Considering the constant rise of cases of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hypertension etc. caused by the heavy consumption of meat products, vegetarian diets now continue to gain popularity among people around the globe for its observed benefits in preventing or lowering the risk of these diseases.
Although most of the world population continue to eat meat and animal products, there is being a paradigm shift of the people from meat consumer to vegetarian considering its numerous health benefits and the adverse effect of meat consumption with the growing proportion of population who consume strictly vegetarian diet.
What is in this article?
- What is a vegetarian diet?
- Types of vegetarian diet
- Vegetarian diet vs Non-vegetarian diet
- Health benefits of vegetarian diet
- Vegetarian sources of various required nutrition
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is that which fulfills the required nutrition for human body from plants and dairy products.
These include plant based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains (rice, oats, barley etc.), legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils etc.) including dairy products and excluding all kinds of meat products, fish etc.
Types of vegetarian diet.
There is further categorization in this based on the people opting out animal produce like milk and milk products while some including eggs also in their diet.
Mainly vegetarians are divided into three major groups.
They consume all the plant based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses, nuts, seeds etc. It also include dairy products like milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, ghee etc. They exclude all the meat products, poultry, fish etc. Also they do not eat eggs.
They do not include dairy products in their diet along with meat products.
They are vegans who include eggs in their diet. They do not consume meat and also excludes all dairy products.
Vegetarian diet vs Non-vegetarian diet
There is always a debate going on from non-vegetarians groups that vegetarian diet do not constitute all the required nutrition essential for body. But their arguments are mainly revolved around the protein intake they claim to get from non-vegetarian diet.
On the contrary we can get all the protein we need from plant foods. Especially nuts, legumes and beans are considered as the store house of protein which is abundant and easier to digest than protein available in meat.
Moreover, plant based foods benefits from higher intakes of dietary fiber, vitamin C and E, folic acid, magnesium, unsaturated fat and other phytochemicals unlikely in meat which offers higher intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein which are major role players for chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart attacks etc.
However, there are contradictions and misunderstandings concerning vegetarianism that these may be deficient in several nutrition including iron, vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, vitamin D and iodine.
Many studies have shown that the observed deficiencies are usually due to poor meal planning and procedure. Vegetarians consume wide variety of foods and divergent diets. So, we have to ensure we get the optimum amount of nutrients that we need for our good health and proper functioning of the body.
We can achieve this by planning our meal properly and having a balanced diet. A dietitian or nutritionist can also be consulted for proper diet tips and consultation. This will let us know if we need any supplements for the fulfillment of required nutrients.
Health benefits of vegetarian diet.
Following are the major health benefits that the vegetarian diets offer to us in maintaining a healthy life.
Weight loss and lowers the risk of obesity
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains, lower in fat and higher in fiber, are also easy to digest and improved metabolism of body facilitate in burning fat.
Lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Studies have shown that higher intake of processed and unprocessed meat or poultry has been linked to increased risk in cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
It is recommended to substitute the animal protein from other plant based protein sources such as nuts, beans, peas and other legumes.
Vegetarian diets are low in total or saturated fat and rich in fiber which also helps reduce the cholesterol levels. Cholesterol comes mainly from animal food products, vegetarian diets are cholesterol free thus also reducing the risk of heart diseases.
Fiber rich content of a vegetarian diet improves the process of digestion. It also prevents the synthesis of very low density lipoproteins that lead to heart diseases.
Lower the risk of cancer
Numerous of studies have suggested eating lots of fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.
There is strong evidence that consumption of whole grains and foods containing dietary fiber can protect against colorectal cancer.
A vegetarian that is filled with fruits and vegetables benefits from antioxidants like lutein in broccoli and lycopene in tomatoes, which may help in prevention of cancer.
Maintain Blood Pressure
Seeds and nuts contain Omega-3 fatty acids which are good fat and helps in lowering blood pressure.
Lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes
One of the potential benefits of a plant based diet is a lower risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Moreover, studies show that individuals with the highest vs lowest intake of any plant based foods had a 23% lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Doctors have contributed emerging evidence to new dietary theories that processed or refined carbohydrate and sugars may contribute to diseases development. But finding have concluded that a plant based diet that reduces or eliminates animal intake while increasing intake of healthy whole grain carbohydrates may actually have very favourable effects.
Plant based food contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, phenolic compounds and unsaturated fatty acids, which improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure, reduce long term weight gain and ameliorate systematic inflammation–pathways involved in the cause of Type 2 Diabetes.
Vegetarian sources of various required nutrients.
Carbohydrates: Grains, Starchy foods such as potatoes, cereals, rice.
Proteins: Beans, peas, lentils, nuts.
Vitamins: Fruits and vegetables.
Calcium: Milk and dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt. Fortified soy, orange juice and seeds.
Vitamin D: Fortified foods such as orange juice, cereals, soy and almond milk.
Zinc: Milk, cheese, whole grain bread, nuts, soy foods, legumes such as chickpeas.
Iron: Leafy green vegetables, beans, tofu, fortified cereals or grains.
Omega 3s: Pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, walnut, canola oil.
Vitamin B12: Milk and dairy products, fortified breakfast cereals.
Essential amino acid: Green leaves.
Consuming vegetarian diet can naturally lower the risks of major chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
Vegetarian diet consists of almost all the required nutrients required by our body. It is just that you have to manage your diet in such a way that you get all the required nutrients.
Many people consume the supplements to fulfill the deficient nutrition in the body, however with proper meal planning and proper diet management you may not need the necessity to consume extra supplements and fulfill the required nutrition.
Frequently Asked Questions
The term healthy depends upon what form or quantity you consume your foods. Vegetarian diet contains all the essential nutrients but to consume by preserving it is more important. Washing and cooking process should be followed in such a way that nutritional value of food is not lost. So, you should eat variety of foods for required nutrition in a healthier form.
People consume supplements to fulfill for the nutritional deficiency in the body. However, you should prevent that deficiency in the first place by planning your meal properly. If you consume a balanced diet with all the essential nutrients, you will not require to take supplements.
Vegetarian diet are generally low in fat, high in carbohydrates and optimum in protein. However, vegetables are rich in minerals, fiber but minimum in protein. So, you can consume protein rich foods that would be soya, tofu, lentils, pulses and legumes.