The Vegetarian Diet: Does it have benefits

(Liezl van Zyl)

Many people today are choosing a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons.  Some are looking for healthy alternatives to animal products and others choose a vegetarian way of life for ethical reasons.  Research findings suggest that well-planned vegetarian diets offer sound nutrition and health benefits to adults.

Vegetarians differ from other people in more ways than not eating meat.  Many vegetarians have adopted lifestyles that enable them to maintain a healthy weight more easily, they use no tobacco, very little alcohol and are physically active.

In general vegetarians maintain a healthier body weight than non-vegetarians. Their lower body weight correlates with their high intakes of fibre and low intakes of fat.  Since obesity impairs life in a number of ways, this gives vegetarians a health benefit.

Vegetarians in general have much lower cholesterol levels than meat eaters and heart disease is less common. Vegetarian meals are typically lower in saturated animal fat. The fats common in plant based diets  the monounsaturated fats (olives, nuts, seeds) and the polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Vegetarian diets are higher in fibre, which is another factor that helps control blood lipids, and protect against heart disease.

Vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians.  A healthy body weight, a diet low in total fat and saturated fat and high in fibre, fruit and vegetables helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

A vegetarian diet also helps protect against cancer.  Their lower cancer rate may be due to their high intakes of fruit and vegetables and their lower intake of fats.  Plants contain cancer-fighting substances called phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, and vegetarians usually consume more of these plant pigments.

Written by:  Liezl van Zyl, RD(SA)
vanzyl.liezl1@gmail.com

References:

Escott-Stump S. 2008. Nutrition and Diagnosis Related Care. 6thedition.

Rolfes RS, Pinna K & Whitney E. 2006.  Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition.  7th edition.

Escott-Stump S. & Mahan LK. 2008. Krause’s Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy, 12th edition.