Nutrition

Want to become a vegetarian? Pros & Cons

Before you change your diet in a drastic way, it’s good to familiarize yourself with pro arguments, but also with the cons.

While there are few strict vegetarians (vegans, which don’t eat any animal products, of religious or ethical reasons), there are plenty of “vegetarians” who avoid red meat (because they consider it unhealthy). But one is to replace meat with grains and vegetables, and another to replaces it by chips, chocolate, cakes, biscuits and carbonated drinks. In conclusion, some vegetarian diets are balanced, healthy, and others – on the contrary.

Arguments for Vegetarianism

A diet that includes leguminous (beans, lentils, chick peas), tofu, cereals, low fat dairy, lots of vegetables and fruits will probably have:
– less saturated fat;
– more phytonutrients (which protect against cancer);
– more fiber.

Also, many studies show that vegetarians have:
– less cardiovascular diseases;
– low blood pressure;
– reduced incidence of intestinal and prostate cancer;
– low probability to develop gallstones;
– reduced incidence of diverticulitis (intestinal disorder that is manifested by pain and constipation);
– low perspectives of developing type 2 diabetes.

Instead, it is unknown whether these benefits are due to lack of meat from a daily diet or the presence in high percentage of vegetables.

The Vegan Food Pyramid

Arguments against Vegetarianism

The main disadvantages are related to a potential deficiency of vitamins and minerals. In general, vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products manage to have a balanced diet, while those who choose a narrow range of ingredients are under a higher risk of having an unhealthy diet. The key is to eat as varied as possible, in adequate quantities.

Protein deficiency

It is rather a myth. Enough proteins can be found in cereals, leguminous, nuts and seeds. Even if they don’t have all the essential amino acids, the body will gather from different sources (and no, you don’t need to combine different foods at each meal).

B12 deficiency

B12 vitamin plays a vital role in the functioning of the nervous system and brain cells, so its absence can be a serious problem for vegetarians. It is found only in animal products (meat, fish, eggs and dairy). Some mushrooms contain B12, but in proportion too small to meet the needs of the body. Spirulina (considered a good source) has a form of B12 vitamin that can’t be assimilated by humans. Fermented foods (fish sauce, tempeh) also have B12.

In this case, the solution is to consume milk, yogurt, cheese (all of them low fat), eggs (moderate) or fish. You can choose soya products that have been fortified with the B12 vitamin and fermented ingredients. Or, to be sure, take dietary supplements, especially during pregnancy.

Iron deficiency

Iron is essential for creating red blood cells, and women need twice as much iron than men (due to pregnancy and blood loss during menstruation). If you always feel tired and lethargic, you may have an iron deficiency. Unfortunately for vegetarians, the type of iron found in meat and seafood is more easily absorbed than that from vegetables, cereals, nuts and eggs. Dairy products don’t contain iron.

The solution is to eat a bit of fish and many green leafy vegetables (spinach, orachs – Atriplex hortensis), leguminous and tofu every day. It’s good to eat fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal, because vitamin C facilitates the absorption of iron. Also, avoid black and tea mint during a meal, because tannin prevents the absorption of iron. Don’t take iron supplements unless you have a proven deficiency by blood tests (excess iron can cause gastrointestinal problems).

Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is vital for healthy strong bones. Dairy products are the most important source, so ovo-lacto vegetarians don’t usually lack calcium. Instead, vegans might have problems (increased incidence of osteoporosis).

The solution is to drink beverages (soy, rice), fortified with calcium and take calcium supplements. Don’t count on sesame seeds – they contain a much smaller calcium percentage than people think (and, moreover, is not easily absorbed). Expose yourself to sunlight 10 minutes a day (not at midday). Vitamin D, created under the sun, facilitates calcium absorption. Do more sport (helps “setting” calcium in the bones).

Zinc deficiency

The zinc helps the body to fight infections. Meat and sea fruits are a good source (superior to pills, because the strong doses interferes with iron absorption).

The solution is to eat wheat germs, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, soybeans, peas, beans, muesli and integral pasta. Fish lovers are advised to consume occasionally oysters and clams.

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