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- What is a vegetarian diet
- Types of vegetarian diets
- Benefits of a vegetarian diet
- Why a vegetarian diet works
- Is a vegetarian diet good for you
- Cautions for a vegetarian diet
The vegetarian diet is included in here, not because it is a "fad" diet, but because it is an important diet which needs to be highlighted and reviewed.
The word vegetarian was first by the Vegetarian Society of the UK in 1847 to refer to a person who does not eat meat, fish, poultry or their by-products (milk, eggs).
Vegetarians do not consume meat (and some of the by-products such as dairy and eggs) for a variety of reason - some do so because they do not want to eat any animal flesh, others because they believe of the health benefits of plant-based foods are higher than meat-based foods and yet others because they do not want an animal to suffer just to provide them food. In addition to these reasons, there are other personal reasons people choose a vegetarian diet (and usually lifestyle).
Typical, vegetarians consume the following non-meat sources of food:
- Breads - any types of breads and bread products
- Cereals - wholegrain cereals, including breakfast cereals
- Fruits - all types of fruits
- Grains- barley, buckwheat, millet, oats
- Legumes - beans, peas, soy
- Meat alternative foods - any soy-based processed foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso
- Nuts - all types of nuts
- Pasta - all types of pasta
- Rice - all types of rice
- Seeds - all types of seeds
- Vegetables - all types of fruits
Some vegetarians also consume dairy products and eggs.
There are many individuals in many countries who cannot afford to eat meat, like individuals in the Western countries are able to, so a vegetarian diet is a normal way of life for them. In addition, not so long ago (as early as 50 years ago), most people did not consume meat on the same scale as people are used to in the West - meat was considered a treat to be consumed at a special family meal and was not present in every meal.
Today are several types of vegetarian diets:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians - these vegetarians consume dairy products and eggs (in addition to the non-meat foods they consume)
- Lacto vegetarians - these vegetarians consume dairy products, but not eggs (in addition to the non-meat foods they consume)
- Vegans - these vegetarians do not consume any type of animal products or by-products and are considered "strict vegetarians"
The main benefits of the different types of vegetarian diets :
- Decreases blood triglycerides - because the vegetarian diets lack much saturated fats (which are what cause triglyceride levels to rise) there is less fat build-up in the blood
- Decreases heart disease risk - lowered triglycerides, lack of saturated fat and proper intake of healthy fats mean a lowered risk for heart disease
- Cholesterol lowering - lack of saturated fats, high intake of plant-based foods and adequate intake of unsaturated fats are all known to lower cholesterol
- Weight loss - initially due to lack of high fat (and highly processed) foods in the diet and then in the longer term because of the lack of highly saturated foods which means slightly less overall calories are consumed
- Prevention of cancer - high intake of plant-based foods, which are generally high in phytochemicals are known to be cancer preventative
Vegetarian diets, if followed correctly, are a great diet plan to follow (but they can sometimes be hard to maintain correctly) as they provide many health benefits and if whole foods are eaten only (with little or no processed foods), maintain a proper weight for the individual.
The benefits of a vegetarian diet (all types) are :
- decreases blood triglyceride levels - this means there is less fat build up which could potentially cause heart disease
- lowers "bad" (LDL) cholesterol
- mainly includes unsaturated fats (there is very little saturated fat in any of the vegetarian diet types) so is following the recommendations of nutritionists for good health, especially good heart health
The limitation of a vegetarian diet are:
- it requires quite a lot of planning to ensure all nutrients are consumed in proper quantities
- can be a very strict diet and hard to follow in the longer term for some people (especially the stricter vegan diet)
- requires a lot of reviewing of food labels to work out what ingredients they contain, to ensure they are all plant-based (or dairy and/or eggs for those vegetarians that eat these)
- eating out can be difficult
Lacto-ovo and Lacto vegetarians with a wholesome, balanced diet will normally consume the right amount of high quality protein from their diet, given that they eat milk and eggs, which are high quality protein foods and they also consume soy, which is also a very good high quality protein.
Vegans however, need to combine their foods properly in order to get the full benefits of high quality protein, which is not a given for most plant-based foods (with the exception of soy, which is a very good high quality protein).
Most vegetarians will get adequate nutrients (carboydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, amino acids), from their diet, but if the vegetarian diet is not adhered to properly by intake of adequate food sources, it can make a person deficient in several important nutrients:
Certain individuals may need extra supplementation and/or care if they are on this type of diet, due to their special requirements:
- pregnant women - require more of certain nutrients due to the needs of the unborn baby
- lactating women - require more of certain nutrients for nourishing the newborn baby with their milk
- infants - their growth and development relies greatly on consuming enough high quality protein
- children - their growth and development relies greatly on consuming enough high quality protein
- adolescents - their growth and development relies greatly on consuming enough high quality protein
To try this diet, speak to your medical practitioner or dietician to provide a wholesome diet plan that can adequately take care of all nutritional requirements.
To learn more, go to the following web sites:
- The Vegetarian Society, provided by The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom accessed 5 April 2007
- Robert C. Atkins (2004) Atkins for Life: The Complete Controlled Carb Program for Permanent Weight Loss and Good Health, St. Martin's Press
- Atkins Diet - official Atkins diet web site with information about the Atkins diet (accessed 8 January 2007)