A well balanced vegetarian diet is appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly as well as athletes. This leads to a lower intakes of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein, with a higher intake of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C and E, carotenoids and other phytochemicals.
The role of a vegetarian diet in controlling diseases includes:
- Tackling obesity- A diet that contains less saturated fat and more fibres is beneficial for losing weight.
- Fighting Type 2 diabetes- A higher intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts is associated with lower risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced Cardio-vascular diseases- Large studies have reported that vegetarians have lower risk of Cardiovascular diseases and coronary mortality.
- Reduced risk of Cancer- High fibre intake plays an essential role in reducing colon cancer risk.
- Improved digestive health and weight loss- Fibre rich diet facilitates better bowel movement and also weight management.
Although a vegetarian diet shows a lot of health benefits, there is a concern about the nutrients obtained from a plant-based diet. Some of the key nutrients that are easily got from a vegetarian diet are-
- Iron- It is an essential mineral for the formation of Haemoglobin and Myoglobin, which carry the oxygen in the blood to the muscles. Since the nonheme iron from plant sources is less well absorbed compared to the heme iron from animal sources, studies have shown that a vegetarian diet might have lower iron stores compared to non-vegetarians. But the good news is we can enhance iron absorption with vitamin C and organic acids found in fruits and veggies. This also reduces inhibitors from tea, coffee, antacids and phytic acid. A combination of wholemeal products or pulses with fruit and vegetables, is a good choice.
- Vitamin B-12 - The main sources of vitamin b12 are meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs. For people adopting a strict vegan lifestyle, it is essential to take supplements and B-12 fortified foods.
- Vitamin D - Fortified milk, yogurt, cheese, mushrooms, egg yolk are good sources of Vitamin D. Supplements can also be taken if levels are really low like the Nutribears Multivitamin gummies for kids and adults which have vitamin D in them.
- Omega 3 fats - Good sources of Omega 3 are walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil or wheat germ.
- Protein - Plant based foods can provide good quality protein from sources like tofu, tempeh, cooked beans, peas and lentils. Also, nuts, seeds, and peanut butter are good sources.
- Zinc - It is essential for growth and development. Grains, nuts, and legumes are good sources of zinc.
A vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients but requires proper planning.
- Fill half your plate with veggies and fruit
- Fill quarter plate with whole-grains
- Fill quarter plate with beans, lentils and tofu
- Include good fats like avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds
- Use of herbs and spices to enhance flavour and taste