The Health Benefits of Choosing a Vegetarian Diet

Some people think that all vegetarians are healthier than their meat-eating counterparts. I’ll just say as a reminder that pizza and doughnuts are technically vegetarian foods. Choosing what you put in your body is just as important as choosing what not to put in your body. A well-balanced vegetarian diet can offer many health benefits.

According to Brown University, “Vegetarian foods are a major source of nutrition for most people in the world.” Factory farming has made meat plentiful in America, but other countries don’t see meat as an everyday nutritional source. For people in other places, meat is a delicacy or something reserved for special occasions. In some countries, eating meat is not a thing at all. It’s just different cultures.

Brown University also asserts that “Vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease and some forms of cancer than non-vegetarians.” Lower risk of cancers and heart disease? I’ll take it.

According to the ADA, vegetarians are at lower risk for developing:

  • Heart disease
  • Colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

This is because a healthy vegetarian diet is typically low in fat and high in fiber. However, even a vegetarian diet can be high in fat if it includes excessive amounts of fatty snack foods, fried foods, whole milk dairy products, and eggs. Therefore, a vegetarian diet, like any healthy diet, must be well planned in order to help prevent and treat certain diseases. (source)

This site also has helpful information on how to get all the essential nutrients you need through a vegetarian diet:

Do vegetarians get proper nutrition?

The key to any healthy diet is to choose a wide variety of foods, and to consume enough calories to meet your energy needs. It is important for vegetarians to pay attention to these five categories in particular.

Protein
Protein is found in both plant foods and animal foods. The ADA has said that it is NOT necessary to combine specific foods within a meal in order to “complete” the amino acids profile of the proteins found in plant foods. Eating a wide variety of foods and enough calories during the day will fulfill your protein needs. Good sources of protein include whole grains, lentils, beans, tofu, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, tempeh, eggs, and peas.

Calcium
The ADA recommends that adults 19 to 50-years-old consume at least 1000mg of calcium per day — the equivalent of 3 cups of milk or yogurt. Vegetarians can meet their calcium needs if they consume adequate amounts of low-fat and fat-free dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Calcium is also found in many plant foods including dark, leafy greens (e.g. spinach, kale, mustard, collard and turnip greens, and bok choy), broccoli, beans, dried figs, and sunflower seeds, as well as in calcium-fortified cereals, cereal bars and some fortified juices.

Vegans (people who don’t eat any animal products) must strive to meet their daily calcium requirements by regularly including these plant sources of calcium in their diets. Many soy milk products are fortified with calcium, but be sure to check the label for this. You can also include a calcium supplement in your diet, which is available at the pharmacy in Health Services.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium. There are few foods that are naturally high in vitamin D, though. Therefore, dairy products in the US are fortified with vitamin D. Many soy milk products are also fortified with vitamin D. Your body can make its own vitamin D, but only when the skin is exposed to adequate sunlight (but that can have its own risks). People who do not consume dairy products and who do not receive direct exposure to sunlight regularly should consider taking supplemental vitamin D. The recommended intake of Vitamin D for college students is 200 international units (IU) per day.  Despite research suggesting that higher intakes of vitamin D may be protective against a variety of diseases, intakes above 2000 IU per day can result in vitamin D toxicity. Both multivitamin supplements and calcium supplements with vitamin D are available at the pharmacy in Health Services

Iron
Iron-fortified breads and cereals, dark green vegetables (e.g. spinach and broccoli), dried fruits, prune juice, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and soybean nuts are good plant sources of iron. Consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or juices, tomatoes, and green peppers helps your body absorb iron from these plant sources. Cooking food in iron pots and pans will also add to your iron intake.

Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is produced in animals and by bacteria in the soil. Vegetarians who consume dairy products and/or eggs usually get enough B-12 since it is found in these foods. Vegans, however, should add vitamin B-12 fortified soy milk to their diets. Regularly taking a broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement (available at the pharmacy in Health Services) will also supply the necessary amount of B-12.

I believe a well-balanced diet, whether it is vegetarian or flexitarian or whatever is key to a healthy body and mind!

Other resources:

“Being a Vegetarian” Brown University

“Why Go Veg?” Vegetarian Times

“Benefits Of Vegetarianism: Vegetarians Live Longer” Huffington Post

“Ten Health Benefits of Vegetarianism for Women” Yahoo

“6 Reasons to Eat Less Meat” Women’s Health

 

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