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The Vegetarian Solution

The Vegetarian Solution by Stewart Rose. Summertown, Tennessee: Healthy Living Publications; 2007. Paperback, 158 pages. ISNB-13: 978-1-57067-205-7. $12.95.

Rose stated that he wrote this book at the encouragement of participants in numerous classes and speeches he has given in his capacity as vice-president of Vegetarians of Washington state. These audiences included those who want to become vegetarians and don't know how to do it, and those who have already adopted the principles of a vegetarian diet and want to learn more. The book was written for both audiences.

The preface states that the book will do the following: identify health-related benefits of the vegetarian diet, show a relationship between the environment and world hunger and the adoption of a vegetarian diet, show how to fit a vegetarian diet into anyone's routine, and identify the names of vegetarians-living and dead-to show the diversity of those who have adopted this diet. The book covers each of these topics in varying levels of detail. The book is well-written, in a breezy style, which keeps the reader's attention so that it can be read in one sitting. All chapters are well-referenced, with the citations listed at the end.

To his credit Rose identified the new thinking regarding vegetarian proteins, in that it is not necessary to combine two protein sources to obtain optimal protein (i.e., essential amino acids) for the body. Also, he correctly describes the acid-producing side effects of eating meats, and their effect on all bodily functions including bone health.

On the other hand, the book has several weaknesses. First, the book is trying to be too many things to too many people: it is designed for both those who follow the vegetarian diet and those who want to. For those who already follow the diet, much of what is found in here is known to them, but perhaps in not as much detail as provided herein. Yes, epidemiological data suggest that vegetarians are healthier, have less of a risk of chronic diseases of aging, such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity; but I don't know how much more people want to know than that. This book provides much more.

For those who aren't a vegetarian and want to be, the food diagram and list of foods to eat are inadequate. The sole chapter on the subject (Chapter 2) only devotes 9 pages to how to follow a vegetarian diet. There is a table showing how many times a day one should eat legumes, vegetables, and grains, but no meal plans or recipes for the novice. Most individuals don't even know what legumes are let alone how to cook them.

Another issue is that the science cited in support of following a vegetarian diet is not always from studies of individuals following such a diet, but rather from those who are eating a low-fat, heart-healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Specifically, the studies from Dean Ornish, MD, and the data from the Harvard School of Public Health are not conducted on vegetarians. What Rose really supports in most of his literature citations is that eating a sensible diet, containing some lean meats, along with whole grains and fruits and vegetables, can be just as good at reducing the risk of chronic disease as following a vegetarian diet (and much less restrictive).

Some statements are misleading or ill-supported. Yes, it is sexy to say toxins build-up in meats, so they should be avoided. However, the evidence to date is not there. Rose also suggests that if Americans were to all become vegetarians then there would be adequate food to feed the world. This is a lofty statement with little scientific support-at least none provided by this author.

In one table (adopted from Keith Akers's book, A Vegetarian Source Book [Vegetarian Press 1993]), Rose lists spinach as being 49% protein, while lentils were only at 29% protein. This could certainly leave a novice vegetarian with the false sense that spinach is rich in protein. Spinach has 30 calories per serving, of which 50% is protein, or about 3 grams of low biological value protein. Lentils, on the other hand, contain 9 grams of high-quality protein in the same serving size, despite having a lower percentage of protein. Thus, despite having a lower percentage of protein, the contribution of a single serving is greater with the lentils. Another table lists foods based on 100 calories and their corresponding calcium content. The first foods listed are bok choy and collard greens, which are mostly water, so one would have to eat bucketfuls to get adequate calcium.

So who should buy this book? I cannot recommend it to someone who is already following a vegetarian diet. Most of these individuals already figured out when they stopped eating meat, and sometimes dairy, that they gained many health advantages. Seasoned vegetarians would not glean any new recipes or newly-identified protein sources from this book. Additionally, for those wishing to start following a vegetarian diet, this is not the primer they need. Omitting meat, and maybe even dairy and eggs, from the diet leaves serious nutrient deficiencies that need to be carefully made up from vegetarian sources. There is not enough information on how to start a vegetarian diet to assure that all nutrient needs are met. However, I would recommend this book to someone who is toying with the idea of introducing more vegetarian-based proteins into their diet. For those individuals, this book is an excellent place to start.

-Stacey J. Bell, DSc, RD Research & Development, Twinlab Grand Rapids, Michigan