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Wednesday 25 June 2008

20 Questions About Vegetarianism

Vegetarian diets are rapidly gaining in popularity. They can reduce the risk of many common diseases, promote weight loss, and help the environment. However, myths and misinformation still abound. If you’re thinking about making the switch it’s important to have accurate information. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions about vegetarianism.

1. What are the different types of vegetarians?

There are several different variations of the vegetarian diet. Strict vegetarians, called vegans, eat no animal products at all. The staples of their diets are fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), grains, seeds, and nuts. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products in addition to plant foods. Lacto-ovo vegetarians include dairy products and eggs as well as plant foods in their diets.

People who eat animal flesh (meat, fish, chicken) are not considered to be vegetarians. However, as the health benefits of a vegetarian diet become more widely known, many people reduce or eliminate animal products. For example, they may eat fish and chicken but no red meat, or they may eat meat in small portions only a few times a week. These people can most accurately be described as following a semi-vegetarian diet.

2. What are the health benefits of a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian diets are lower in saturated fats, cholesterol, and animal protein. They’re also high in folate, anti-oxidant vitamins like C and E, carotenoids, and phytochemicals. Overall, vegetarians have substantially reduced risks for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer - particularly lung cancer and colon cancer. Vegetarian diets that are low in saturated fats have been successfully used to reverse severe coronary artery disease. (1)

3. Is it possible to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet?

Absolutely, it’s actually difficult to become protein deficient unless you quit eating all together. Just about all unrefined foods contain significant amounts of protein. Potatoes are 11% protein, oranges 8%, beans 26%, and tofu 34%. In fact, people have been known to grow at astounding rates (doubling their body size in only six months) on a diet of only 5% protein. These people are infants and they do it during the first 6 months of life, fueled by breast milk, which contains just 5% protein. (2)

4. How much protein do I need, anyway?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (R.D.A.) for protein is 0.8 grams a day per kilogram of bodyweight. (Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kilograms.) Athletes may require more protein, but the amount is small (1.0 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight), an amount easily obtainable from a vegetarian diet.

Excess protein consumption can cause a variety of problems including bone mineral loss, kidney damage, and dehydration. Your body can only use so much protein, the excess is either broken down through oxidization, placing an enormous strain on the kidneys, or it is stored as body fat. Neither option is particularly desirable. (3)

5. What’s the difference between complete and incomplete proteins?

Animal protein contains all nine of the essential amino acids, so it has been referred to as a "complete" protein. The nine essential amino acids can also be found in plant proteins, however no single plant source contains all nine of them. Therefore, plant protein has been referred to as "incomplete."

It was once widely believed that vegetarians had to carefully combine plant protein sources in each meal in order to obtain all nine essential amino acids. However, scientific studies have shown that the human body can store essential amino acids and combine them as necessary. So, while combining beans and rice, or peanut butter and bread produces a complete protein, it’s not necessary to consciously do this at every meal. If you eat a varied diet and adequate calories, combining proteins is not an issue. (2)

6. Why do people become vegetarians?

There are a variety of reasons. Many people switch to a vegetarian diet for weight loss and improved health. Some are concerned about the safety of meat following recent outbreaks of salmonella and e. coli bacteria. Others feel that it is moral or spiritual issue. Some individuals deplore the suffering of animals in modern factory farms. Still others are concerned about the environment and world hunger. A few just don’t like meat. For many vegetarians it is a combination of issues.

7. How does vegetarianism impact the environment?

Throughout the world, forests are being destroyed to support the meat-eating habits of the "developed" nations. Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 40 percent of all Central American rain forests were destroyed to create pasture for beef cattle. More than four million acres of cropland are lost to erosion in the United States every year. Of this staggering topsoil loss, 85 percent is directly associated with livestock raising, i.e., over-grazing. Much of the excrement from "food" animals (which amounts to 20 times as much fecal matter as human waste) flows unfiltered into our lakes and streams. (4)

8. What does vegetarianism have to do with world hunger?

Raising animals for food is an extremely inefficient way to feed a growing human population. The U.S. livestock population consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed more than five times the entire U.S. population. One acre of pasture produces an average of 165 pounds of beef; the same acre can produce 20,000 pounds of potatoes. If Americans reduced their meat consumption by only 10 percent, it would free 12 million tons of grain annually for human consumption. That alone would be enough to adequately feed each of the 60 million people who starve to death each year. (4)

9. What do vegetarians eat? Don’t they miss their favorite foods?

Vegetarians have a variety of great food choices. Many of them are just slight variations on old favorites. Some popular dishes include: pasta with tomato sauce, bean burritos, tacos, tostadas, pizza, baked potatoes, vegetable soups, whole grain bread and muffins, sandwiches, macaroni, stir-fry, all types of salad, veggie burgers with french fries, beans and rice, bagels, breakfast cereals, pancakes, and waffles just to name a few. The freezer sections of most big grocery stores carry an assortment of vegetarian convenience foods such as veggie bacon, burgers, and breakfast sausages.

