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Dr. Bowers News and ViewsDr. Bowers was recently quoted in an article by Jacqueline Bodnar titled Pregnancy and Your Vegetarian Lifestyle, posted at SheKnows.com
Ms. Bodnar was generous enough to share her July 2004 interview with us:
JB: Is it healthy to follow a vegetarian diet during pregnancy (for mother and
baby)? Any special precautions to take?
Dr. Bowers: Absolutely. The US seems to be protein-obsessed, particularly with the recent rise of the Adkins' diet and the lo-carb craze. The truth is, human beings do not need a diet higher in protein than 2-10% of calories as opposed to 30-40% in lo-carb diets. That remains true in pregnancy and is the percentage found in vegetable sources. Certain vegetables have a higher protein content (Legumes:10%) than others (Carrots: 3%), for example so I do shift my patients to higher relative protein contents during pregnancy. But...high protein diets are actually harmful in pregnancy and contribute to conditions such as Toxemia and kidney problems as a result of so much protein being cleared through the kidneys. The kidneys already work harder during pregnancy and most certainly do NOT need any extra protein to clear. That is one reason why vegetarianism is so compatible with pregnancy.
JB: What are some key nutrients that the mother and growing baby need during this time? What's the best way for a vegetarian to get them?
Dr. Bowers: Unless a pregnant woman starves herself, it is nearly impossible in this country for her to become protein-deficient, even as a vegetarian. US pregnant women, if there are ever dietary deficiencies, are generally lacking in Iron and/or Calcium. However, vegetarianism is probably a better way for pregnant females to gain these nutrients than with meat-consumption. The reasons are complicated but relate to better absorption because of better bio-availability (particularly iron) from vegetable sources (such as spinach, kale, leafy greens, etc.). Another key in iron absorption is acidity. Iron absorbs better in acid environments making combinations of citrus with leafy greens ideal. Try creating your own salad dressings by using lemon juice and olive oil as a base with other seasonings (such as dill, garlic and summer savory) added from there as an aid to iron absorption.
Calcium balance is also better in vegetarians given the exact same calcium intake, simply because the metabolism of proteins wastes calcium, making lower-protein diets better in preserving useable calcium. I do suggest a calcium supplement for all pregnant women (beyond prenatal vitamins) such as citracal or caltrate but only in doses of 400 mg or so. Dairy sources of calcium are fine but, again, are probably less bio-available sources than that found in foods such as broccoli.
The notion of 'complete proteins' refers to achieving the full complement of amino acids that are found in protein. This was popularized in the book, "Diet for a Small Planet" but has been dispelled as a viable concern in vegatarianism as long as calorie intake and reasonable variety are maintained in one's diet. You simply do not need a PhD in Biochemistry in order to eat healthily during pregnancy. A bit of creativity and common sense are all that is required!
JB: Have you heard of a vegetarian pregnant woman craving meat during pregnancy? If so, any reason why?
Dr. Bowers: Yes, I have had patients who crave all sorts of things but meat is a common craving. Oddly enough, this is common only to my carnivorous patients or for those in whom 'meat memory' remains engaged. This relates to the need for additional iron sources in pregnancy. I also see the same basis of craving in my vegetarians who crave salads of all sorts, probably for the reasons mentioned earlier.
JB: What would be an ideal vegetarian diet to follow during pregnancy (calories, necessary nutrients, vitamins)?
Dr. Bowers: I like to see all patients achieve about 1600 calories per day although this too has been overly-doctrinized. The key is to eat only until full, no matter what the basis of one's diet is. Generally, vegetarians will gain less weight in pregnancy, simply because their fat content is lower and because their fiber content allows for more rapid metabolism. Generally, that is a good thing. Iron supplementation beyond prenatal vitamins is recommended only as indicated by blood studies performed routinely by your doctor(Hematocrit/hemoglobin) but may be useful. In my experience, I have not seen a higher need for iron supplementation in pregnant vegetarians. The ideal diet is one of variety, variety, variety. Fruits, grains, and vegetables should be the foundation for all pregnant women and, if followed, would result in fewer women gaining massive amounts of weight that seems to cling with them for the rest of their lives. Pregnancy should NEVER be the doorstep of obesity.
