It’s a question many are contemplating these days. As children and
grandchildren announce they are vegan (no animal products whatsoever)
or vegetarian (no meat, but dairy and eggs are allowed) or hybrids like
pescatarian (fish is allowed) and even Paleo (don’t ask), one has
to wonder: Is eating less meat a good thing?
“Absolutely, yes,” Torrance Memorial Physician Network primary
care doctor Sarwat Mahmud, MD, says emphatically. “Several observational
studies have found plant-based or vegetarian diets are associated with
lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.”
Dr. Mahmud talks to her patients often about nutrition. “Especially
for those conditions, unless nutrition can be incorporated with medical
treatment, we don’t have a plan and we don’t have much of
a chance of healing people.”
But what about something in between strict vegetarianism and being a full-blown
carnivore? It’s what some call a “flexitarian” diet.
“I urge patients toward a Mediterranean diet, which is a diet rich
in nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans,”
says Dr. Mahmud. Just Google the words “Mediterranean diet,”
and you will find lots of information and eating plans. “Olive oil
and avocados are the main source of monounsaturated fats, and it allows
for a low to moderate consumption of red wine: 4 ounces a day for women,
6 for men. It minimizes the consumption of animal fat and red meat, because
they have been proven to be associated with mortality.”
Dr. Mahmud says that one or two servings of oily fish per week is optimal,
and “better wild than farmed. Wild fish has all the nutrients and
none of the harmful chemicals of farmed fish. Make sure the mercury content
is low as well. Here in California, tilapia is dangerously high in mercury,
and you should limit your consumption of canned tuna. Wild salmon, shrimp
and sardines are all great.” She also recommends organically fed
chicken raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.
A flexitarian diet might look different to different people. New York Times
food columnist Mark Bittman has written a book (VB6: Eat Vegan Before
6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health … for Good) about his
system of eating vegan all day; then if he feels like a burger for dinner,
he eats it. But Dr. Mahmud avoids any regimented plan, opting instead
for “a balance, a change in lifestyle that includes exercise and
a Mediterranean-style diet.
“For example, protein is available from many sources that don’t
include meat. You can eat eggs—if I have organic eggs, I eat the
yolk and the white, but if I don’t, I stick to just the white—and
you also can get protein from unsalted nuts and seeds, and lentils. For
breakfast I always add chia and flax seeds to oatmeal. At lunch I do smoothies
with pineapple and banana, kale and spinach and some kind of protein powder.
It really keeps me full and happy.”
If you are looking for ideas on eating more plants and less meat, check
out Torrance Memorial’s Eat Clean & Green Plant-Based Living
Group (PBLG), which was created to support those inspired by Forks Over
Knives and other documentaries, or who are simply curious about eating
more plant-based meals.
For more details on the Torrance Memorial Eat Clean & Green PBLG visit
torrancememorial.org/classes. Dr. Mahmud is a member of Torrance Memorial
Physician Network and accepts Torrance Memorial IPA patients. She can be reached at 310-287-7260.