Vegetarian Diets Offer Nutritional Benefits

Filed Under (My Works) by admin on 31-07-2008

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Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes all meat, including poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, and slaughter by-products. The reasons for choosing vegetarianism may be related to morality, religion, culture, ethics, aesthetics, environment, society, economy, politics, taste, or health.

There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/or some products produced from animal labor such as dairy products and honey. Veganism, for example, excludes all animal products from diet. By some strict definitions, animal products are not used for attire either, whether or not the production of clothing or items has directly involved the actual death of an animal (dairy, eggs, honey, wool, silk, down feathers, etc.). A generic term for both vegetarianism and veganism, as well as for similar diets, is “plant-based diets”.

Properly planned vegetarian diets have been found to satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and large-scale studies have shown vegetarianism to significantly lower risks of cancer, ischemic heart disease, and other diseases.

History Of Vegetarianism

The earliest records of vegetarianism as a concept and practice amongst a significant number of people concern ancient India and the ancient Greek civilization in Southern Italy and in Greece in the 6th century BCE. In both instances the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence towards animals (called ahimsa in India) and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers. Following the Christianization of the Roman Empire in late antiquity, vegetarianism practically disappeared from Europe. Several orders of monks in medieval Europe restricted or banned the consumption of meat for ascetic reasons, but none of them eschewed fish. Vegetarianism was to reemerge somewhat in Europe during the Renaissance. It became a more widespread practice in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1847 the first Vegetarian Society was founded in England; Germany, the Netherlands and other countries followed. The International Vegetarian Union, a union of the national societies, was founded in 1908. In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism grew during the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental and economic concerns. Today, Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world’s vegetarians. They make up 20–42% of the population in India, while less than 30% are regular meat-eaters. Surveys in the U.S. have found that roughly 1–2.8% of adults eat no meat (including poultry or fish).

Health Benefits And Concerns

Vegetarianism is considered a healthy, viable diet. The American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada have found a properly-planned vegetarian diet to satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and large-scale studies have shown vegetarianism to significantly lower risks of cancer, ischemic heart disease, and other fatal diseases. Necessary nutrients, proteins, and amino acids for the body’s sustenance can be found in green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts, and fortified juices or soy milk.

Vegetarian diets can aid in keeping body weight under control and substantially reduce risks of heart disease and osteoporosis. Non-lean red meat, in particular, has been found to be directly associated with dramatically increased risk of cancers of the lung, esophagus, liver, and colon. Other studies have shown that there were no significant differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have stated: “Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals.” Vegetarians tend to have lower body mass index, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less incidence of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders.

Medical Use And Physiology

In Western medicine, patients are sometimes advised to adhere to a vegetarian diet. Certain alternative medicines, such as Ayurveda and Siddha, prescribe a vegetarian diet as a normal procedure.

The mainstream scientific consensus is that humans are physiologically best suited to an omnivore diet. The Vegetarian Resource Group, among others, has concluded that humans are naturally omnivores based on the human ability to digest meat as well as plant foods, with the correspondent metabolic tendency to an adaptation that makes them need both animal and vegetable nourishment. Other arguments hold that humans are more anatomically similar to herbivores, with long intestinal tracts and blunt teeth, unlike omnivores and carnivores. Human teeth, including relatively blunt canines, are more similar to those found in animals with herbivore diets than in carnivores and most omnivores. Nutritional experts believe that early hominids evolved into eating meat as a result of huge climatic changes that took place three to four million years ago, when forests and jungles dried up and became open grasslands and opened hunting and scavenging opportunities. According to one research study, the choice of dietary protein of vegetarians and omnivores is reflected in their hair protein.

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