Our society is set up to regard meat eating as the ‘norm’. Those people who choose a vegetarian diet are often thought of as difficult, ‘trying to be different’ or just odd. A common nutritional fallacy is that meat and animal products must be consumed in order to maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Many people these days are finding out the many health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Additionally, many physicians and nutritionists are prescribing and endorsing plant-based meals in order to promote health, prevent and treat certain diseases, and even to reduce weight. There are many products now becoming available in shops and supermarkets that contain health enhancing plant extracts. These are mixed in yoghurts, spreads and cheeses, to specifically lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, enhance energy levels and boost immune systems. Who knows what other benefits are just around the corner in plant extracts.
Although vegetarianism may seem like a modern idea, in reality, its health benefits have been known for many years in cultures around the world. India and the Far East make up the largest percentage of the world’s vegetarians, both for health and spiritual reasons. One group of people, the Hunza, who live near the Himalayas have a diet which is exclusively vegetarian. Members of their community reportedly often live to be over 100 years of age.
The American Dietetic Association says that the benefits of a vegetarian diet can include:
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Lower levels of saturated fats
- Lower body fat
- Reduced rates of heart disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower incidence of type-2 diabetes
- Lower instances of certain cancers
- Higher levels of important minerals and antioxidant vitamins
Obesity is one of the major health concerns in the western world. It can be addressed with a vegetarian diet, one that eliminates excess protein and animal fat consumption, and increases fiber in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Those who consume a vegetarian diet tend to maintain a lower body mass index (BMI), which significantly aids in the treatment and management of other chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. A lower BMI is an aim of anyone looking to improve their general health, whether by diet, exercise, or preferably both.
One question often asked by those considering a vegetarian diet is; “Will I get enough protein? This is certainly a valid question, as protein is necessary for the building, maintenance and function of all body cells. In fact, a varied and well-balanced vegetarian diet actually provides all the protein the body needs, obtained by eating such things as whole grains, beans, nuts and soy products.
In fact, meat-based diets typically provide an excess of protein, which may actually be harmful. High protein levels can put more strain on the kidneys. A leading gerontological journal reports that too much protein can cause a person to lose about 30% of their kidney function by the time they reach old age. It can also cause systemic acidity, which the body attempts to counter by leeching calcium out of the bones, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Becoming a vegetarian does not mean you are limited to eating carrots, fruit and nuts. There are many types of vegetarians that eat meatless diets in a variety of combinations. Some of the more common types include;
Lacto vegetarians, who do not eat meat or eggs, but do eat dairy products such as milk and cheese.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, but will eat dairy products and eggs.
Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat or dairy products, but will eat eggs.
Vegans do not eat meat, dairy products, eggs, or any animal products at all.
There are many medical and health organizations that promote, endorse, and support people on a path toward changing their dietary lifestyle to one that includes more plant-based foods. There is a lot of information on the internet, as well as through medical providers and vegetarian organizations. Numerous books and articles are easily found.
Many restaurants, grocery stores and supermarkets now provide meals and products to vegetarians, making it simpler to choose this healthy lifestyle.
Remember that at the end of the day it is your decision. If you want to simply keep eating a little meat, while exploring deeper into the vegetarian side, then do that. Don’t worry about the ‘purists’. There is no law to say you cannot eat a little meat, fish or chicken along the way – it’s your life and your choice. Once you start eating more vegetarian food though, many people find they start to lose their taste for meat. The main thing is to enjoy the food and feel healthier by doing so.
On a final note, consider using both all organic vegetables and fruit, or at least as much as you can source. Organic produce really makes a great deal of difference to the taste and texture, and you have the security of mind that what you are eating is free of pesticides and other chemicals. More information on this will be found in the next article, or on our web site.