On going green

Things you wanted to know about vegetarianism and didn't know who to ask

What does being vegetarian mean? Does it mean just giving up meat? Is being a vegetarian different from being a vegan?

A vegetarian diet comprises legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables. There are different types of vegetarians:

Lacto vegetarians

vegetables

They eat: cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits and milk.

They avoid: meat, fish, eggs and poultry.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians

They eat: cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruit, milk and eggs.

They avoid: meat, fish and poultry.

Vegan

They eat: cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit.

They avoid: milk, eggs, meat, fish and poultry.

What are the health benefits of being a vegetarian?

  • Lowered intake of saturated fat, because of absence of meat.
  • Feeling light, energetic, and full for longer due to more roughage [dietary fibre] present in veg food.
  • Lower blood pressure levels due to less fat consumption.
  • Lower total blood cholesterol levels, more so in vegans as they do not have dairy products. This is because whole-fat milk products and eggs tend to raise serum blood lipids due to their saturated fat and cholesterol content.
  • Lower risk of colon cancer. Diets high in meat/animal fat may increase the incidence of colon cancer by increasing the fecal concentration of various carcinogens. Carcinogens might get produced if the meat is cooked at very high temperatures.

Does excluding non-vegetarian food like fish or chicken from my diet deprive my body of certain nutrients? Does vegetarian food have enough protein? What are vegetarian sources of protein?

Unless vegetarians choose a proper balance of foods, they are at risk of developing several deficiencies, especially deficiency of vitamin B12.The other nutrients at risk are riboflavin, calcium, iron, and the essential amino acids lysine and methionine.

Vegans are at risk of zinc deficiency because the phytic acid in whole grains binds zinc, and fruits and vegetables have too little anyway. Since B12 is present only in animal foods and a limited number of specially fortified foods, vegans may need to take B12 supplements prescribed by a physician.

Low protein digestibility and quality are other potential risks, since vegetarian foods like cereals and pulses are not good sources of complete protein. While cereals lack in amino acid lysine, pulses lack in amino acid methionine. However, they can provide better quality protein if combined with each.

Can vegetarian food alternatives be as tasty and interesting as non-vegetarian ones?

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of cuisines and several cooking methods. Even in purely vegetarian households, there is no dearth of ways to make nutritious, yet interesting meals.

Does staying vegetarian require a lot of willpower?

This is completely dependent on your belief system and your reasons for choosing to switch over to vegetarianism. How frequently you eat non-vegetarian food also matters to some degree.

Besides, changing any habit does require some degree of willpower. But if you are convinced about the reasons to do it, it won't be too difficult.

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Samreedhi Goel
Samreedhi Goel is a Nutritionist and Personal trainer & fitness columnist who has been a part of the fitness industry since 1999. She has helped hundreds of people shape up, lose weight, achieve the body of their dreams, become fitter and healthier individuals and overcome chronic health problems through her fitness studio Size Wise.Her fitness columns and interviews appear on a regular basis in prestigious publications like Complete Wellbeing, Sunday Midday, Rediff.com, Seventeen India, Mumbai.

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