Health News & Articles
The vegetarian choice
When it comes to nutrition, it’s one of the most talked about subjects at dinner parties: the vegetarian choice. These days, airlines have it, parties have it, your company’s canteen has it, schools and even McDonald’s have it! Wherever you go, you can choose to be vegetarian. Here are answers to some of the questions you might be asking yourself:
What does being vegetarian actually mean?
According to the Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian is someone “who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter”.
Are there different types of vegetarians?
Yes, you can be a vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy products (the most popular choice), or one who eats only dairy but not eggs, one who eats neither eggs nor dairy (“vegans”) or yet again one that eats eggs but not dairy. Vegetarians generally only eat free-range eggs for ethical reasons, and the Vegetarian Society only endorses eggs that are free-range.
What are the benefits of being a vegetarian?
There are many. Vegetarianism is recommended for those who suffer from or want to prevent high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Dr. Dean Ornish, the eminent cardiologist known for his “heart disease reverse program,” recommends a plant-based diet free of animal fats, and many studies have confirmed the health benefits of the vegetarian diet. An analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data found that the average intake of fiber; vitamins A, C, and E; thiamin; riboflavin; folate; calcium; and magnesium by those following vegetarian diets exceeded that of non-vegetarians.
Vegetarianism is also considered a more ecologically sustainable approach to eating, as methane emissions from the mass-breeding of animals for dietary consumption are the third leading cause of world pollution.
If this has doesn’t convince you, several studies have shown that vegetarians are overall slimmer and have fewer weight-related problems than meat-eaters.
What are the downsides of vegetarianism?
You should keep in mind your intake of some nutrients, among them iron, vitamin 12, omega-3 acids, calcium and zinc; these have shown to be often lower among vegetarians. Being a vegetarian is a bit of an art: you do have to be disciplined, keeping a good balance and variety of what you eat in order to avoid vitamin deficiency. This means that sometimes you may have to take some supplements to compensate the absence of animal protein in your diet, and increase the consumption of protein-rich pulses, nuts, seeds and grains. Being a vegetarian is not only about “eating your green veggies.”
As a vegetarian you may find your energy levels might drop, and you will be drawn as a result toward sugary foods. Chocolate, cakes and cookies can also all be vegetarian choices and if you don’t manage these cravings, being a vegetarian can turn into an unhealthy choice.
Should children be vegetarian?
Yes and no. Some children thrive in a vegetarian diet and others can actually become very ill. This depends on their constitution, genetic factors, the balance of the diet–parents have to establish a strict control of nutrients–their environment and the age at which they start being vegetarian. It is worth noting there is a link between eating disorders and the new trend of becoming vegetarian in some young girls. The study “Inter-relationships between Vegetarianism and Eating Disorders among Females” concludes that “significantly more individuals with a history of an eating disorder reported ever having been a vegetarian, as well as currently being vegetarian, compared to individuals with no eating disorder history.”
Should I become a vegetarian?
There is certainly nothing wrong with giving the vegetarian diet a try! First, we strongly recommend you plan your transition into vegetarianism. Reflect on the reasons why you want to do this and decide on what type of vegetarian diet you can handle best. Ask yourself if you still want to eat eggs and dairy, or you want to go all the way to become a vegan. Our favourite introduction to a plant-based diet is the Ornish Spectrum. Based on scientific evidence, it is a diet that combines common sense and easy to follow lists and rules. There is comprehensive information about supplements and everything you need to know to properly support your health on a plant-based diet.
For recipe ideas, we regularly turn to Green Kitchen Stories, our well-thumbed copy of Ottolenghi’s Plenty and the recipes of Heidi Swanson at 101 cookbooks.
Are there any other reasons involved in this decision?
Matthieu Ricard, the Buddhist monk considered by some to be the happiest person on the planet, gave an enlightening talk recently here in Amsterdam. He explained the reasons why he didn’t want to “eat his friends” and how in his view vegetarianism is part of the new altruism that will save both us and the planet we live on. He spoke about the benefits that a clean, sustainable plant-based diet has for the mind and our ability to meditate. He was both convincing and enlightening, and there was something very wholesome and honest about his principles.
There are many reasons why becoming a vegetarian is the right choice, just remember to use your common sense and if you have any medical reasons why you should not exclude animal protein from your diet, don’t ignore them. If you feel unwell or you have any unexpected side effects when you stop eating meat, consult your doctor and check further with a blood test, in case you are missing any essential vitamins and minerals.
Becoming a vegetarian is a life decision which can bring you much happiness and joy in what you eat. There are plenty of recipes and ideas which will enrich your plate in many surprising ways, from your overall health to your sense of well-being, from the inside-out. Increasing your daily intake of vegetables and fruits is already a sensible step ahead anyway, and if you do eat some meat and fish from time to time this is of course still ok. At the end of the day, as with most things in life, do what works best for you, in your mind, your body and your relationships with others. The choice to be vegetarian–or not–is yours.
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