Life StyleNutrition & Dietics

Is Vegetarianism is better for Health?

1st October is observed as World Vegetarian Day across the world.   The day is observed to create awareness about the benefits of Vegetarian life style and encourage others to become vegetarian.    A vegetarian is one who does not eat meat and whose diet is filled with fruits and vegetables, mostly the food items that come from plants.

Varieties of vegetarians

Strictly speaking, vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat, poultry, or seafood. But people with many different dietary patterns call themselves vegetarians, including the following:

  • Vegans (total vegetarians):Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, and gelatin.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians:Do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
  • Lacto vegetarians:Eat no meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do consume dairy products.
  • Ovo vegetarians:Eat no meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products, but do eat eggs.
  • Partial vegetarians:Avoid meat but may eat fish (pesco-vegetarian, pescatarian) or poultry (pollo-vegetarian).

Benefits of being a vegetarian

  • It lowers the risk of major heart diseases and cancers.
  • It boosts metabolism and thus helps in lowering body weight.
  • Vegetarian diet comprises of whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, which supply fibre, antioxidants, vitamins as well as essential minerals.
  • Avoiding meat is one of the best ways to cut down your fat consumption.
  • Cholesterol levels are much lower in vegetarian meals as compared to non-vegetarian meals.
  • It helps to save animals.
  • A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet the nutritional requirement needs of people of all ages, including children, women and elderly people. The key is to be aware of your nutritional needs so that you plan a diet accordingly.

Vegetarianism and Health

  •  Most doctors and nutritionists agree that a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables, and nuts can be a boon to health. There’s also research suggesting that reducing or eliminating red meat from the diet may cut your risk of heart disease.
  • Research also has shown that a vegan or vegetarian diet may lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. And a 2011 study found that vegetarians had lower triglycerides, glucose levels, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI).

 Key Nutrients for Vegetarians

 Here are some ways to incorporate various nutrients into a vegetarian diet:

  • Protein: Tofu, beans and other legumes, nuts, nut butters, eggs, and higher-protein whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and kamut. Rajmaa, Chole, Panner etc.
  • Iron: Eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, soy-based foods, dried prunes, dried apricots, nuts, beans, legumes, and fortified whole wheat bread are good choices.
  • Calcium, which builds bone, is plentiful in cheese, yogurt, milk, edamame, tofu, almonds, sesame tahini, calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages like soy or almond milk, and dark green leafy vegetables like collard greens, spinach, and bok choy. Raagi etc
  • Zinc, which boosts the immune system, is ample in soybeans, soy milk, veggie “meats,” eggs, cheese and yogurt, fortified breakfast cereals, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, and wheat germ oil.
  • Vitamin B12: Soy-based beverages, some breakfast cereals, and fortified veggie “meats.”
  • Riboflavin: Almonds, fortified cereals, cow’s milk, yogurt, mushrooms, and soy milk are riboflavin-rich foods.
  • Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Omega-3): Canola oil, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, soybeans, and tofu are good choices.

Making it Comprehensive

Regardless of the kind of meat-free diet practiced, vegetarians should focus on getting enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, riboflavin, alpha-linolenic acid, and vitamin D.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products. A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and blindness. It can also cause muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness. To counteract the increased risk, vegans should include B12 supplements, or fortified cereals.

Protection against major diseases

May be. Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as carotenoids and flavonoids. As a result, they’re likely to have lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases.

But there still aren’t enough data to say exactly how a vegetarian diet influences long-term health. It’s difficult to tease out the influence of vegetarianism from other practices that vegetarians are more likely to follow, such as not smoking, not drinking excessively, and getting adequate exercise.

Different people have different reasons to adopt vegetarian lifestyle. Some people firmly believe in not killing animals for their appetite. People also switch to vegetarian diets for health reasons as this diet is rich in fruits and vegetables and tends to be low in fat and cholesterol, which is good for the heart. A major chunk of people cite culture and religious issues for sticking to vegetarian diet.

Article is prepared by Dr A Kiraannmayee,  Chief Clinical Dietitian, Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

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