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Being a Vegetarian

There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose to become a vegetarian. Sometimes, there is no choice, initially that is, because one might be born into a vegetarian family.

Many people give up eating flesh on moral or compassionate grounds, while others become vegetarian to improve their health and well-being. Whatever the reason, the decision to become a vegetarian is a personal one, made for any number of reasons.

Vegetarian food can be an extremely healthy choice, provided that we make sure that we are getting all the important vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats for a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

What is a vegetarian?

There are different kinds of vegetarians:-

1. Lacto vegetarians; eat no flesh of any kind. Their diet consists of fruit and vegetables
and dairy products (vegetarian cheese only)

2. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians; eat the same as the lacto vegetarians but also include eggs
in their diet.

3. Vegans; eat only plant food. They eat no flesh, no eggs and no dairy products. Some
will eat honey but not others.

4. Fruitarians; eat only fruits, nuts and seeds. (This includes the fruit of vegetables such
as tomatoes and zucchini/courgettes. However they never eat the roots of plants such
as carrots and potatoes)

How healthy is a vegetarian diet?

There are studies to confirm if a well-balanced vegetarian diet is followed you will be eating healthily:

1. It is usually lower in saturated fats (found mainly in meat and dairy products)

2. It is high in complex carbohydrates which provide bulk for the diet. These are the
unrefined or low-refined starchy food that should form the majority of the average
vegetarian diet–bread, rice, other grains, pasta, potatoes, cereals, dried beans, peas,
lentils, fruit and vegetables.

There are many alternatives to obtain the protein found in flesh, such as nuts, seeds, legumes (beans and pulses) and some whole grains. These foods also contain fiber which helps the body stay healthy.

 

The four main food groups

1. Beans, nuts and seeds.
2. Grains.
3. Dairy produce.
4. Fruit and vegetables.

If something from each group is included in the daily diet, you will be sure of getting the nutrients you need for a healthy diet.

 

Are there health benefits from a vegetarian diet?

A vegetarian diet can be either helpful or harmful to a person’s health, depending on whether they get proper nutrition Some of the health benefits for vegetarians who eat responsibly include decreased risk of heart disease as they grow older, lower blood pressure, decreased risk for some types of cancer, lower chance of adult onset diabetes and a lower likelihood of being overweight. (Since they are eating foods that are less likely to harden the arteries, they are less likely to cause obesity.)

Are there nutrients that vegetarians don’t get enough of?

A vegetarian diet could be low in certain nutrients that are found in meat, poultry and fish. These include calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Vegetarians also have to be sure to eat enough protein. This can be particularly challenging if they are vegans, as foods of animal origin, such as milk and cheese, are high in protein.

Here are some important nutrients that vegetarians need, why they need them, and vegetarian foods that contain these important nutrients.

Protein
Protein helps muscles remain strong. Proteins need to be eaten regularly, because the body cannot save them for later use.

Since meat has a lot of protein, it’s extremely important to find alternate sources if you are a vegetarian. Foods that contain protein include beans, nuts, nut butters, lentils, tofu and other soy products.

Iron
Iron plays a very important role in the formation of red blood cells. A lack of iron can cause anemia. Anemia causes person to feel tired and to lack energy.

While red meat contains high amounts of iron, non-meat foods that are high in iron are dried beans, spinach, beet greens, prunes, and iron-fortified cereals and bread. Foods that are high in vitamin C (citrus juices, citrus fruit and red peppers, for example) help the body absorb iron.

Calcium
Calcium is very important for healthy bones and teeth, especially during the teen years. A diet that is poor in calcium can lead to weak bones that break easily, and a condition called osteoporosis (literally, bones with holes in them).

Milk products are a great source of calcium. Vegans can get calcium from plant foods such as leafy greens (dark ones such as kale and collard greens), broccoli, tofu, beans and fortified soy milk.

Vitamin B12

Vegetarians may lack B12 and D which can be found  eating such special cultured (fermented) food as miso, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and nutritional (brewer’s) yeast. Black mushrooms, brown rice, sprouts, spirulina, barley and wheat grass juice, and some seaweed are also suppliers of these nutrients.

Lack of vitamin B12 can also cause anemia. Other problems include poor memory and weak muscles.

Consumption of enough vitamin B12 is usually not a problem for vegetarians who eat eggs and milk products, since B12 is found in foods of animal origin. It is found also in multivitamin supplements and fortified cereals.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important in helping the body use calcium. Lack of vitamin D may cause similar problems to those caused by a lack of calcium.

There are only a few foods that are high in vitamin D naturally. Most brands of milk contain vitamin D, as do many multivitamins. Exposure to sunlight also stimulates the body to produce vitamin D.

Being a vegetarian in Malaysia

Being a vegetarian in Malaysia was a challenge until a few years ago, where you either had a choice between Indian vegetarian food and Chinese vegetarian food. However, being a vegetarian has become popular in recent times and we now have more restaurants and cafes that actually permanently provide vegetarian fare on their menu.

Famous Vegetarians!

Throughout history, many famous people have embraced vegetarianism for ethical and health purposes. Actors, musicians, writers, and even sports stars have practiced vegetarianism.
The biggest surprise to most meat eaters is the growing number of athletes that have become vegetarians since it has been widely believed that being a vegetarian does not provide adequate protein. However, athletes such as Carl Lewis and Martina Navratilova, are some of the athletes who seem to have gotten along just fine. Historical figures who have been vegetarians include Pythagoras, Plato, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Twain, Voltaire, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Henry David Thoreau .

Interesting Read:

Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes: Lives and Lore from Buddha to the Beatles (Paperback), by Rynn Berry (Author)