it may leave her feeling quite sick. We'd like her to adjust her diet before she leaves home. Do you have any idea how long we should allow for her system to readjust to meat? Should we supplement her diet with protease enzymes? If so, for how long? Is there any possibility that her genes for producing proteases are permanently turned off?

Our daughter is quite enthusiastic about this opportunity and will do whatever it takes. We've got a few months until she leaves, and are most anxious for her transition to be as comfortable as possible. Any advice you can give us would be most appreciated. -- S.T., Seattle

DEAR S.T.: You need to give the human body a bit more credit. I do not believe that your daughter will have much difficulty making the transition -- at least not from a physiological standpoint. If she has been consuming fish and dairy products, or any food containing protein, she has already been using the relevant digestive "machinery." This includes the acid environment in the stomach and the protein-digesting enzymes needed for meats. There is no basis to believe that enzyme supplements would provide any advantage. She may get exposed to some novel fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs, and caution may be needed with public water in some areas, but it is unlikely that your daughter will have much difficulty digesting the meat in her diet, or that it will make her sick.

Chileans do eat meat, but there is a great variety of foods to sample. The basic Chilean diet focuses on bread, beans, potatoes and meat, but there is a long coastline and fish are plentiful in many cities. There are many soups and stews that combine corn, meat or chicken, and a variety of vegetables. Much will depend on the family your daughter lives with, but it is very likely that they will be interested in helping her feel at home.

Your daughter's attitude seems totally appropriate and on target. You could always slowly reintroduce meat as a condiment, say as a part of a sauce, to help her out. Then, over time, gradually have more meat-centered meals. Have her chew her food thoroughly and drink appropriate fluids. I expect her time in Chile will be a positive and enriching experience that will last a lifetime.

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