Today marks World Vegetarian Day and the beginning of Vegetarian Awareness Month.
Being a vegetarian is more than just a diet concept; recently there has been a renewed interest in plant-based food products. It’s considered a healthy and an eco-friendly lifestyle.
“A vegetarian diet is distinguished from an omnivorous diet by its content of dry beans and lentils. These take the place of meat and fish as the major source of protein,” writes Dr. Craig Winston, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Andrews University, in an article on his website.
A nutritious vegetarian diet is based on a range of foods including beans, legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables all rich in essential vitamins, amino acids, minerals and antioxidants that beneficial in many ways. It may or may not include dairy products, eggs, and honey.
“In the past, many viewed vegetarianism as strange and faddish but appropriately planned vegetarian diets are now recognized by many, including the American Dietetic Association, as being nutritionally adequate, and providing healthful benefits in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.”
Studies have found that people following a plant-based diet are less likely to have chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and cardiac problems.
On the contrary, consumption of grilled, cured, and smoked meats and fish are associated with an increased risk of cancer due to the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines produced during their preparation.
It has also been found that people consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy protein and nuts have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as a diet rich in soluble fibers and plant sterols keeps blood lipid levels within safe limits. Those who consume more nuts and whole grains are also less likely to have diabetes.
Moreover, vegetarians enjoy a lower rate of hypertension than their non-vegetarian counterparts due to good levels of potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, dietary fats, and fibers from their diets.Vegetarians also consumes higher levels of antioxidants like flavonoids, present in the reddish pigments found in fruits such as strawberries, cherries, and grapes. This reduces platelet aggregation and blood clotting which further provide cardiovascular protection.
A non-vegetarian diet can also have a more detrimental impact on the environment because compared with producing one calorie from plant proteins, producing one calorie from animal protein requires 11 times more fossil fuels, releasing 11 times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
A 2010 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stated that a vegan diet could prevent world hunger, fuel poverty, and the worst impacts of climate change.
According to the report, agriculture, particularly production of meat and dairy, accounts for 38 percent of total land use, 19 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 70 percent of global freshwater consumption.
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