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Vegetarianism is not unheard of in our culture. The pious shakahari has had a place in our society since the dawn of time. But the reasons for going veggie no longer need to be related to morality, religion and culture. Or taste and health for that matter. The cult following that vegetarians enjoy has made it a way of life. But even omnivores will agree that going veg is not totally an unsavouring thought. This week Star Lifestyle presents Vegetarianism as an option, a choice for life.

going veggie

Surely there are not many followers of the cult of Vegetarianism among us. However, as vegetarianism gains popularity around the world, most dietary and medical experts emphasize that a well-planned vegetarian diet can actually be a very healthy way to eat. The grounds for choosing vegetarianism may be related to morality, religion, culture, ethics, taste, or health. Religious and social ideologies have influenced vegetarians over time. The ancient saints of the sub-continent would follow a vegetarian diet to free themselves from negative forces like lust, passion and worldly desires.

Today, a large body olf scientific literature suggests that the consumption of a diet of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits, with the avoidance of meat and high-fat animal products, along with a regular exercise program is consistently associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and consequently less heart disease and stroke. Free from all the pangs of physical health, it is likely that one will exercise greater control over one's life.

There are countless books, cookbooks, and magazine articles promoting vegetarian diets and providing guidance for those who wish to follow a meatless diet. Summer in our country can be reckoned as the best season to start off with such a diet as it provides more minerals and easily digestible food items, more obviously needed during the hot summer days. Here is a simple guideline for the wannabe vegetarians and the already practicing ones.

Types of Vegetarian Diets
Before one switches to a vegetarian diet, it is important to note that all vegetarian diets are not alike. Some of the major vegetarian categories include:

ovo-vegetarian - eats eggs; no meat
lacto-ovo vegetarian - eats dairy and egg products; no meat
lacto-vegetarian - eats dairy products; no eggs or meat vegan - eats only food from plant sources

Many people who call themselves vegetarians are actually semi-vegetarians. They may have eliminated red meat, but may eat poultry or fish.

Making sure it's nutritious
Vegetarian adolescents should have a variety of foods that provide enough calories and nutrients to ensure normal growth. The majority of paediatric experts say a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (eating dairy products and eggs, but no meat) is a healthy choice for most individuals.

Offering young children a diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps them to learn healthy eating habits that may last for a lifetime. And a diet rich in fruits and veggies will be high in fibre and low in fat- factors known to improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood cholesterol and maintaining healthy weight.

However, individuals on a vegetarian diet may need to be careful that they get an adequate amount of certain vitamins and minerals. Here are nutrients that vegetarians should make sure they get, and some of the food sources in which they can be found:

Vitamin B12: dairy products, eggs, cereals, hand-made atta ruti, sweet potatoes and rice

Vitamin D: dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, and vitamin-fortified products

Calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, chickpeas, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice and cereals

Protein: dairy products, eggs, beans and nuts

Iron: eggs, beans, dried fruits, whole grains, leafy green
vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals and bread

Zinc: wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereal, and legumes

Depending on the type of vegetarian diet chosen, one may miss out on some of these important nutrients if the diet is not monitored by an expert. The less restrictive the vegetarian diet, the easier it will be for anyone to get enough protein and necessary nutrients. So it is imperative to consult an expert before one chooses the foods constituting a vegetarian diet.

Partial to veggies...
Defeat diseases

Now, those who are health conscious will be pleased to learn certain facts about the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Antioxidants that protect us against more than 60 diseases are found mostly in fruit and vegetables as they destroy 'free radicals'. A vegetarian diet can also reduce cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is linked to heart disease; fruit and vegetables contain none. Vegetarians and vegans have higher intakes of folic acid than omnivores. In case we are thinking about its suitability for children, it is proved to meet all the nutritional needs of infants and adolescents. Contrary to the popular belief, vegetarians are no more likely to suffer anaemia than meat eaters. Zinc levels are also normal in vegetarians.

Heart disease, the #1 killer; cancer #2
Vegetarians often live longer and suffer less from several chronic diseases. They are less likely to suffer strokes caused by coronary artery disease. Vegetarian diets have been successful in arresting and reversing severe coronary artery disease. Usually, vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, large bowel disorders, cancers and gallstones. Statistics show that hypertension (high blood pressure) in vegetarians is one third to one half that of meat eaters, they also run half the risk of dying of heart disease compared to non-vegetarians and cancer rates among vegetarians are 25-50% less than non-vegetarians. All these happen because vegetarian diets provide lower saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein and higher folates, antioxidant vitamins and plant nutrients and thus offer protection from the diseases very familiar amongst people living in the polluted modern cosmopolitan cities.

Vegetarian mothers who are expecting have a much lower incidence of caesarean section. On top of all these, Diabetes, the invading “silent killer”, a reason of dread for a large section of men and women of our time is much less likely to be a cause of death in vegetarians.

Readers, this article is not intended to turn everyone in the country towards vegetarianism, rather it is intended to point out information and statistics which indicates the necessity of certain changes in our food-habits in the near future. After all, a sensible person would know what is right for him/her to grow and eat keeping in mind factors like protection of our ecology, cost of production both in cash and kind i.e. in terms of environmental geo-hazards and the availability of certain food items in the local and the global market. Apart from the futuristic plan, the present market scenario in the country also demands some clever changes in our food habits.

Readers, here's drinking to your better health!

By Fatima Tuz Zahra


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