The Unhealthy Vegetarian/Vegan

Unhealthy you say? How can that be? Whether you are already eating a vegetarian or vegan diet or just considering it, you can still eat unhealthy. Potato chips (crisps) and French fries (chips) are vegan. Coca Cola and Sprite are vegan. Eating a surfeit of these foods is definitely not healthy. We have all seen and heard the outspoken person harping on how much more healthy they are because they switched to a vegetarian diet, yet some are either obese or sickly thin with an unhealthy pallor. So why eat a non-meat diet you ask? Some people are vegetarians because of animal rights, some are vegetarians for religious reasons, and some do it for health reasons. There are different categories of the vegetarian diet. 

Lacto vegetarians are vegetarians that eat dairy products; however they do not eat eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy products and include eggs in their diet. Pesco vegetarians eat everything that lacto-ovo vegetarians eat plus fish. Vegans eat only plant based foods and consume no animal products of any kind. A healthy vegan needs to plan his or her diet carefully to ensure they get all of the daily nutrients they need. Vegans are typically prone to deficiencies in B-12, calcium, iron, protein, and zinc.

Animal products supply the body with “complete proteins” whereas vegetables, with the exception of soy or quinoa, do not. Vegans in particular need to combine the correct foods such as rice and beans together to achieve complete proteins.

Iron can be difficult to get on a vegetarian diet if enough leafy greens are not consumed. Teaming spinach with tomatoes facilitates the absorption of iron into the body. 

Getting enough calcium is important for both females and males. Drinking calcium rich soy or rice milk and even orange juice enriched with vitamin D is an easy way to get the recommended amount.

Vitamin B12 is needed for cell division and blood formation. Neither plants nor animals make vitamin B12; rather, bacteria are responsible for producing it. Animals get their vitamin B12 from eating foods contaminated with it and then the animal becomes a source of the vitamin. Plant foods do not contain vitamin B12 except when they are contaminated by microorganisms or have vitamin B12 added to them. Thus, vegans need to look to fortified foods or supplements to get the vitamin in their diet. A vitamin B12 deficiency is a very serious problem and can lead to anemia or irreversible nerve damage. Prudent vegans will include sources of vitamin B12 in their diets. Some nutritional yeast contain vitamin B-12. Other sources are vitamin B12 fortified soy milk, food made from wheat gluten or soybeans, and vitamin B12 supplements. 

What should you do if you are considering changing your diet to exclude meat? Consult a professional to help with a balanced diet or check out the USDA vegetarian pyramid at http://www.mypyramid.gov/tips_resources/vegetarian_diets.html. These are things that everyone should do whether eating meat or not.

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