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Vegetarian diet: No meat please...

June 16, 2012

Avegetarian diet is basically a diet consisting of plant-based food, i.e. vegetables, fruits, and anything which does not contain meat; though some vegetarians also exclude dairy products and eggs from their diet.

Vegetarianism can be adopted for many reasons. An important factor is that consuming a non-vegetarian diet involves slaughtering animals, which is considered a violation of animal rights. Additionally, given the unhygienic conditions of slaughterhouses in countries like Pakistan people develop an aversion to meat keeping in mind the threat it might pose to consumers’ health. They consider it better to eat fresh vegetables and fruits.

Other factors for adopting a vegetarian diet include health, political, environmental, cultural, aesthetic and economic reasons.

Normally, people seeking a healthy way of life and a smart physique opt for vegetarian lifestyle. Vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids), fewer overall calories and more potassium and vitamin C. Studies show that vegetarians enjoy better health and tend to have a lower body mass index. Increased use of vegetables in one’s diet lowers levels of obesity, reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems such as high cholesterol level, high blood pressure, cancer and degenerative diseases like arthritis and food-borne diseases such as bird flu, intestinal parasites, etc.

Models, film stars, etc. usually prefer a vegetarian diet, as it helps them remain slim and smart. Vegetables and fruits contain nutrients that are good for hair, nails and skin, which make these models and actresses look fresh and glamorous.

Where there are such positive aspects of a vegetarian lifestyle, there is a negative side to it as well. Following a strict vegetarian diet can cause malnutrition which, consequently, affects one’s health. The reason for malnutrition is lack of minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, etc, which can lead to problems related to bones, teeth, etc. To avoid the deficiency of these minerals, vegetarians must take supplements regularly.

Though mineral requirements of the body can be achieved through supplements, proteins, an integral constituent of the body, is acquired mainly through meat and certain legumes. Proteins are the building blocks of the human body, and its deficiency can inhibit growth.

Similarly, essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids present in fish can not be found in any vegetable or fruit; hence, vegetarians may lack these vital nutrients that enhance the activity of nervous system as well as improve the functioning of other parts of the body.

However, this deficiency can be addressed by taking relevant supplements.

A vegetable-based diet also contains low a ratio of vitamins such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Vitamin B12 helps in the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of the nervous system, while vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium which is essential for healthy bones. To avoid the deficiency of these crucial vitamins, some food spplements, such as fish oil capsules and multivitamin tablets are required.

It is evident from these facts that both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets have their pros and cons; yet vegetarianism is, undoubtedly, a healthier option when adopted along with dairy products. Healthy living and happy eating!