Because of health and ethical concerns vegetarianism has become increasingly popular. Did you know that there many types of vegetarianism? Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, but no meat, eggs, or seafood. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs in addition to milk products but consume no meat or seafood. Vegans practice strict vegetarianism and eat only plant-derived foods, with no animal-derived foods.
Many vegans cite cruelty to meat animals as their primary reason for abstaining from animal-derived foods. Others note that eating only plants is more sustainable for the planet. Some people choose a vegan lifestyle because of health benefits.
Health Benefits of Veganism
Any form of vegetarianism brings a reduction in cholesterol and fat consumption. People on a vegetarian diet have healthier blood lipid profiles than people who consume meat on a regular basis. Vegans have even healthier blood lipid profiles than do other vegetarians. Vegetarians also have lower cancer rates than the general population.
Doctors believe that the more balanced blood lipid profiles found in most individuals on a vegetarian diet are due to both the reduction of fat and the increased fibre intake provided by a vegetarian lifestyle. Vegan diets, in particular, are rich in vegetables, grains, and legumes which provide protection against cancer.
All vegetarian diets require knowledgeable planning to assure the appropriate intake of protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. This is particularly important with vegan diets since no animal proteins at all are consumed. The body needs complete proteins in order to function; beans, legumes, and grains are incomplete proteins but provide the full complement of amino acids when properly combined. For example, black beans served over brown rice make a complete protein.
Vegans must derive calcium from plant sources or calcium-fortified products. Good plant sources include almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli, and turnip greens.
B12 cannot be derived from plant sources. A minuscule amount of B12 is found in seaweed and fermented soy products. Vegans must rely on supplements or fortified foods to supply this vital nutrient.
Is Veganism Safe for Children?
Strict veganism for children is a controversial topic. Children’s growth can be severely impaired on a poorly balanced vegetarian diet. Children have different nutritional needs than adults. When fed only plant foods, children’s small stomachs can fill before they have consumed adequate food for their energy needs. While fortified soy formulas and other products can help meet infants and children’s needs, always consult a paediatrician before placing a child on any form of vegetarian diet.
Pregnant and nursing women should also exercise extra caution in diet planning if they are vegetarians. Adequate protein, iron, and calcium must be consumed to provide both mother and child with proper nutrition.
Making the Choice
Consult your doctor before going on a strict vegetarian diet. Also, learn as much as you can about fulfilling all of your nutritional needs on a vegan diet. Websites such as that by the Vegetarian Resource Group provide a wealth of information on planning well-balanced vegan meals.
Veganism 101. Vegetarian Resource Group http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm
Whitney, Eleanor Noss and Sharon Rady Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition, ninth ed. (Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA: 2002).