In declaring April as Wellness Month, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen said more Jamaicans are recognising the importance of health and wellness and have improved lifestyle practices through good nutrition, exercise, rest, stress management, mental health and spirituality. This week, we are focusing on nutrition, specifically the benefits and risks of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.
More and more people are ‘greening’ their plates these days, due to the proliferation of information on the various health benefits.
The vegetarian way
Vegetarians avoid meat, fish and poultry. Those who include dairy products and eggs in their diets are called lacto-ovo vegetarians. A healthy vegetarian diet is typically low in fat and high in fiber. However, those who consume whole milk dairy products and eggs, or excessive amounts of fatty snack foods and fried foods.
A proper vegetarian diet has been shown to lower the risk of developing the following conditions:
- Heart Disease – The number-one killer of women is less common in vegetarians, who also have much lower cholesterol levels than meat eaters. Vegetarian meals are typically low in saturated fat and usually contain little or no cholesterol, since cholesterol is found only in animal products. The type of protein in a vegetarian diet may be another important advantage. Many studies show replacing animal protein with plant protein lowers blood-cholesterol levels, even if the amount of fat in the diet stays the same. Those studies demonstrate a low-fat, vegetarian diet has a clear heart-healthy advantage over other diets.
- Hypertension – Research has shown that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians. In fact, it has also been shown that adding meat to a vegetarian diet rapidly results in significantly raised blood-pressure levels. Individuals with high blood pressure, who change to a vegetarian diet, may able to reduce or eliminate their need for medication.
- Diabetes – Recent studies show a diet high in plant protein (soy is a great source) and complex carbohydrates, (vegetables) but low in fat, starch and sugar, is the best dietary prescription for controlling diabetes. Many type-2 diabetics have used this approach to avoid any need for diabetic medication, and instead use food as their medicine. Even insulin-dependent diabetics can significantly reduce their insulin needs with this kind of plant-based diet.
- Cancer – Researchers from the University of California at Berkley found persons with low fruit and vegetable intake experience about twice the risk of cancer compared with those with high intake. Studies of vegetarians show death rates from cancer are up to 50 per cent less than those of the general population.A vegetarian diet helps protect against cancer in several ways. First, they are lower in fat and higher in fibre than meat-based diets. Vegetarians usually consume more antioxidants, like vitamin C and beta-carotene. These natural substances strengthen the body’s cancer-fighting system – the immune system. Plants also carry many compounds called phyto-nutrients that have anti-cancer properties. Examples of these are the polyphenols in green tea, the isoflavones in soy and the lycopene in tomatoes. Many other anti-cancer aspects of a vegetarian diet are yet to be fully understood.
- Osteoporosis – Vegetarians may also lower their risk for osteoporosis as a high animal-protein intake encourages calcium loss from the bones. Replacing animal protein with plant foods reduces calcium loss. People who live in countries where the diet is plant-based have little osteoporosis, even when their calcium intake is low. In addition, vegetarians are less likely to form either kidney stones or gallstones.