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Adventists welcome new vegetarian-friendly USDA food guidelines

'MyPlate' confirms research of church health pioneer

Adventists welcome new vegetarian-friendly USDA food guidelines

New USDA food guidelines organize food groups into portions on a simulated dinner plate. The "protein" category accommodates a vegetarian diet, unlike the previous food pyramid, which suggested meat was integral to a healthy diet.

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New dietary guidelines in the United States are confirming what a Seventh-day Adventist health pioneer demonstrated to the scientific community 50 years ago -- a vegetarian diet adequately meets a person's nutritional needs.

Dr. Mervyn Hardinge, along with his Harvard colleague Dr. Frederick Stare, researched the benefits of vegetarianism when the diet was rare. While more people choose a vegetarian lifestyle today, the notion that meat is necessary for health often prevails.

However, The United States Department of Agriculture's MyPlate nutritional guide, introduced last month, is open to a vegetarian interpretation, unlike the decades-old food pyramid it replaced.

"The changes to this educational instrument make it much more amenable to a vegetarian audience than the previous [food pyramid] and suggest that the Seventh-day Adventist call to a vegetarian lifestyle may be getting through," said Joan Sabaté, chair of the department of Nutrition at Adventist-run Loma Linda University School of Public Health.

Whereas the former food guide pyramid specifically listed meat as integral to a healthy diet, MyPlate instead encourages consuming adequate amounts of protein. While protein sources are generally thought of as animal products, this change does leave the door open to a vegetarian interpretation: legumes, including soy products, and nuts are excellent sources of protein, Sabaté said.

The MyPlate guide emphasizes that vegetables and grains should make up the greatest part of the diet, followed by generous amounts of fruit and protein. Dairy is given the least consideration.

"The plate is a more appropriate model for an eating guideline tool," Sabaté said.

"School-age children -- those who are most exposed to the USDA nutrition icon -- will easily be able to grasp the importance of fruits and vegetables from the new image," he added. "When we sit down to eat we can now simply look at our own plate and evaluate if it is half filled with fruits and vegetables, as recommended by the new tool."

Sabaté was the principal architect of Loma Linda University's Vegetarian Food Pyramid, an eating guideline for vegetarians introduced in 1997. He now plans to revise the pyramid into the friendlier format of a plate, which makes visualizing portion sizes much easier.

"While we applaud the USDA's new icon and appreciate that it is more inclusive of a fast-growing vegetarian population, it is not amenable for strict vegans," he said.

Click here to view the current Loma Linda University Vegetarian Food Pyramid. For information on the pyramid or LLU's International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition, visit www.vegetariannutrition.org.