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According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provides health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” Do vegetarian diet benefits outweigh any nutritional risk?
Vegetarian Diet Benefits
Dietary patterns that are higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods promote vegetarian diet benefits. Vegetarian diets also lower risks of health complications. Along with a healthy diet, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of some type of aerobic activity. The AHA also favors a vegetarian diet.
Dietary Patterns of Vegetarians
For the most part, vegetarians, are people who don’t eat meat, poultry, or seafood. However, vegetarians have many dietary patterns. If you have been following my blog posts, you will notice that I’ve been talking about the three main types of vegetarians – Lacto-vegetarian, Ovo-vegetarian, and Pesco-vegetarian. There are also three other groups called the Lacto-ovo-pescatarians, Flexitarians and the vegans.
Here is a Thumbnail Sketch of Each Type:
- Lacto-vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do consume dairy products
- Ovo-vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products, but do eat eggs.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
- Pescatarians: Do no eat meat and poultry. They eat fish and seafood and enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, beans, dairy.
- Vegans (total vegetarians): Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, and gelatin.
- Flexitarians: A flexible alternative to being vegetarian. They eat the same foods as vegetarians, but occasionally enjoy meat. We will dive deeper into these in subsequent articles. For now, let’s focus on an insightful health studies:
Vegetarian Health Studies
Adventist Health Studies (AHS) is a series of long-term medical research projects of Loma Linda University. Since 1858, researchers from LLU School of Public Health have conducted five cohort studies. The purpose of these studies helps confirm the incredible health benefits of the unique Adventist diet and lifestyle. ** see Blue Zone posts. Here are the key findings of this study:
Protein: Meat Versus Legumes (beans, chickpeas)
High Meat Intake Change Dietary Patterns
|3.6 Shorter lifespan years||Decrease intake of meats|
|Risk of colon, prostate, and bladder cancer||Increase intakes of plants|
|Twice as likely to develop dementia||Legumes the best sources of Plant Proteins|
The American Heart Association
- The American Heart Association recommends decreasing the intake of meat and the increase of plant sources
- Processed meats are labeled by World Health Organization (WHO) as a Level 1A Carcinogen. This includes sausage, bacon, deli meats, and canned foods. There is irrefutable evidence that these foods cause cancer. Processed foods are in the same category as asbestos and tobacco.
- Red meat is labeled by the WHO as a Level 2 carcinogens. It has strong evidence but it’s not irrefutable.
The American Heart Association recently issued a scientific statement “2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health.” This statement replaces their earlier recommendations which were published 15 years ago. While the focus of this statement is heart health, it also considers dietary effects on cancer, diabetes, kidney function, and Alzheimer’s disease effects as environmental effects of food choices.
The American Health Association Recommendations Include:
- Choose healthy sources of protein – mostly protein from plants (legumes and nuts)
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, choose a wide variety
- Choose foods made mostly with whole grains rather than refined grains.
- Choose minimally processed foods instead of ultra-processed foods.
While these guidelines do not call for a vegan or vegetarian diet, the AHA encourages a plant-based diet. It also illustrates the importance of plant foods for a healthy diet. Eating a plant-based, meatless meal a few times a week lowers your cholesterol and improve your health.
Meatless meals are better for your heart health. In addition, meatless meals are deemed better for your health, the planet, and for your budget. This is a great way to help increase your servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. However, avoiding processed meat is key.
What Processed Meats to Avoid?
Any meat that has been cured, smoked, canned, or salted is a processed food. These types of meats, including hot dogs, salami, and cured bacon, are associated with increased risk of conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain bowel and stomach cancers. There are more disadvantages to consider
Disadvantages of Processed Meat
Eating too much bacon, sausages, hot dogs, canned meat, or lunch meat – meat that has been processed in some way to preserve flavor, is bad for health, according to experts. Several studies have found links between processed meat, heart disease, and diabetes.
Food Processing has a Few Drawbacks
Many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients can be destroyed or removed. Aside from cancer risks, all processed meats tend to be high in sodium. Excess sodium intake increases the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Processed foods are obtained from laboratories and not nature. The foods are genetically modified and may cause gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, and damages your organs.
A study in 1988 showed that meat preservatives such as nitrite and elastin cause arteries to stiffen. Overtime, this can develop into more serious health complications. Here are a few reasons why processed meat is bad for you:
- Processed meat consumption has been linked to premature death
- One study found that eating nine grams of bacon per day increases risk for breast cancer
- Salted meats raises the risks of high blood pressure and heart disease
- Processed meat causes bowel and stomach cancer.
In the end, consuming processed meat isn’t worth the cost to animals or to your health.
Processed meat such as bacon and hot dogs put you at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These foods are dangerously high in salt, nitrate, and unhealthy fats. Patients who are already at risk of developing heart diseases must avoid processed meat. Choose leaner alternatives with healthy fats such as salmon, tuna, and chicken breast.