10. Are vegetarian diets always healthy?

Not always, if a vegetarian replaces the meat with high fat cheeses and oil, they’re not helping matters much. It’s also important to remember that there’s no meat in ice cream, potato chips, and fudge brownies. It’s certainly possible to be a vegetarian and still consume large quantities of high-fat empty calories. Vegetarian or not, a healthy diet is low in cholesterol and saturated fat and is based around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Eliminating the meat doesn’t automatically make for a healthy diet.

11. Is it hard to eat in a restaurant when you’re a vegetarian?

It’s actually surprisingly easy. You can always get beans, rice, and tortillas at a Mexican restaurant. Chinese restaurants offer all kinds of vegetable, rice, and tofu dishes. Italian restaurants are known for spaghetti, ravioli, vegetable lasagna, and minestrone soup. Even a steak restaurant is guaranteed to have big salads, baked potatoes and bread.

Fast food chains are surprisingly accommodating as well. Sandwich shops offer an assortment of vegetables and cheeses on a bun with mustard, mayo or whatever you prefer. Burger places are willing to leave the meat off of your sandwich. Many fast food places now offer salads, baked potatoes, or meatless pita sandwiches. The big pizza delivery companies have all kinds of delicious vegetable toppings. They’ll even leave the cheese off if you ask.

12. Is a vegetarian diet safe for children and teenagers?

According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian diets satisfy the needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth. Emphasis should be placed on foods rich in calcium, iron, and zinc. They also stress that growing children need frequent meals and snacks, and that it’s okay for children to have some refined foods and foods that are higher in fat in order to meet their energy demands.

13. Aren’t vegetarians frail and weak?

No, that one is a myth. Former champion bodybuilder, Bill Pearl is a vegetarian. So is the legendary 6'8, 320 pound wrestler, Killer Kowalski; fitness guru, Jack LaLanne; Olympic gold medalist, Edwin Moses; and 6-time Ironman Triathlon winner, Dave Scott, just to name a few. Burly vegetarians from the animal kingdom include bulls, elephants, rhinos, and gorillas. Try telling one of those guys that you can’t get big and strong eating your leaves and twigs!

14. How do you make the transition to a vegetarian diet?

That depends on the individual. Some people just decide to do it and never look back. Others make gradual changes to their diets. They may start by having one or two meatless meals a day just to try it out. Some people set aside one or two days a week to go veggie, or even one day a week to eat meat. Some people start by eliminating red meat and work from there. Others just cut back on the amount of meat in their diet, using it as a condiment instead of the main course.

15. What if you live with a family of meat-eaters?

This isn’t as tricky as it sounds. It’s possible for vegetarians and meat-eaters to coexist peacefully at the same dinner table. Many dishes are a combination of vegetables, grains, and meat. The idea is to serve the various elements separately or to add the meat last.

Some suggestions include: a pizza that’s half meat / half veggie, Mexican food like tacos or fajitas that everyone assembles themselves, pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs with the meat added after the vegetarian has been served, or cookouts where the meat-eaters grill hot dogs and hamburgers and the vegetarian grills veggie dogs and veggie burgers. Don’t forget about meatless favorites like bread, beans, potatoes, pasta, rice, casseroles, and desserts that everyone can enjoy.

16. What do vegetarians do about travel, and social functions?

Major airlines have vegetarian meals available but you need to request it when you make your reservation. At catered events like weddings and parties, you may want to mention your dietary preferences to the host. Caterers can provide a vegetarian meal for you if they know about it ahead of time. For an important business lunch in an unfamiliar restaurant, a quick phone call to inquire about the menu options can help to put you at ease. If you’re invited to dinner in someone’s home, let the host know that you’re a vegetarian. You can also offer to contribute a dish to a dinner party or family gathering. That way you’re assured of having something good to eat.

In all of these cases, you can choose as much or as little advance preparation as you want. If you’d just as soon hang yourself with a dinner napkin than try to make special arrangements, it’s perfectly acceptable to go with the flow and make the best of what’s offered. I haven’t encountered a dining situation yet that didn’t include some variation of vegetables and bread.

17. Do vegetarians need special vitamins and supplements?

In most cases they don’t. A well-rounded vegetarian diet that includes a variety of foods usually meets all nutritional requirements. One possible exception would be vitamin B-12 which is found only in animal products. Vegetarians who limit dairy products may also want to pay special attention to getting enough calcium. Good calcium sources for vegetarians include: tofu, beans, dried figs, collard greens, blackstrap molasses, and calcium fortified orange juice or soy milk.

18. Who are some famous vegetarians?

Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Socrates, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Clive Barker, David Duchovny, Drew Barrymore, Candice Bergen, Kim Basinger, Paul McCartney, Chelsea Clinton, Woody Harrelson, Steve Vai, Eddie Vedder, Lisa Simpson, Hank Aaron, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Adams, Peter Gabriel, Mary Tyler Moore, Leonard Nimoy, Alicia Silverstone, Liv Tyler, Jerry Seinfeld, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau. (5)

19. What do the experts say?

The American Dietetic Association says that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. (1)

1 comment :

  1. Oh, my Mommie has been a vegetarian for over 15 years now. We're glad it's becoming more common and there are lots more foods at restaurants for vegetarians to eat.


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