Vegetarian and Vegan Nutrition

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For ages I have considered looking into a vegetarian way of life and have played around by mixing my weekly menu with a selection of vegetarian options but always returning to meat.

However I am now seriously considering a vegetarian or vegan way of life. In my life I have always run full pelt at it. All or nothing! Then reverting back when it didn’t work out.

This time is different as I really want to learn and train in something I am really interested in.

My interest peaked during the recent pandemic and while shortages were found in the shops I experimented with different food and dairy. A plus of this was that for the first time in years my blood pressure was showing as well and truly normal – now that’s a bonus!

Anyway while I train I will document my progress here and I hope you find it interesting and informative.

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INTRODUCTION

Vegetarian and vegan diet have now been more popular than ever before in the Western world. As well as the moral rights and wrongs of meat eating, the religious or economic reasons there is now, without doubt, confirmation of the many advantages to our health and to the possibility of overcoming many diseases by sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet. This page aims to give you an idea and the beginning of your knowlege of vegetarian and vegan nutrition. It is not intended to look at the moral rights and wrongs but to help you to understand and make up your own mind. However to understand why people become vegetarian it is necessary to briefly give an understanding as to why people follow this diet.

Different Types of Diet

Let’s start with taking a look at the types of vegetarian diet that exist. The word ‘vegetarian’ comes from the English language in the middle of the 19th century. It comes from the Latin word ‘vegetus’ meaning sprightly or lively and is not from the word vegetable!

There are three types of vegetarianism with the most common being the Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian who eat egg and dairy products but no fish or meat. The Lacto Vegetarian eats dairy products such as yogurts, milk and cheese, but no eggs, meat or fish and the Ovo Vegetarian who will eat egg products but no dairy, meat or fish.

Lacto-ovo Vegetarian

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Does Not EatEats
Red MeatDairy products
FishFruit
PoultryVegetables
All meatEggs
Lacto-ovo vegetarian – does not eat meat, fish, seafood or fowl (anything that had a face) but eats eggs (free range) and dairy

Lacto Vegetarian

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Does Not EatEats
Red MeatDairy products
EggsFruit
FishVegetables
Poultry 
All meat 
Lacto Vegetarian – basically does not eat meat, fish, seafood or fowl or eggs but eats dairy produce

Ovo Vegetarian

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Does Not EatEats
Red MeatFruit
FishVegetables
Poultry Eggs
All meat 
Dairy product 
 
Ovo vegetarian – does not eat meat, fish, seafood, fowl or dairy but eats eggs

Veganism

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Vegans are the strictest type of vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fowl, fish, dairy or eggs. Some may use honey or beeswax but many do not as they are animal products. Many vegans will not use any animal products or by-products and therefore they will not use leather, wool or silk.

Does Not EatEats
All meatFruit
FishVegetables
Poultry 
Dairy products 
Eggs 
Seafood 
Vegans – do not eat meat, fish, seafood, fowl, dairy or eggs

Pescatarian

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A pescatarian is not exactly a vegetarian and can be thought of as a semi vegetarian. They do not eat meat or fowl but will eat fish and some also eat dairy products.

Does Not EatEats
All meatFish
PoultryFruit
Vegetables
Pescatarian – does not eat meat or fowl, but eats fish and may eat dairy

Other Types

Another type that is on the rise is flexitarianism where people have taken to eating mostly a vegetarian diet but including meat perhaps once or twice a week. This is a useful diet to use as a transition into full-time vegetarianism or veganism, or as a stand-alone diet where cutting back on meat is preferable to eating it full-time.

Pollotarian is not strictly vegetarian either but it does reduce meat consumption. In this diet people will eat poultry and fowl, but no other type of meat and they may or may not eat dairy products too.

A FEW HEALTH FACTS

  • Oxford Vegetarian Study (Thorogood 1994) stated that vegetarians showed a 39% decrease in cancer risk compared to meat eaters.  This took into account income, social class, body type, smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Vegetarian and vegan women were 47% less likely to get gallstones.
  • The American College of Nutrition confirmed a fall in LDL cholesterol when meat eaters converted to vegetarian and vegan diets.
  • The China Study was one of the strongest pieces of evidence and from an unbiased stance.  It looked in depth at many types of cancers, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and osteoporosis and showed the strong relationship between animal foods and illness.  It strongly advised a plant based diet and avoidance of animal foods.

WHY PEOPLE GO VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN

There are four main reasons why people choose to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet.

