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VEGETARIANISM AND HEALTH

By: Dr. Sushma Shah - Naturopathic Doctor

TYPES OF VEGETARIANS

  • A true vegetarian eats no meat at all, including chicken and fish

  • Ovo-vegetarian - eats eggs; no meat

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian - eats dairy and egg products; no meat

  • Lacto-vegetarian - eats dairy products; no eggs or meat

  • Vegan - eats only food from plant sources

WHY VEGETARIAN?

There are many reasons why children or families may follow a vegetarian diet. Younger vegetarians are usually part of a family that eats vegetarian meals for health or other reasons. Older children may decide to become vegetarians because of concern for animals, the environment, or their own health.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS OF VEGETARIANISM

Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets (1997).

Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. Vegetarian diets, like all diets, need to be planned appropriately to be nutritionally adequate.

CHOOSING TO BE VEGETARIAN FOR A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE?

If you're choosing a vegetarian diet, the most important thing you can do is to educate yourself. That's why the ADA says that a vegetarian diet needs to be "appropriately planned." Simply dropping certain foods from your diet isn't the way to go if you're interested in maintaining good health, a high energy level, and strong muscles and bones.

WILL I BE NUTRIENT DEFICIENT?

Vegetarians have to be careful to include the following key nutrients because they may be lacking in a vegetarian diet: iron, calcium, protein, vitamins D and B12, and zinc. If meat, fish, dairy products, and / or eggs are not going to be part of your diet, you'll need to know how to get enough of these nutrients, or you may need to take a daily multiple vitamin and mineral supplement.

VEGETARIAN VS. NON VEGETARIAN DIETS

Vegetarian diets low in fat or saturated fat have been used successfully as part of comprehensive health programs to reverse severe coronary artery disease. Vegetarian diets offer disease protection benefits because of their lower saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein content and often higher concentration of folate (which reduces serum homocysteine levels), antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and phytochemicals.

Not only is mortality from coronary artery disease lower in vegetarians than in nonvegetarians, but vegetarian diets have also been successful in arresting coronary artery disease. Total serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels are usually lower in vegetarians, but high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels vary depending on the type of vegetarian diet followed.

Vegetarians tend to have a lower incidence of hypertension than nonvegetarians. This effect appears to be independent of both body weight and sodium intake. Type 2 diabetes mellitus is much less likely to be a cause of death in vegetarians than nonvegetarians, perhaps because of their higher intake of complex carbohydrates and lower body mass index.

CANCER

Vegetarians have an overall lower cancer rate compared with the general population. An analysis from the Adventist Health Study that controlled for age, sex, and smoking found no differences between vegetarians and nonvegetarians for lung, breast, uterine, or stomach cancer but did find that nonvegetarians had a 54% increased risk for prostate cancer and an 88% increased risk for colorectal cancer.

Incidence of lung and colorectal cancer is lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians. Reduced colorectal cancer risk is associated with increased consumption of fiber, vegetables, and fruits. The environment of the colon differs notably in vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians in ways that could favourably affect colon cancer risk.

Lower breast cancer rates have not been observed in Western vegetarians, but cross-cultural data indicate that breast cancer rates are lower in populations that consume plant-based diets. The lower estrogen levels in vegetarian women may be protective.

A well-planned vegetarian diet may be useful in the prevention and treatment of renal disease.

NUTRITION CONSIDERATIONS FOR VEGETARIANS

There are a lot of concerns with following a vegetarian diet and lacking certain minerals and vitamins such as iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, essential fatty acids etc.

Here are some suggestions

  • Iron - Sea vegetables like nori, wakame, and dulse are very high in iron. Less exotic but still good options are iron-fortified breakfast cereals, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, and baked beans), soybeans and tofu, dried fruit (raisins and figs), pumpkin seeds, broccoli, and blackstrap molasses

  • Eating these foods with a food high in vitamin C (citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, and broccoli) will help you to better absorb the iron. Girls need to be particularly concerned about getting adequate iron because some iron is lost during menstruation. Some girls who are vegetarians may not get adequate iron from vegetable sources and require a daily supplement. Check with your doctor about your own iron needs

CALCIUM

Milk and yogurt are tops if you're eating dairy products; otherwise, tofu, fortified soy milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, green leafy vegetables, and dried figs are excellent choices. Remember that as a teen you're building up your bones for the rest of your life. Because women have a greater risk for getting osteoporosis (weak bones) as adults, it's particularly important for them to make sure they get enough calcium. Again, taking a supplement may be necessary to ensure this.

VITAMIN D

Cow's milk and sunshine are tops on the list for this vitamin, which you need to get calcium into your bones. Vegans can try fortified soy milk and fortified breakfast cereals, but they may need a supplement that includes vitamin D, especially during the winter months. Everyone should have some exposure to the sun to help the body produce vitamin D.

PROTEIN

Some people believe that vegetarians must combine incomplete plant proteins in one meal - like red beans and rice - to make the type of complete proteins found in meat. We now know that it's not that complicated. Current recommendations are that vegetarians eat a wide variety of foods during the course of a day. Eggs and dairy products are good sources of protein, but also try nuts, peanut butter, tofu, beans, seeds, soy milk, grains, cereals, and vegetables to get all the protein your body needs.

VITAMIN B12

B12 is an essential vitamin found in animal products, including eggs and dairy. Fortified soy milk and fortified breakfast cereals also have this important vitamin. It's hard to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet if you are vegan, so a supplement may be needed.

ZINC

If you're not eating dairy foods, make sure fortified cereals, dried beans, nuts, pumpkin seeds and soy products like tofu and tempeh are part of your diet so you can meet your daily requirement for this important mineral.

MEAL PLANNING FOR VEGETARIAN DIETS

  • A variety of menu-planning approaches can provide vegetarians with adequate nutrition

  • Choose a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and, if desired, dairy products and eggs

  • Choose whole, unrefined foods often and minimize intake of highly sweetened, fatty, and heavily refined foods

  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables

  • If animal foods such as dairy products and eggs are used, choose lower-fat versions of these foods

  • Cheeses and other high-fat dairy foods and eggs should be limited in the diet because of their saturated fat content and because their frequent use displaces plant foods in some vegetarian diets

  • Vegans should include a regular source of vitamin B-12 in their diets along with a source of vitamin D if sun exposure is limited

  • Solely breast-fed infants should have supplements of iron after the age of 4 to 6 months and, if sun exposure is limited, a source of vitamin D. Breast-fed vegan infants should have vitamin B-12 supplements if the motherís diet is not fortified

  • Do not restrict dietary fat in children younger than 2 years. For older children, include some foods higher in unsaturated fats (eg, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, avocado, and vegetable oils) to help meet nutrient and energy needs

Please ask your doctor or naturopath before starting on any supplements. Its is better to first identify the cause and then treat it with the right remedies, even though those mentioned above have minimal side effects.

The information on this handout is the property of SUSHMA SHAH N.D., and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease. For any questions, or concerns, please contact me at 416 913 4325 (HEAL) or email me at info@naturesintentionsnaturopathy.com


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