Vegetarian Diet: The Healthier Choice

 

By Sweta Shah

 

As people become more conscious of their health problems, they are looking for newer, less pharmaceutical means of preserving and maintaining their health. A vegetarian diet which contains foods such as grains, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruit, is an important means to maintain one's health. Vegetarians, people whose diet does not include any meat products, eggs, poultry, or fish, are living proofs of the fact that vegetarian diet is healthier than non-vegetarian diet. Further, scientific research shows that meat is not essential for healthy living. So many people are switching to vegetarianism.

Everyone knows that proteins are necessary for good health. Proteins are needed daily to grow and repair tissues to maintain bodily functions. However, many people think that vegetarian diet is protein deficient. It may make people weak, sick and anemic. They do not know that there is a multitude of vegetable protein sources. The National Research Council recommended that the average male should consume nine percent of calories in the form of protein. It should be noted that nine percent is more than double the minimum requirements established by the World Health Organization.(1) Inspection of published food tables reveals that grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables provide more than nine percent calories in the form of proteins. Although vegetarians eat less protein than do meat eaters, they readily get as much as they need from non-flesh sources. Even vegans, who eat only plant foods, get more protein than the recommended level. This is true in view of the fact that non-vegetarian diet contains more non-essential proteins than vegetarian diet.

Some people have the wrong belief that a lot of protein in diet can make them strong so they can do hard work. However, sports records show that vegetarian athletes surpass or at least do as well as other athletes in events that require strength and endurance, such as running, swimming and tennis. For instance, Pierreo Verot, a vegetarian, holds the world record for downhill endurance skiing. The world record for distance butterfly swimming is held by vegetarians James and Jonathan de Donato.(2) Furthermore, vegetarians are more readily able to attain physical balance, mental clarity, and spiritual harmony ? factors that are critical in maintaining optimal health.

Formerly, vegetable proteins were classified as second-class, and regarded as inferior to first-class proteins of animal origin, but this distinction has now been generally discarded.(3) Now it has been found that excessive amount of protein found in meat products is not only nonessential but it is actually hazardous to our health. For example, osteoporosis and kidney stones have been linked to over-consumption of proteins. Researchers at University of Michigan and other universities have shown that the more protein a person consumes, the more calcium his or her body loses, resulting in osteoporosis. The high-protein (meat-based) diets result in gradual decrease in bone density and cause osteoporosis. The results of the study indicate that vegetarian men have an average bone loss of three percent while non-vegetarian men, seven percent. Vegetarian women have an average bone loss of eighteen percent and non-vegetarian women, thirty-five percent. The study also shows that by the time a non-vegetarian woman reaches the age of sixty-five, she has lost over one-third of her skeletal structure. On the contrary, vegetarian women tend to remain active, maintain their skeletal structure, and are less likely to fracture or break their bones.(4)

Another problem caused by excessive protein is the formation of kidney stones. Kidney stones are caused by crystallization of calcium that is lost from the bones in digesting excessive amounts of protein. There is some evidence that excessive protein consumption can result in destruction of kidney tissue and the deterioration of kidneys. This is because kidneys have to work harder to de-aminize and excrete the excess protein out of the body.(5)

Besides proteins, saturated fats, such as animal fats, and cholesterol play an important role in a person's health. Although some fats are necessary in a balanced diet for body maintenance, saturated fats can be hazardous to one's health if they are taken in excess amounts. Animal fats are heavier and stickier than vegetable fats. The heavier the fat, the more it agglutinates blood cells, thus increasing the viscosity of blood, restricting blood flow and raising blood pressure. If the blood stops moving freely, it can cause a clot in the artery. These clots can lead to heart disease. Similarly, cholesterol, which is found in large amounts in non-vegetarian food, deposits in artery walls and causes the arteries to clog, resulting in angina and other problems.

Approximately thirty-eight percent of all deaths are caused by heart attacks, making them the most common cause of death in the United States. Heart attacks occur at a rate of one per every twenty-five seconds. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the three major risk factors in heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking. Recent medical research indicates that a high fat, low fiber diet centered on meat is a contributing factor in cardiovascular disease. In 1985, AHA took into account recent medical findings and said, "We have good evidence that most people . . . can reduce a major risk of having a heart attack by following a cholesterol lowering plan. . . . Foods of plant origin, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds contain no cholesterol. These foods are highly recommended."

"Although absent in plant foods, cholesterol is present in meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. Cholesterol is the main component of the plaque that builds up in arteries, causing atherosclerosis (disease of arteries)." All of these foods, with the exception of seafood, are also high in saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol increase cholesterol level in blood and produce atherosclerosis, which leads to heart disease and stroke. Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol keep cholesterol level low and thus lower the probability of heart disease and stroke. Nutritional studies show that vegetarians consumes less cholesterol and saturated fats and have lower levels of cholesterol. Studies also show that meat eaters have higher rates of atherosclerosis and fatal heart disease. In a study, the risk of fatal coronary heart disease among the non-vegetarian members of a group was found to be three tines greater than that for the vegetarian members of the group.(6) Thus AHA advises avoiding foods that have a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol, which are found mainly in animal products and recommends that people should use beans, lentils, tofu, and other plant foods instead of meat in their meals.