  • Health
  • Religion
  • Ethics
  • Economics

For me, it started with health.

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A vegetarian diet has plenty of health benefits and the reduced risk of many chronic diseases. Animal products and full-fat dairy products are linked to heart disease, stroke, clogged arteries and certain cancers. It was after my brush with cancer that I looked into my diet to try and ascertain why it had happened and how I could prevent it happening again. Other people might want to avoid the health impact associated with dairy and meat farming and the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.

Religion

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Some religions recommend adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet to properly practice their faith. For example, Hindus are often lacto-vegetarians, Buddhists are often vegetarians, Jains are required to be vegetarians or vegans and Rastafarians are often vegan or vegetarian – a diet that they call ‘Ital’.

Ethics

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Many people stop eating meat because of their concerns about animal welfare. This was also the secondary factor for me and once I had started to research into this the more determined I became to eventually become vegan. Some may disagree with factory farming where animals are packed into cages so tiny that they can’t move or others may not believe in killing animals for food, they have a reverence for all life and see killing animals as unnecessary.

Economics

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Some people choose or are forced into vegetarianism or veganism for economic reasons. Meat costs more than plant foods as there are more cost involved such as food for the animals, veterinary costs, animal housing and more. This pushes the price up of meat and it may become unaffordable to many people. In some societies, people only eat meat on special occasions and often beans, a high protein and cheaper food is eaten istead.

History of Vegetarianism and Veganism

Ancient History

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I found this subject to be absolutely fascinating! Did you know that way back in Ancient Egypt they ate a diet primarily of vegetables, fruit, barley and wheat? This was discovered by researchers through studying the mummified remains and was a surprise bearing in mind that ancient paintings showed the people fishing. The researchers believed that fish was eaten occasionally and that the Egyptians abstained from eating meat and wearing animal products on their religious beliefs.

Pythagoras (580 BCE) was a vegetarian and believed that animals should be treated with respect and many other ancient Greek philosophers followed in his footsteps.

However with the rise of the Roman Republic vegetarians were persecuted for their beliefs. A small band of vegetarian known as ‘Pythagoreans’ continued to publish work on vegetariansim to try to persuade others to see the benefits of this diet.

Vegetarianism had also existed in Asia since ancient times and it was recommended in the ancient Hindu tests of the Rig Veda and the Upanishads and was an important part of the Jain, Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrain faiths. The earliest documented incidence of vegetarianism dates back to 7000 BCE, in a town called Mehrgarh on the Indus River.

Recent History

Vegetarianism and veganism have not been as popular in the West as they have in the East and in modern times one of the earliest vegetarian groups was the Ephrata Cloister (1732) a strict religious group based in Pennsylvania that insisted on celibacy and vegetarianism.

Modern vegetarianism began in England in 1847 when the first vegetarian society was formed. In 1850 the inventor of Graham crackers, the Rev. Sylvester Graham, started the American Vegetarian Society.

In 1944 the term ‘vegan’ was used when Donald Watson, a British woodworker, announced that he created the term to describe people who would not eat eggs and dairy as well as meat. This gained popularity around that time due to the discovery of tuberculosis in 40% of dairy cows in Britain the previous year. He began his Vegan Society newsletter with 25 subscribers. When he died in 2005 there were 2 million vegans in the US and 250,000 in the UK.

Nutritional Benefits

Protein

Many are concerned that vegan or vegetarians will not get enough protein but in reality research shows that people are generally eating far too much protein each day especially the less healthy protein such as in red meat.

Vegans get their protein from beans, peas, lentils, nuts, soy products and much more and these are healthy ways to get your right amount of daily protein.

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Fibre

Vegan diets are normally full of fibre, which helps the digestive system and healthier bowel movements. High fibre diets also help to fight against colon cancer.

Nutrients

With the wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and peas eaten in vegetarian and vegan diets many people who follow these diets have excellent nutrient consumption. For example:

  • Nuts, dark leafy greens and seeds are high in magnesium, which aids the absorption of calcium.
  • High in potassium, which vegan and vegetarian diets normally are reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Fruit and vegetables provide plenty of antixidants, which protect against cell damage, inflammation and cancer.
  • High levels of Vitamin C boost your immune system, keep gums healthy and aid in healing wounds and bruises.
  • Nuts, seeds, avocados and spinach are great sources of Vitamin E which benefits the immune system health, protection for the heart against oxidative stress and cancer and also Alzheimer’s prevention.

