By DR. JALAJA RAMASWAMY
What is one of the growing trends now? Vegetarianism. It is true that more people are opting for a diet that is devoid of meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Why be a vegetarian? Many adopt this mode of diet for religious, ethical, health and economic reasons.
However, the term vegetarian is misleading because there are many types of vegetarians. Meat based diets do have a string of benefits. But arguments in favour of a vegetarian diet certainly appear compelling.
The safest way to eat is to follow a vegetarian diet: no hormones or additives in your foods. Meat carry bacteria and the potential diseases associated with them more often than beans, grains or vegetables. But one cannot negate the fact that fruits and vegetables can also be associated with pesticides and other residues.
Rich in nutrients
Vegetarian diets lower the burden of chronic diseases. Lacto-vegetarians are often impressively healthier – sometimes a lot healthier – than meat eaters. It is uncertain whether this advantage extends to vegans.
Plant-based diets containing whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables are low in saturated fats and cholesterol and higher in fibre, vitamin C, folate, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals implicated in the protection against many diseases. Such diets also lower the risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Diets low in fibre and in which chicken and meat are the principal ingredients can dramatically increase the incidence of colorectal cancers.
Plant foods are also high in phytochemicals called polyphenols and contain higher proportions of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These substances have recently been shown to have beneficial effects on maintaining the integrity of brain function during the ageing process.
Vegetarian diets may help in weight loss and long-term weight control and are associated with longevity. Diets containing animal products are generally higher in fat and calorific value while plant foods are low in energy and are nutrient dense.
It has also been reported that vegetarians have a more desirable body odour!
However, the more limiting a diet is, the more difficult it is to get all the nutrients required by your body. Can vegetarian diets, therefore, be balanced, complete and healthy? The answer is yes. According to the American Dietetic Association “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are suitable for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.” Only the most restrictive vegan diets can perhaps cause nutritional concerns and compromise on calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and sometimes even protein.
Vegetarian meals need not be boring or limiting. Whip up a variety of recipes from plant foods and feast on them. If you can't be a vegetarian, a healthy option would be to limit intake of animal foods and increase intake of fruits and vegetables.
Remember what Einstein said: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
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