A Growing Trend
In the past decades it has become increasingly popular to hear the terms, “vegetarian” or “vegan”. An entire naming system exists to describe the foods people do and do not choose to eat. There exists a wide variety of reasons ranging from personal preference, to ethical considerations, to health for why people chose not to meat or meat products. With the increasing popularity of fad diets, it can be hard to know what is good or bad for your health.
A 2008 survey found that a whopping 10% of American adults follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet”, 3.2% are vegetarian, and 0.5% of Americans (1 million people!) follow a vegan diet. With so many other Americans doing it, we might ask why? What are the benefits, the risks, and the best approach to use in order to improve overall health while reducing cardiovascular risk factors?
Following a vegetarian or vegan diet translates to eating less or no animal or meat products. Vegetarians adhere with varying levels of strictness to a no-meat policy; however some may still drink milk, or eat butter, ice cream, fish or poultry. Vegans typically follow a more strict diet that excludes animal meat and animal products. Meat products are replaced with healthy alternatives and the diet is typically based on eating leafy green vegetables and other natural, plant based foods that are low in fat and high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Avoidance of tobacco and alcohol combined with exercise and a vegetarian diet results in a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes type 2.
Focusing on Your Health
If you are considering or already following a vegetable-based diet you have made a wonderful choice for improving your health. Just remember it is important to pay attention to the vitamins and minerals that you consume in your food, especially the amount of Vitamin B12. For some people zinc, calcium, and Vitamin D may also need to be monitored. The first step to a healthy diet is eating a variety of fresh vegetables. Vitamin B12, or cyanocobalmin, is primarily obtained through animal products, so those who consume some animal products are at less risk of deficiency. If you don’t consume animal products, supplements or fortified foods can be purchased to boost your B12 intake. Those deficient in Vitamin B12 may suffer from anemia or feel more tired than usual. They may also experience neurologic problems; the elderly are also at an increased risk of B12 deficiency due to an aging gastrointestinal system. Zinc is important in wound healing and helps your body to build immunity. Zinc can be found in grains, legumes, and nuts. Calcium and Vitamin D are important in bone formation. Calcium can be supplemented as well as being found in foods like broccoli, kale, turnip and lime-processed tortillas. Vitamin D is produced naturally from sun exposure and is also found in fortified foods and supplements.
With some consideration, great benefits can be obtained from following a plant-based diet. If you have questions or concerns about the process, or if you don’t know where to start, just ask. We are here to help!
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