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are the biologically active compounds found in plants and are present in fruit and vegetables. The large amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by vegans and vegetarians enables them to enjoy the benefits of those phytochemicals which have potent anticancer and antioxidant activities in the body.

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Disease Protection Benefits

Cholesterol

Eliminating fatty meats and dairy from the diet reduces bad cholesterol. However we should remember that excess fats in a vegan or vegetarian diet can also raise cholesterol levels so it is inmportant to keep an eye on how much oil, coconut milks and other fat sources are eaten. Healthy cholesterol levels reduces the risk of:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • peripheral arterial disease (build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries retricting blood supply to the leg muscles)
  • high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes

Cardiovascular Disease

There was a ground-breaking experiment in 1990 when Dr Dean Ornish split a group of patients with heart problems into two test groups. One group followed a diet typically recommended for heart disease including lean meat and the other group who followed a low-fat vegetarian diet, coupled with giving up smoking plus one 30-minute walk a day.

In the vegetarian group the chest pain disappeared within weeks and their coronary arteries began to reopen showing that vegetarian and vegan diets can actually reverse heart disease as well as preventing it.

Type 2 Diabetes

Vegans have a reduced risk for Type 2 diabets of 78% compared with people who eat meat on a daily basis. Partly due to the fact that vegans on average have a lower body weight than meat eaters. 90% of diabetes cases are in overweight patients and vegans have lower obesity rates than other dietary groups.

Doctors say that Type 2 diabetes is almost always preventable, treatable and even reversible through diet and lifestyle changes.

Prostate Cancer

Studies have found that eating a vegan diet can cut the risk of prostate cancer by 35%.

Colon Cancer

The Loma Linda University in California studied 70,000 people and their dietary habits. Those who ate a vegetarian diet had a lowered risk of colon cancer of 22%. Those on a Pescatarian diet was even better – their risk was lowered by 43%.

Breast Cancer

Studies show that women who eat a vegan diet have 34% lower rates of female-specific cancers such as ovarian, cervical and breat cancer. However there was not much difference in the rates between vegetarians and meat eaters.

Cataracts

Compared with meat eaters, fish eaters have 20% lower risk of catarats, while vegetarians have a 30% lower risk and vegans have a 40% lower risk.

Osteoporosis

Many people think that because vegans and vegetarians consume less calcium that they have poor bone health, but large studies show that there is no significant difference in bone mineral density (BMD) between vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters.

Health organisations recommend high-calcium vegan foods such as tofu, soya, kale, okra, tahini, figs, sesame seeds, oranges and kidney beans to ensure osteoporosis is avoided.

Arthritis

Diets high in red meat consumption cause a higher risk of inflammatory arthritis types. For those with rheumatoid arthritis a vegetarian diet can help ease symptoms. Vegan diets too are helpful because of the polyunsaturated fatty acids consumed.

Physical Benefits

BMI (Body Mass Index)

Vegans and vegetarians are at a lower risk of obesity than meat eaters. A study at the University of Oxford found that BMI was the highest in meat eaters, lowest in vegans and with vegetarians and pescatarians falling inbetween.

Longer Life

Veganism and vegetarianism might be able to prolong your life. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that switching eggs for plant protein reduced the risk of death by 19% while eliminating red meat decreased it by 12%. The lowest mortality rate was among Pescatarians (19% lower than meat eaters) while vegans had a 15% lower mortality rate and vegetarians had a 12% lower rate.

Glowing Skin

Many of the foods eaten contribute toward skin health. For example Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that fight brown spots and wrinkles. Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds. Zinc found in beans, tofu and nuts decreases inflammation and combats spots, pimples and redness and healthy unsaturated fats such as those in olive oil and avocados keep cell membranes supple and strong and the skin hydrated.

Body Odour

The body odour changes when we eliminate meat from the diet. A study in Prague found that when men eliminated meat from their diet women found their body odour more pleasant and sexually attractive.

PMS

In a study 33 women who suffered painful periods switched to a plant-based diet for two menstrual cycles. They found that their menstrual pain decreased from a four-day duration to a three-day duration and it was much less painful. Also other symptoms such as bloating and irritability were also reduced.

Migraines

Researchers affiliated with the PCRM split 42 people who suffered from migraines into two groups. One took a placebo drug and one would follow a vegan diet.

After several weeks the vegan group showed significant reductions in pain compared with the placebo group.