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What are Some Good and Bad Things about Becoming a Vegetarian?

vegetarian food

vegetarian food

There are many positive — and some negative — aspects about becoming a vegetarian. As there are various types of vegetarians (see Interested in becoming a vegetarian), people become vegetarians for different reasons. Some eliminate or reduce their intake of animal foods and products for moral, ethical, or environmental reasons. Others feel they will become healthier or lose weight — which may or may not occur. The healthfulness of any eating plan depends on the foods that are consumed. If groups of foods are omitted, it’s important to understand how to replace the vital nutrients that go with them.

Nature offers an enormous variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Plant foods are abundant in nutrients — they have some or all of the following: vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate, fat, and water. They also contain phytochemicals – plant chemicals that are not essential to life, but may help protect against disease – such as beta-carotene. Since so many, possibly thousands, of these compounds exist, this is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). Others include lutein, lycopene, isothiocyanates, and zeoxanthin — quite a mouthful! Phytochemicals are often apparent as a pigment — red, purple, or orange, for example. Eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables can help ensure that the benefits nature provides are reaped. By the way, most of these compounds aren’t available in a pill, so eating fruits and veggies is the only way to get them.

A well-planned vegetarian eating plan can provide all of the nutrients needed. Particular attention has to be paid to protein, especially for those who consume no animal products (vegans). Everyone requires protein, comprised of amino acids, to maintain and repair muscle tissue, and manufacture blood cells, antibodies, hormones, enzymes, and all types of body structures. Protein also helps children and adolescents to grow. Nine amino acids are termed “essential” because they must be obtained from food (as our bodies do not make enough or at all). If a food doesn’t have all of these, it is an “incomplete” protein. All plant foods are incomplete, except for soy. The good news is that some foods are missing the amino acids found in others. We call these complementary proteins. An example is rice and beans. Each food’s assortment of amino acids complements the other. In other words, essential amino acids missing in one food are provided by another. As long as they are eaten in the same day, our bodies can form proteins from them. In addition, most of the time, vegetarians, especially vegans, require a greater quantity of food than omnivores (those who eat all foods) because plant foods offer less complete protein per serving than animal foods.

The negative aspects of vegetarianism are the possible deficiencies that may develop if a balanced eating plan is not consumed. If dairy, meat, fish, and poultry are excluded, one may become deficient in vitamin B12(important for nerve transmission and necessary for life), calcium (for strong bones, among other functions), iron (for blood), and zinc (for immunity and healing), just to name a few. As a result, it is what is included, rather than excluded, in our diets that counts. For example, there are vegetarians who subsist on bagels and pasta alone (the white diet); or who cut out all meat but eat cookies and candy — not balanced eating plans, to say the least. One’s choices are key to healthy eating: select nutrient-dense foods more often and nutrient-lacking ones less often. After all, the name we place on ourselves is not as important as our overall choices.

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