A good friend of mine called me the other day, appalled my the message that a "guest speaker" had given to her 5th grader while at school. The speaker was a nutritionist that had come to the classroom to speak about good health. Her daughter came home quite upset about some of the things that were taught (like vegetarians weren't healthy and neither were people that didn't drink milk).
At first I just let in roll off me and simply told her, "Well that doesn't surprise me, that was probably what she was taught while getting her certification". But for some reason, it just didn't sit right with me. After a couple of days, I decided that too many people just sit by while truth is being questioned.
I have one huge regret that happened this past school year. My 6 year old came home in tears after his class discussed nutrition one day at school. His teacher told him that he was not allowed to tell the students that milk wasn't good for him and that he would be in trouble if she ever heard him say it again. I consoled him when he got home from school and then.....I did nothing. To this day it still bothers me.
So I decided that this would be an opportunity to share my beliefs with a nutritionist that was going around teaching in schools. Below is the letter that I wrote:
This letter is in response to your nutrition lesson given to students at Riverton Elementary last week. I was not actually in the class that you taught, so I am simply responding to the information I received about the class.
For starters, I am so appreciative of people that are passionate about nutrition. I applaud you for choosing a career path that allows you to spread the message of the importance of good nutrition. Especially to children who may not receive that information at home. There is such a need in this country for heightened awareness of the importance of feeding our bodies properly. We live in a time where there is a lot of confusion and a lot of “experts” teaching opposing ways of eating. So thank-you for taking the time to teach children the value of a balanced diet and the importance of good health.
I do however have some concern about some of the curriculum that you teach. The first part was your stance on vegetarians and the other was on milk.
It was brought to my attention that in your class, you taught the children that vegetarians are not as healthy as their meat-eating counterpart. In this area, I would like to turn to long-standing science. Multiple studies have shown that vegetarians live longer than non-vegetarians do1. The research shows those who avoid meat and dairy have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, which are the leading causes of death in America2. So as far as life-span and disease go, evidence shows that vegetarians are incredibly healthy. Evidence also shows that getting protein from plant sources is a wonderful, if not optimal way, way to fulfill our daily protein requirement. In fact, plant-based protein received from green vegetables and legumes for example, do not include any harmful cholesterol, hormones or animal fat that can often be found in today’s typical omnivore diet.
One other section of your lesson referred to milk and that those who do not drink milk are not getting enough calcium. In all the research that I have done, those countries that consume the most dairy are also the countries that suffer from the most osteoporosis. Dr. Joel Fuhrman is an expert on this topic and here is what he has to say:
“Contrary to popular belief, you do not need dairy products to get sufficient calcium. Every natural food contains calcium. When you eat a healthy diet, rich in natural foods such as vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, it is impossible not to obtain sufficient calcium. In fact, the addition of more natural plant foods to the diet has been shown to have a powerful effect on increasing bone density and bone health. Fruits and vegetables strengthen bones. Researchers found that those who eat the most fruits and vegetables have denser bones3."
I think that most people can agree (and science can concur) that a diet rich in whole nutrient dense foods in the message that we need to be sending. Also, that a diet high in processed foods, cholesterol and saturated fats is one that should be avoided. I appreciate your efforts in spreading this message and my hope in writing this letter to you was to simply shed a little light on areas that are somewhat misrepresented in the general public. I felt that it was important for me to add my voice and to share with you that as far as science has shown a diet that does not include meat and dairy has proven to be another OPTION for a healthy lifestyle.
Certified Plant-Base Nutritionist
Food for Life Instructor for the Cancer Project
PS- I write this letter not as the PTA President (in case you recognize my name), but simply as an enthusiastic parent.
1 Chang-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R. Dietary and lifestyle determinants of mortality among German vegetarians. International Journal of Epidemiology. 1993;22(2):228-236.
Kahn HA, Phillips RI, Snowdon DA, Choi W. Association between reported diet and all cause mortality: Twenty-one year follow up on 27,530 adult Seventh-Day Adventists. Am J Epidemiol 1984;119:775-787.
Nestle M, Animal v. plant foods in human diets and health: is the historical record unequivocal? Proc Nutr Soc 1999;58(2):211-228.
2 Barnard ND, Nicholson A, Howard JL. The medical costs attributed to meat consumption. Preventive Medicine 1995;24:646-655.
Segasothy M, Phillips PA. Vegetarian diet: panacea for modern lifestyle disease? QJM 1999;92(9):531-544.
3. Tucker KL, Hannan MT, Chen H, et al. Potassium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater mineral density in elderly men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69(4):727-736.
New SA, Robins SP, Campbell MK, et al. Dietary influences on bone mass and bone metabolism: further evidence of a positive link between fruit and vegetable consumption and bone health? Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71(1):142-151.