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Today in Health & Wellness
HEALTHY EATING

Going Green

By: Ivan Olegario, MD, MDevComGoing Green

Since childhood, our parents often told us that vegetables are good for our health. They are not kidding, you know. Vegetables, in general, are a rich source of dietary fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. Health experts recommend that we should eat 3 to 4 servings of vegetables a day.

However, for vegetarians, all servings are vegetable servings. Vegetarians abstain from eating meats, such as red meats (e.g., pork or beef), poultry, seafood, or other animal flesh. The most common reasons for going vegetarian are health reasons and ethical reasons (e.g., belief that killing animals is not ethical). Other people go vegetarian hoping to slim down.

What kind of vegetarian are you?

Depending on your choice of diet, you can be categorized into one of many classifications of vegetarians (see Table 1. Types of vegetarian diets).

Table 1. Types of vegetarian diets

Do you...

Then you are a/an…

  • Avoid meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as foods that contain them but eat/drink dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter?

Lacto-vegetarian

  • Avoid meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but eat eggs?

Ovo-vegetarian

  • Avoid meat, fish, and poultry but eat/drink dairy products and eggs?

Lacto-ovo vegetarian

  • Avoid meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs but eat fish (or other seafood)?

Pescatarian

  • Avoid meat, dairy, and fish but eat poultry?

Pollotarian

  • Avoid meat and dairy but eat poultry, fish, and seafood?

Pollo-pescetarian

  • Avoid meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as foods that contain these products?

Vegan


There are other less common types of vegetarian diets, such as the Buddhist vegetarian diet (vegetarian diet based on specific Buddhist traditions), fruitarianism (fruits, nuts, and seeds only), Jain vegetarianism (avoids eggs, honey and root vegetables), macrobiotic diets (whole grains and beans mostly).

The skinny on being vegetarian

As mentioned before, vegetables are good for you. A 2010 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services reported that compared to non-vegetarians, vegetarians in general:

  • Consume a lower proportion of calories from fat, especially the heart attack-causing saturated fats
  • Consume fewer calories in general
  • Eat more fiber
  • Receive more potassium, essential for healthy nerves, muscles, and blood pressure
  • Receive more vitamin C, essential for healthy skin, hair and immune system.

These could contribute to why vegetarians generally have longer life spans and lower risks for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Some studies also suggest that they have a lower risk of cancer, except for breast cancer.

However, it’s not always all good. A vegetarian diet may sometimes not be rich enough in variety to provide all the necessary nutrients for a healthy body. In general, a vegetarian diet has lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids (good for the heart), vitamin B12 (good for the blood and nerves), calcium and vitamin D (strong bones, teeth, and muscles) and protein (building blocks of the body). Iron content may be the same, but the iron from vegetables are harder to absorb by the body.

How to be a healthy vegetarian

To ensure that you get the most of your vegetarian diet, here are some suggestions on how to fill up the nutrient gaps in your diet.

Table 2. Bridging the nutrient gap in vegetarian diets

To bridge the gap in this nutrient…

Load up on more…

Omega-3 fatty acids

Flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans, and walnuts

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12-fortified soy products and cereal products; eggs if an ovo-vegetarian

Calcium

Cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, other leafy vegetables, okra, almonds

Tofu

Fortified soymilk or almond milk

Milk, yogurt and other dairy products if lacto- or lacto-ovo-vegetarians

Protein

Pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, almonds, pistachio nuts, tofu, oats, soybeans, walnuts, chia seed, spirulina, and quinoa

Vitamin D

Cereals

Soymilk; milk if allowed

Alfalfa sprouts, mushrooms


Switch to vegetarian options

Some vegetarians do not eat eggs and dairy. However, these two are important ingredients when cooking. How can you enjoy cooking while still staying true to your diet? See:

Table 3. Replace this with that

Replace…

By using…

Eggs (1 piece)

1 banana (for cakes, pancakes, sweets, and pastries)

 

OR

 

2 tablespoons of cornstarch

 

OR

 

¼  cup well-blended tofu

Milk

Soymilk

Coconut milk

Almond milk


Other expert tips

In addition to these helpful tips, the American Heart Association has more to say about being a healthy vegetarian, in their article “Vegetarian Diets.”

  • “Any type of vegetarian diet should include a wide variety of foods and enough calories to meet your energy needs.”
  • “Keep your intake of sweets and fatty foods to a minimum. These foods are low in nutrients and high in calories.”
  • “Use a variety of fruits and vegetables, including foods that are good sources of vitamins A and C.”
  • “If you use milk or dairy products, choose fat-free/nonfat and low-fat varieties.”

By following all of these tips, you can reap all the health benefits of being a vegetarian, without the nutrition gaps associated with it.

Unconventional reasons for going green

For some vegetarians, going green is a vocation and advocacy that goes beyond religion and health. Here are other profound reasons to become vegetarian.

Environmental vegetarianism

Many vegetarians believe that widespread meat consumption is not sustainable. A 2006 United Nations report stated that the livestock industry is one of the major reasons for environmental deterioration worldwide. Raising animals could have harmful effects on water (e.g., water contamination from feces), land quality (excessive compaction during herding), global warming (methane production from feces) and biodiversity (destruction of habitats to make way for farms). Environmental vegetarians avoid meat to discourage farming and its effects on the environment.

Economic vegetarianism

These vegetarians believe that going vegetarian is healthy also for the pocket and the economy. First of all, by promoting plants as a main source of food that is less expensive, going vegetarian can help one’s financial health. In addition, eating a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease. This means less money will be needed to provide expensive treatments for these diseases.



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