Is a vegetarian diet healthy – Mookychick
Vegetarian? Thinking about it? When vegetarians choose to deny themselves part of what’s considered a normal balanced diet, can they make up for the change? Forget ethics and look after yourself with this handy guide to a healthy vegetarian diet. We’ll leave looking after your conscience to you.
So what’s the good news if you’re a vegetarian?
It may be possible to better control the risk of diabetes with a vegetarian diet. Experts suggest that a high carbohydrate intake – provided by such a diet, which might feature a lot of carbs like bread and potatoes – could improve a person’s diabetic control.
Vegetarians have a lower incidence rate of heart disease, so vegetarianism might lower the risk of heart disease. This is due to a lower cholesterol diet (cholesterol being found in animal fats amongst other places), allowing blood pressure levels to remain low.
A decreased risk of colonic diseases is witnessed in vegetarians, due to the high fibre in their diet (you get lots of fibre from vegetables and grains).
Obesity is less common too, because fatty foods are consumed less regularly.
But what about protein?
Protein, it must be acknowledged, is lacking in many plant foods, so dairy products would be advised for non-strict vegetarians. However stricter eaters will need to supplement their diet by seeking further advice on protein-high plant matter. Soya products (think tofu burgers) and a variety of green leafed vegetables are advisable, as are peanuts and sunflower seeds.
What would be the effect of reducing your intake of dairy products and heading toward a non-meat, non-dairy vegan diet?
Those who choose to eat non-dairy could put themselves at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency – which could result in problems that are neurological (affecting the nervous system) and gastrointestinal (affecting the stomach or intestines).
Vitamin B12 is important in the formation of red blood cells. So it is wise for vegetarians to try and gain some vitamin B12 from elsewhere. Many manufactured foods, particularly soya products, contain vitamin B12. Read the packaging’s nutritional information labels and ingredients if you’re unsure when buying a product.
A strict vegetarian diet that hasn’t been thought out can also result in a vitamin D deficiency. This is because both vitamins B12 and D are found predominantly in meat, fish and eggs. Since vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium in the body, a deficiency can lead to rickets in children, or osteomalacia in adults (both cause a softening of the bones). To combat these, vegetarians must take extra measures to expose their skin to sunlight, this being the natural way to produce vitamin D within the body. If, for whatever reason, this is impractical, you’d be best off seeking medical advice about the use of vitamin supplements, if you’re worried about your health. It’s worth noting that by law, margarine (which doesn’t contain animal fats) is to be supplied with vitamin D to supplement the diet.
Will a vegetarian diet help me lose weight?
Yes, probably… with a but. There is no need to skip meat or dairy just to get a slimmer look. A far better approach is – as always – to go for a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. This approach not only makes you look slimmer and healthier but will allow your body to feel it too.
What about my muscles, will a vegetarian diet cause them to deplete?
It would be extremly hard – but not impossible – to gain muscle with a diet that excluded animal protein. However muscle wastage is easily avoidable. The key is to eat a large variety of different leaves, nuts and especially pulses (think chickpeas like you get in hummous, or lentils – there are plenty of lentil burgers available in supermarkets nowadays) to gain all the different types of protein normaly gained through the consumption of meat, which contains nearly all the protiens needed in the human diet. With a healthy diet and exercise you can maintain your mucle and strength.
Me / my partner are planning a baby. Is it safe for me to have a vegetarian diet whilst pregnant?
Iron demands are higher than usual during pregnancy, so it is common for vegetarians to become deficient, which may lead to anaemia (symptoms include weakness, breathlessness and pallor.) The extra iron is important for the growth of your child because iron is used by your red blood cells to transport oxygen, which the baby must gain via the placenta.
However, if you are already vegetarian and don’t want to give it up, a controlled iron-rich diet can be obtained through large quantities of wholegrain, dark leaves, dried fruit and pulses.
What about my young child, should I let them follow a vegetarian diet?
Observations have revealed that young vegetarian children tend to be smaller than omnivorous children. Also, if care is not taken to produce a well-balanced meat-free diet, deficiencies may be caused. Common deficiencies are iron and calcium deficiencies and the diseases that occur are typically those surrounding a weakening of the bones. Such dieses include rickets, a bowing of the legs.
I am a teen, or have a teenage child. Is a vegetarian diet safe at this important stage of growth?
At a time when the body rapidly changes, many people worry about the impact of a strict diet. A teenage body wants and needs a diet that will promote growth and health. At this time in life the body increases its needs of protein for growth, something a vegetarian diet may lack if not controlled. So, at a time when the body needs more protein than usual, a vegetarian diet could have some minor effects on health. This is especially the case for woman who need iron to complete a healthy menstrual cycle as well as rapid growth through their teenage years.
Calcium is also important to the diet at puberty. So a vegetarian teen should expect to eat a lot of dairy or margarine products!
Phosphorous is second only to calcium as a component of bones and teeth. It is needed for cells to function properly and to effectively utilize energy. It is found mostly in meat and fish, so is another dietary requirement to look out for.
Vegetarians can gain phosphorous through beans, peas, cereals, and nuts but this comes in the storage form, phytic acid. The trouble is that people can only process about 50% of this, because we lack the biological equipment needed to do so. Again, a good diet can solve this, if you eat a lot of yeast foods such as bread, marmite or vegemite. If you’re of age to go to the pub, beer has yeast in, too. Basically, yeast contains what’s needed to break down phytic acid. It is known as an enzyme and is called phytases. It works by speeding up the body’s rate of reaction when processing phosphorous.
Parents or guardians might want to watch out for crash dieting teens hiding behind vegetarianism. Anyone worried for their child should calmly confront them and urge them to seek medical advice on a more healthy approach to weight loss. Vegetarianism can help make a person look and feel good – if it’s done right.
So the overall verdict is?
A vegetarian diet, if not approached in a holistic way and with an awareness of how particular vegetarian foods can benefit you, can lead to a variety of health risks. However, a veggie diet can be of use to many people who want to lower their chances of diet-based illness such as heart disease – a major killer in established nations.
Also, with a carefully planned diet, vegetarians can overcome the risks of deficiency-related illnesses. It just takes a bit more effort to eat well in a way that is healthy and balanced.
If you don’t mind being strict with your eating, vegetarianism can be every bit as healthy as a meat-containing diet!