The Benefits Of A Vegetarian Diet

An overview of the benefits of a vegetarian diet.

Individuals who switch to a vegetarian diet do so for a variety of reasons including health concerns, religious, moral, and philosophical causes, or financial savings.The vegetarian diet can be divided into four categories:

Lacto-ovo: those who include dairy and eggs in their diet along with plant foods.

Ovo-vegetarians: those who will add eggs, along with plant foods.

Lacto-vegetarians: those who will consume dairy products such as milk and cheese but will not eat eggs.

Vegans: those who will eat only plant foods and no animal products whatsoever.

Studies have shown that most vegetarians have a decreased risk of obesity, alcoholism, muscle cramps, and lung cancer. Other studies have shown lower risks for Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, gallstones, and arterial disease.

While many claim that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, this cannot be proven conclusively, as the American lifestyle is also influenced by such factors as smoking, drinking, stress, exercise, and enough sleep. Research has shown that vegetarians who also live an overall healthy lifestyle can expect their longevity to be equal to or greater than those who eat meat.

Soybeans and soy products are a staple of the vegetarian diet. Soy comes closest to matching the nutrients found in meat. Some researchers call soybeans the perfect food because they have every nutrient needed for human health, except for vitamin B12. Products made from soy include beverages, tofu, tempeh, and textured vegetable (or soy) protein, which resembles ground meat. Many health food stores and some major grocery stores, carry a wide variety of soy products such as soy hot dogs, hamburger, sausage, and other meat replacements.

The most important thing to remember is that no one food contains all the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. This is especially important for those that eat no animal products at all, since Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products and is essential for the formation of red blood cells and plays a principle part in keeping a healthy nervous system.

Other vitamins and minerals that need to be included in a vegetarian diet, either through food or supplements, are calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and iron. Fortified cereals and soy beverages can be sources of Vitamin B12. Calcium is found in many green leafy vegetables such as spinach, mustard, collard greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, some tofu, and other enriched soy products. Vitamin D can be absorbed through the skin by exposure to the sun, and many soy drinks are fortified with this essential vitamin. Iron is found in tofu, whole grains, and legumes. The absorption of iron is enhanced by Vitamin C found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers.

Protein is always a concern for vegetarians. Without meat in their diet, many newcomers to vegetarianism feel they cannot get the protein their body needs. Protein is found in many plants, including nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, and soy products.

Provided you watch what you eat and make sure to consume foods with the necessary vitamins and minerals, the vegetarian diet can be an extremely healthy alternative to fast food and processed dinners. Most vegetarians lower their sodium and calorie intake, thus making the diet an easy one for weight control.

By combining the vegetarian diet with other positive lifestyle choices like exercise, giving up cigarettes, and drinking alcohol only in moderation, you will be giving your body its best chance for a long and healthy life.

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