Vegetarian Diet – “The world is turning vegetarian” is the claim made by advocates of ‘Vegetarianism for good health’. True, vegetarian diets can be really healthy and safe but only if the foods are well balanced and portions allotted according to age, sex and physical activity of the individual. If this is not followed, deficiencies that lead to diseases will occur due to improper food balancing.
Known Health Benefits
Most vegetarian diets, when they are a combination of a variety of properly balanced foods, can have tremendous health benefits.
- Vegetarians automatically have a lower intake of saturated fatty acids which are derived mainly from the consumption of animal products, particularly red meat. Vegetarians confine themselves to lower fatty acids from dairy products and eggs.
- High dietary fibre is present in vegetarian food, especially in veggies like legumes which are an excellent source of protein. Dietary fibres help in lowering the risk of colon cancer.
- Antioxidants are present in plenty in a vegetarian diet. Fruits, vegetables and plant oils contain vitamins C and E and these are always incorporated into a vegetarian diet automatically.
Complications of a vegetarian diet
- Blood disorders due to iron deficiency are common. Enough absorbable iron intake is a must, especially for females. Dairy, eggs and other plant food contain dietary iron of which only 2 to 20% is absorbed whereas at least 15 to 30% of the iron in non-vegetarian foods like poultry and fish gets absorbed.
- Vitamin B12 is present only in animal products. A deficiency in this important vitamin causes changes in the nervous system and results in weak limbs and even difficulty in speaking and walking.
- Rickets is a disease that is a result of Vitamin D deficiency. The sun is the main source of this vitamin, but for many, fortified milk is the answer.
- When one concentrates on too much fibre intake, vegetarians end up consuming a really bulky diet which can put a restriction on energy intake.
Pesticides in Food
Another aspect that is gaining in alarming proportions is the large-scale use of pesticides in agriculture. What we think are fresh fruits and vegetables are so doused with chemical fertilizers and pesticides that what we are really consuming is a heavy dose of toxins. These then are the invisible hazards of consuming fruits and veggies without cleaning them well.
To minimize the effect of pesticides
- Scrub the veggies well under running water to remove dirt and other residues.
- Even when you buy them, look for those without holes or depressions in them as these can harbour hidden pesticides.
- Always remove the outer layer of leaves and skin from vegetables.
- Select and eat a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables so that you are not exposed to a heavy dose of any one pesticide.
- Try and buy organically grown vegetables and fruits to minimize the risk of pesticides and chemicals.
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