JB: What is a good piece of professional advice you can offer to a vegetarian that gets pregnant?
Dr. Bowers: Relax and don't worry. You are entering the most magical, emotional, amazing period of your life as a woman. As a vegetarian, you are bringing earth's goodness and postive karma with it. There are many reasons to believe that your diet represents the spiritual ideal for pregnancy and for human life in general. Celebrate the changes that are occuring in your body as steps toward the creation of an amazing little person within you.
(posted 10.24.2004Why Vegetarian?
Many have asked, was it difficult becoming a vegetarian? My answer is complicated but boils down to: "When you think about God's plan, how could our loving God have possibly designed mass suffering for the sustenance of the human species? NO!" When we look back upon this period in mankind, I believe we will see it as an incredibly barbaric, horribly indecent chapter in Earth's evolutionary process. I see meat consumption by humans in much the same vein as the crows and wild things that dine on road kill along our nation's highways. Sure, we dress it up, season it, package and process it.... then cook it on our fancy decks gourmet kitchens and call it 'high cuisine'. But the bottom line is that real suffering is contained within each mouthful. The neat and shiny packages we select at our grocers don't show the adrenaline, the fear, and the bad karma that the knowing victims feel as they march towards slaughter. Think about it. It simply has to be there. And if you even remotely believe that 'you are what you eat', how nutritious can a ground up cow---too weak to walk or even stand--as hamburger--really be?
Worst of all, medical education has largely turned a blind eye towards the root cause of disease, instead preferring a 20th century model where reactive and retrospective treatment (such as surgery and medication) remain the cornerstone of our profession. My medical school (one of the finest in the nation) taught me very little about how nutrition impacts the genesis of disease. Heart disease and stroke, for example, were discussed from a nutrition standpoint only in simplistic, passing terms---as though meat and dairy consumption were part of an obligatory pact with life itself---and that we, as physicians needed simply to 'deal with it'. Prevention has been given more credence in recent years but, again, largely with superficial instruction like, 'Don't eat so much' and 'exercise more often'. 3-year old toddlers don't listen to that kind of conviction-lacking advice and neither do adults when it comes to lifestyle. Physicians need to have teeth in their words of prevention. Who is going listen to us as we puff upon our dietary 'cigarettes' and utter non-smoking advice?
The silver lining in the Mad-Cow Disease headline, however, is the scrutiny that will placed increasingly upon our methods of factory farming---not enough scrutiny, mind you---but a start nonetheless. If we do one day look harder, we may see the suffering. We may see the pain. But we, as physicians, can no longer deny the disease implications of meat consumption. Cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's----these are the unintended consequences of that packaged suffering, I believe. That said, we are living longer than ever. Advances in medicine and surgery receive much credit for this improvement---but I know we can do so much better with our quality of life. And THAT is the reason why I am a passionate vegetarian---for life.
In terms of flavor, meat tastes very good----and I was once quite fond of it. Thankfully, meat was a satisfactory means by which our species once survived a very hostile planet. However, now that our survival as a species is no longer in question, we truly do need to become shepherds of our planet. Meat production is a wasteful, energy-inefficient, environmentally-unfriendly process. But, that argument is about as meaningful as saying, 'don't drive your car because the supply of oil is finite'---especially when meat tastes so good! But we need to let it go----kick the habit---let it go.
The real and sustaining argument for vegetarianism is that---it tastes better than meat! And when the chefs of the world recognize the healthful benefits of vegetarianism---promoted by physicians---we will see an absolute flavor explosion---heretofor unimaginable! And I long for that day---one meal, and one patient---at a time. And when that day does come---when our food fully embodies love and life within--we will see, finally---Peace on Earth.
Marci Bowers, MD
25 December 2003
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