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Can Meatless Meals be Healthier?

salad vegan 300WESTERN KENTUCKY (12/30/13) — Every day, people consume foods that contain a combination of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in order to maintain a well-balanced diet. From the very beginning, humans have always eaten a plant-based diet and every day more and more people are becoming interested in vegetarianism.

Whatever the reasons for becoming a vegetarian, one will undeniably find that a vegetarian diet can offer a wide opportunity and choice during mealtimes.

The most basic definition of a vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat, poultry, fish, game, shellfish, or other seafood, or by-products of slaughter, such as gelatin, animal stocks, lard or animal fats. Most vegetarians get their nutrients from eating fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans and seeds. Some vegetarians will include eggs and dairy products into their diets as well.

There are different types of vegetarians that include demi-veg, fruitarian, acto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, macrobiotic vegetarian and vegan.

For most people, becoming a demi-veg is usually the first step into vegetarianism because this diet eliminates all meat and poultry. However, it does not eliminate seafood.

A fruitarian are vegetarians that eat raw fruits, nuts and grains in the belief that only plant foods that are harvested without killing a plant should be eaten.

A lacto-vegetarian and a lacto-ovo-vegetarian are similar in most ways, except lacto-vegetarians do not include eggs into their diets. Those who follow a more spiritual and philosophical diets are called macrobiotic vegetarians. They believe this diet maintains a balance between foods seen as in the ying and yang or positive and negative.

Vegan is the most “hardcore” or “extreme” of all vegetarians. The diet does not include any dairy products or eggs, along with any meats, poultry, seafood, and by-products of slaughter. Vegans must be very meticulous label readers to avoid the less-than-obvious eggs and butter that are put in already prepared foods.

“Vegans are vegetarians who do not consume any animal and insect derived products including dairy products, eggs and honey,” said Patricia Mejorado, RD, LD. “Vegans also avoid animal and insect-based food dyes, binders and additives.”

Yet there are health concerns with any lifestyle or diet changes. A vegetarian lifestyle comes with its own nutritional challenges.

“Risks include a deficiency of vitamin and minerals as well as protein. These include omega 3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12,” said Mejorado. “Fortified items are often recommended to avoid deficiency, such as fortified cereals, juices and even soy milk. If there is an inadequate intake of foods rich in certain vitamins and minerals, including fortified foods, it is recommended that supplements be taken.”

One of the positives to a vegetarian diet is that saturated fats found in animal products are eliminated. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked to heart disease and some cancers.

“A vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease,” said Mejorado. “Other benefits include lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower overall cancer rates.”

A vegetarian diet that is varied will also provide high in fiber, which is believed to help with constipation and bowel disorders. Also, in some studies, it has been found that obesity is less of a problem in vegetarians than meat eaters.

“The healthiest approach would be to become educated on proper eating guidelines and substitutions as well as adequate planning,” said Mejorado. “In addition to evaluating dietary adequacy, food and nutrition professionals (RD/RDN) can play key roles in educating vegetarians/vegans about sources of specific nutrients in foods, food purchases, preparation as well as dietary modifications to meet their needs.”

Plant foods are the driving force of essential nutrients, which include B vitamins, vitamin C and antioxidants. B vitamins are especially important for women who are planning a family or if someone is in need of the extra burst of energy without having the “crash effect.”

Vitamin C is vital for general immunity and healing.

Powerful antioxidants help with reducing the risk of heart diseases, cancer, arthritis, cataracts and sperm damage. Antioxidants also help reduce problems associated with aging, by fighting against free radicals that are caused by environmental pollutants.

Despite all the negativity vegetarianism has encountered over the decades, nutritionists and dieticians can agree that eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day will form a backbone to a healthier diet.

While some vegetarians make this choice for ethical and moral reasons, others for religious reasons, and those who want to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle, vegetarians enjoy the simplicities of the culinary pleasures of cooking and eating appetizing, fresh fruits and vegetables. As the popularity of vegetarianism grows, the stigma of the “alternative” diet being weird or crazy no longer exists.

Editor's note: Consult a physician before making any diet, exercise or lifestyle changes.

Amber Averitt
SurfKY News Reporter

© Copyright 2014 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without permission. SurfKY News encourages you to share this story by using one of the social media links below.

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