A vegetarian diet with lower saturated fat content helps to reverse heart disease. Dr. Dean Ornish has been prescribing vegetarian diet to people with heart disease. It is found that a significantly low fat content in diet is the key ingredient in restoring health. Dr. Ornish, the head of heart disease reversal studies, says, "If everyone in the country was eating a low fat vegetarian diet, heart disease could be as rare as malaria."

Recently, Harvard University and Michio Kushi completed a study to discern the effects of macrobiotic on blood and cardiovascular strength and overall condition. People who normally maintained vegetarian diet were asked to change to a more standard American diet, containing meat, heavy sauces, sweets, and processed foods. After a few weeks, the results showed that their cardiovascular systems were affected adversely by the American diet.(7)

In addition to heart disease, colon and breast cancers are also linked to consumption of excessive saturated fat and cholesterol. The Association for the Advancement of Science states that "populations on high meat, high fat diet are more likely to develop colon cancer than people on vegetarian diet."(8) Evidence from a study conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, reports that the greater the fat intake of a person, the higher the risk he or she has of contracting colon cancer.

Similarly, the more fat a woman consumes in her lifetime, the more likely she is to get breast cancer. In a study conducted at the National Cancer Research Institute in Tokyo by Dr. Hirayama and his coworkers, the results show that women who consume meat daily face an almost four times greater risk of getting breast cancer than those who eat no meat.(9)

Avoiding meats and substituting plant proteins can have amazing effects on general health and well-being. Not only that, but a vegetarian diet can, in many cases, actually reverses diseases. Many miraculous cancer remissions effected by adopting a vegetarian diet have been reported.

One instance is the case of Dr. Anthony Sattilaro who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1978. He underwent traditional medical therapy but the cancer spread to his lungs. When he had only six months to live, he discovered the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Eighteen months after Dr. Satlilaro had switched to a vegetarian diet, a CAT scan performed on him showed that he was completely rid of both cancers.(10)

As mentioned above, some non-vegetarians believe that vegetarians are weak, skinny, and anemic. However, it is seen that most vegetarians experience better than average health and typically live physically active and demanding lives. People who have adopted a vegetarian diet experience many benefits. They sleep better, though for fewer hours. But they wake up feeling more refreshed and energetic than they did before. Many new vegetarians feel "they are now able to participate in life more than they thought possible."(11)

In addition to these physical benefits, a vegetarian can enjoy his or her meals without guilt and without considering the meals to be a form of punishment. Vegetarian meals can be prepared in may different ways to suit different tastes. Some vegetarians feel that they can eat more foods with fewer calories, fat and cholesterol.

A vegetarian diet can have some shortcomings if it is not prepared properly. For example, some foods may have too much salt. They cause water to be drawn out of blood cells, creating dehydration of tissues and result in the problem of water retention in the body. Excessive sodium overburdens the kidneys and forces the heart to work twice as hard. This leads to hypertension ? increased blood pressure. Another problem with a vegetarian diet is that some people may not consume dark green and leafy vegetables, which are a major source of essential vitamins A and E. A proper combination of grains, beans and vegetables is essential to develop an ideal amino acid pattern for the body. For example, combination of corn tortilla and beans, wheat bread and lentils, or beans and rice are good sources of protein.

The foods that were once believed to be the foundation of good health in some parts of the world are actually detrimental to one's health and cause diseases like cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney stones. On the other hand, those foods that were once looked upon by some people as nutritionally deficient have now been proven to be healthy and helpful in maintaining our health and reversing diseases.

Now it has been established that a balanced vegetarian diet is the healthier choice for the well-being of people all over the world.

Bibliography
1. Amato, Paul R. and Sonia Partridge. The New Vegetarians: Promoting Health And Protecting Life, Plenum, New York 1989.
2. Iacobbo, Karen. "Diet Clearly Linked To Leading Killer." Vegetarian Voice: Perspectives on Healthy, Ecological And Compassionate Living, October 1993.
3. Null, Gary. The Vegetarian Handbook: Eating Right For Total Health, St. Martin Press, New York, 1987.
4. Ornish, Dean. Dr. Dean Ornish's Program For Reversing Heart Disease, Random House, New York, 1990.
5. Robbins, John. Diet For A New America, Stillpoint Publishing, New Hampshire, 1987.
6. Vegetarianism: Answers To The Most Commonly Asked Questions. Pamphlet, National American Vegetarian Society, New York, 1993.

Footnotes:
1. Robbins (please see bibliography given at the end of the article), page 172.
2. Robbins page 161.
3. Robbins page 183.
4. Robbins page 195.
5. Robbins page 200.
6. Phillips, R. L., et al., The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 31 (October 1978) S191-S198.
7. Null, page 130.
8. Robbins, page 253.
9. Robbins, page 264.

10. In fact, Dr. Sattilaro followed a macrobiotic diet. Some scientists believe that cancer is caused chiefly by our poor dietary habits which routinely include heavy, greasy meats, relined oils, chemical additives, high-sugar treats, over processed and chemically altered simple carbohydrates, and dairy products high in cholesterol and saturated fats. The macrobiotic diet replaces these disease-causing foods with ones that are organic, wholesome, and readily assimilated by the body.

 

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Author By : Sweta Shah is from Harvey, LA, USA

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Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation
www.jainsamaj.org
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