B E C O M I N G V E G E T A R I A N:
Why You Should Do This
and How to Make the Transition
What about a vegetarian diet? "I don't understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives." -- Dean Ornish, M.D.
Some Americans eat vegetarian diets for reasons of culture, belief, or health. Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and if they maintain a healthy, active lifestyle according to the laws of health, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy very good health. Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and can meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients. You can get enough protein from a vegetarian diet as long as the variety and amounts of foods consumed are adequate. Meat, fish, and poultry are major contributors of iron, zinc, and B vitamins in most American diets, and vegetarians should pay special attention to these nutrients.
Vegans eat only food of plant origin. Because animal products are the major food sources of vitamin B12, vegans must supplement their diets with a source of this vitamin, such as spirulina, chlorella or other dietary source. In addition, vegan diets, particularly those of children, require care to ensure adequacy of vitamin D and calcium, which most Americans obtain from milk products.
I recommend the vegetarian diet to people everyday, and especially a vegan lifestyle because of the overall benefits to health and vitality. Unfortunately, there are too many malnourished vegetarians out there who decided to stop eating meat, but who never learned the importance of eating for nutrition. The step to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle can be the best thing you ever do for yourself as you discover new found energy, mental clarity, resistance to disease, and overall well-being. But it does require a commitment to educating yourself (and your family) to nutritional needs of your body and how to meet those demands with a plant based diet.
Is a vegetarian lifestyle really healthier?
In a word, YES! In its position paper on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) writes that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." The Surgeon General reported that approximately 68% of all deaths in the U.S. are caused by diet-related diseases. And scientific data suggests a positive relationship between a vegetarian diet and a reduced risk of several diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and some types of cancer.
Compared to meat-centered diets, well-planned plant-based diets tend to:
- contain less overall fat, especially saturated fat
- be lower in cholesterol, or even cholesterol-free if no animal products are consumed
- include an abundance of vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids—or plant vitamin A—and selenium), which can help prevent or fight cancer by attacking "free radicals"
- contain phytochemicals—or plant chemicals—which are believed to help prevent and fight disease
- include more dietary fiber, which is protective against many diseases, including coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes
- include plant proteins, which have many advantages over animal proteins (For example, plant protein is loaded with fiber and a wonderful array of nutrients, including phytochemicals. Plus, it is cholesterol-free and generally lower in fat, especially saturated fat, than animal protein. Furthermore, unlike its animal counterpart, plant protein can lower blood cholesterol levels.)
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