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the vegetarian starter kit
Vegetarian Foods - Powerful for Health
A vegetarian menu is a powerful and
pleasurable way to achieve good health. The vegetarian eating
pattern is based on a wide variety of foods that are
satisfying, delicious, and healthful. Vegetarians avoid meat,
fish, and poultry. Those who include dairy products and eggs
in their diets are called lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegans (pure
vegetarians) eat no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or dairy
products. While there is a considerable advantage to a
lacto-ovo vegetarian pattern, vegan diets are the healthiest
of all, reducing risk of a broad range of health concerns.
A Healthy Heart
Vegetarians have much lower cholesterol
levels than meat-eaters, and heart disease is uncommon in
vegetarians. The reasons are not hard to find. Vegetarian
meals are typically low in saturated fat and usually contain
little or no cholesterol. Since cholesterol is found only in
animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, vegans consume
a cholesterol-free diet.
The type of protein in a vegetarian diet may
be another important advantage. Many studies show that
replacing animal protein with plant protein lowers blood
cholesterol levels-even if the amount and type of fat in the
diet stays the same. Those studies show that a low-fat,
vegetarian diet has a clear advantage over other diets.
Lower Blood Pressure
An impressive number of studies, dating back
to the early 1920s, show that vegetarians have lower blood
pressure than non-vegetarians. In fact, some studies have
shown that adding meat to a vegetarian diet raises blood
pressure levels rapidly and significantly. The effects of a
vegetarian diet occur in addition to the benefits of reducing
the sodium content of the diet. When patients with high blood
pressure begin a vegetarian diet, many are able to eliminate
their need for medication.
The latest studies on diabetes show that a
diet high in complex carbohydrates (which are found only in
plant foods) and low in fat is the best dietary prescription
for controlling diabetes. Since diabetics are at high risk for
heart disease, avoiding fat and cholesterol is the most
important goal of the diabetic diet, and a vegetarian diet is
ideal. Although all insulin-dependent diabetics need to take
insulin, plant-based diets can help to reduce insulin needs.
A vegetarian diet helps prevent cancer.
Studies of vegetarians show that death rates from cancer are
only about one-half to three-quarters of those of the general
population. Breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in
countries where diets are typically plant-based. When people
from those countries adopt a Western, meat-based diet, their
rates of breast cancer soar.
Vegetarians also have significantly less
colon cancer than meat eaters. Meat consumption is more
closely associated with colon cancer than any other dietary
Why do vegetarian diets help protect against
cancer? First, they are lower in fat and higher in fiber than
meat-based diets. But other factors are important, too. For
example, vegetarians usually consume more of the plant pigment
beta-carotene. This might help to explain why they have less
lung cancer. Also, at least one study has shown that natural
sugars in dairy products may raise the risk for ovarian cancer
in some women.
Some of the anti-cancer aspects of a
vegetarian diet cannot yet be explained. For example,
researchers are not quite sure why vegetarians have more of
certain white blood cells, called “natural killer cells,”
which are able to seek out and destroy cancer cells.
The Calcium Connection
Vegetarians are less likely to form either
kidney stones or gallstones. In addition, vegetarians may also
be at lower risk for osteoporosis because they eat little or
no animal protein. A high intake of animal protein encourages
the loss of calcium from the bones. Replacing animal products
with plant foods reduces the amount of calcium lost. This may
help to explain why people who live in countries where the
diet is typically plant-based have little osteoporosis even
when calcium intake is low.
Planning Vegetarian Diets
It’s easy to plan vegetarian diets that
easily meet nutrient needs. Grains, beans, and vegetables are
rich in protein and iron. Green leafy vegetables, beans,
lentils, nuts, and dried fruits are excellent sources of
Vitamin D is normally made in the body when
sun shines on the skin. Those who have regular sun exposure do
not normally need to get vitamin D in foods. People who are
dark-skinned or live at northern latitudes have some
difficulty producing vitamin D year round. Vitamin D can
easily be obtained from fortified foods. Some sources are
commercial breakfast cereals, soymilk, other supplemental
products, and multivitamins.
Vitamin B12 is plentiful in fortified foods.
Some sources are commercial breakfast cereals, soy products,
and Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast. Although
vitamin B12 deficiency is uncommon, strict vegetarians should
be sure to include a source of this vitamin in their diet.
When reading food labels, look for the word cyanocobalamin in
the ingredient list. This is the form of vitamin B12 that is