Vegetarianism and Nutrition

A low-meat or vegetarian diet is healthy and incredibly tasty. Most traditional diets of the world don't include much meat, and the variety of foods available is both enormous and exciting. You can eat a slab of animal flesh every evening, or you can try some of the amazing flavors you can experience when you don't have animal blood contaminating your food.

But is vegetarian nutrition good nutrition? It can be, though you can eat a terrible diet no matter what your ethical choices are. If you give a little thought to your diet, you're probably going to cut some meat out anyway. And the more you cut, the better. Have a look at what some of the experts say...

The Mayo Health Clinic states: "Vegetarians have lower rates of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Vegetarians are also less likely to have gallstones, kidney stones and constipation and they weigh less on average." 

The American Institute for Cancer Research provides a list of guidelines for a diet which helps prevent cancer. Although not directly recommending vegetarianism, these guidelines recommend eating a "predominantly plant-based diet," eating a wide variety of vegetables, and limiting meat consumption.

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association states that, "...appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." The article then goes on to describe a variety of ways in which vegetarianism is a healthier lifestyle, citing lower mortality from and incidence of a variety of diseases and conditions. Concerning the ability of a vegetarian diet for providing proper nutrition, the report states:

Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids if a variety of plant foods are consumed and energy needs are met. Research suggests that complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same time and that consumption of various sources of amino acids over the course of the day should ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy persons. Although vegetarian diets are lower in total protein and a vegetarian's protein needs may be somewhat elevated because of the lower quality of some plant proteins, protein intake in both lacto-ovo-vegetarians and vegans appears to be adequate.

Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and attending physician at the California Pacific Medical Center, advocates a completely meatless diet as part of a highly effective regimen to greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. He also say's it's a good way to lose weight.

A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states: "Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy excellent health. Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and can meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients. You can get enough protein from a vegetarian diet as long as the variety and amounts of foods consumed are adequate."

The American Cancer Society states:

Scientific data show that vegetarian diets reduce not only obesity and constipation, but alcoholism and the risk of lung cancer as well. There is also evidence that diets excluding animal fats reduce the incidence of coronary artery disease, hypertension, type II diabetes and gallstones.
Vegetarian diets are healthful primarily because they reduce or eliminate fat derived from animal products, while containing almost the full range of vitamins and minerals essential to good health.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports on numerous health benefits from a vegetarian diet. Their article cites lower risk of cancer,  heart disease, stroke, diverticulosis, constipation, macular degeneration, neural tube birth defects, and diabetes. The article also reports that "any raw food--including fruits or vegetables--can carry harmful bacteria... But meat, seafood, and poultry are the most likely culprits in foodborne illness."

For a good resource on how (and why) to eat a healthy diet, check out The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. Or read these two detailed documents on vegetarian nutrition from non-vegetarian sites: Thrive Online and Home Arts.


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Copyright © 1998-2001 by Ed Pastore. All rights reserved. Excerpts from this document may be quoted with proper reference to the URL, the author, and the modification date listed below.
modified July 12, 2001