Vegetarian food is becoming much more popular since many people are beginning to realize how varied and delicious vegetarian diets can be.
- Vegan, or total vegetarian diets, exclude food of animal origin. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and eggs are left out. Only nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are eaten.
- Lacto-vegetarian diets contain foods of plant origin plus milk and milk products.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets consist of milk, milk products, eggs, and foods of plant origin.
Potential health benefits
Vegetarian diets are usually followed by Seventh Day Adventists. Studies in California and Western Australia have shown that these people have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than other people.
Other benefits appear to be less high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, obesity, less dental caries, and less constipation.
Vegetarian diets, particularly lacto-vegetarian diets, tend to be high in calcium. Calcium loss has been related to osteoporosis, a medical condition in which the bones fracture easily, particularly in old age.
Vegetarians are usually thinner because their foods are high in fiber and rather filling, which reduces the appetite.
Foods to eat
Most vegetarian diets contain some or all of the following foods:
- peanut butter
- dried vegetables
- beans and peas
Is a vegetarian diet dangerous?
Vegetarian diet, particularly vegan, can be dangerous if the selection of foods is limited. Select a wide variety. An example of an inadequate vegetarian diet would be one consisting of fruit and small amounts of seeds or nuts.
Because of the special requirements of pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children, it is recommended that they do not follow a vegan diet.
How to get nutrients as a vegetarian
Protein is essential in any diet to build, maintain, and repair body cells. It is made up of building blocks called amino acids.
Meat and eggs are regarded as “complete” proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids. In plant proteins, some of the amino acids are missing.
By combining certain plant foods you can make your source of protein complete. Some examples are cracked wheat and parsley, beans and brown rice, beans and nuts, peanut butter sandwich, dried fruit, and nuts.
Animal protein may be combined with plant protein. For example, eggs with brown rice and vegetables, cheese sandwich, cereal and milk, scrambled egg on toast, cauliflower and cheese sauce, yogurt, and fruits.
Iron is necessary for blood formation. A deficiency can cause anemia. By including cereals, whole-grain breads, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits (especially apricots and peaches), and brewer’s yeast in the diet this may be avoided.
Iron absorption is increased if foods containing Vitamin C are eaten at the same meal. Vitamin C may be found in citrus fruits, mangoes, pawpaws, and berry fruits.
Zinc is necessary for the growth and repair of cells. Include legumes and whole grains in your diet to make sure you have a good supply.
Calcium is a mineral which should be included to maintain strong healthy bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are good sources.
Vegans can increase their calcium intake by eating nuts (especially almonds), dried fruits (especially apricots), broccoli, spinach, soybeans or soybean milk, and sesame seeds.
Vegans may have difficulty in obtaining the recommended intake of vitamin B12, as this vitamin is mainly found in foods of animal origin (meat, cheese, and eggs). As a precaution, some doctors do advise B12 supplements. Vegan mothers who are breast-feeding certainly should take them.