Regular consumption of processed meats puts you at risk for developing colon cancer. The main link between processed meat and cancer is the food preservative nitrite. These are the harmful chemicals that can become health-damaging N-nitroso compounds. In fact, Nitrite is the same chemical you might find in tobacco smoke, contaminated water, and pickled foods.
Tip: To ensure your water is clean and safe, use a high-quality water ionizer. Buy one that produces pH-balancing alkaline water for you and your family. Also, be aware of other carcinogens.
Processed Foods Contain Carcinogens
Just so you know, processed meats contain carcinogens and are the cause of certain types of cancer. Generally, any type of meat preserved through smoking, salting, or curing contains carcinogens.
While they may not directly affect your DNA, carcinogens cause the cells to divide at a much faster rate. This leaves the body prone to DNA changes that lead to cell degeneration. Therefore, prolonged exposure and consumption of carcinogens puts the body at a higher risk. Also, consider the PAHs in foods.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Do you love the smell delicious, aromatic bacon? Have you ever craved a bacon and egg sandwich? Same here. Who doesn’t love the aroma of bacon wafting through the house during morning breakfast time. The good news is that bacon pairs well with just about anything. However, avoid smoked bacon. This food is full of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Smoked Foods Contain Chemical Compounds
The bad news is that your juicy, smoked bacon contains high amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These are chemical compounds in your bacon.
Did you know that Smoking is one of the oldest and most popular ways to preserve meat. Not only does it prolong shelf life, smoking also brings out the meat’s umami. Umami means “essence of deliciousness.”
PAHs from processed meats come from burning wood and charcoal. That’s why plenty of people avoid eating charcoal-burned meat parts. Steer clear of all processed meats and avoid meats that have been smoked.
Avoid Processed Meats
A study in the National Library of Medicine found that people who avoided processed meat are more likely to make healthier food choices. In this study researchers performed the experiment on more than 1,800 respondents aged 19 to 84 years old. By avoiding processed meats, you are more mindful of what you consume. This transition encourages you to start eating leaner meat, adding in fresh veggies and fruit. Now is the time to start swapping out your food groups.
Swapping Out for Better Food Choices
Transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle takes time. The best way to approach it by taking incremental steps. Decrease your intake of meat and increase your intake of plants and legumes.
Are Burgers Processed Meat?
Technically, processed meat is beef or pork that’s preserved through salting or curing. The term includes chicken nuggets, hot dogs, hamburger patties, beef jerky, or cold cuts like bologna. These processed foods are dangerous and are the cause of sickness and disease. You can reverse disease with a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarianism Protects You from Disease?
According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and they provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
To piggyback on the benefits of plant-based diets, Harvard Health studies compared vegetarians and meat-eaters. They found that vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamin C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as carotenoids and flavonoids. As a result, they’re likely to have:
- Lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower body mass index (BMI)
All of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for chronic diseases. In the meantime, you can opt for alternative meat products.
Alternatives to Processed Meat
Tofu is no longer the only alternative to meat. Nowadays you can buy meatless products that taste like real meat. Plant-based meat alternatives helps satisfy your cravings while taking animal cruelty out of the equation. Here are a few brands you can try out:
- Beyond Meat makes sausages and hamburgers that taste essentially identical to the real thing. They are made with pea protein and other plant-based ingredients.
- Quorn makes hamburger patties and other products using mushrooms for authentic meaty textures.
- Good Catch makes vegan fish fillets, crab cakes, and tuna
- Lightlife makes vegan bacon that you can grill up in the comfort of your home
- Dr. Praegar’s Veggie Burgers are non-GMO and Gluten free.
Why People are Dissing Meat?
People decide to eat less meat for many reasons. You may decide to cut out meat for health, ethical, religious, cultural, or environmental reasons. However, it should be done gradually.
Transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle takes time and patience. You want to first wean off all processed food. Also, the best rule thumb when you try to manage your weight is to consult with your primary care physician and other healthcare specialists. Nutritionists, in particular, can guide you in the right direction.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. I will reply ASAP. Thank you for joining me on this unique, lifestyle journey and I look forward to hearing from you.
2 thoughts on “Vegetarian Diet Benefits – Why are They so Controversial?”
Thank you very much for this valuable and comprehensive post about Vegetarian Diet. This is really a very important post. I knew that a vegetarian diet was beneficial. But did not know this much. My mother is a vegetarian. I think this post will be very important for her. Please continue to post like this, I will surely share this.
Your comments are very kind and much appreciated. I believe that it is so important to give our bodies and minds the nourishment and nutrition it needs. Consuming a well-balanced diet of healthy foods and drinks helps us to maintain optimal health. A healthy body promotes a healthy mind. That is so nice that your mother is vegetarian, and she is also leading by example.