Preventing Major Diseases
Compared with meat eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less saturated fat and cholesterol and more vitamins 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, and lower body mass index (BMI), all of which are associated with longevity and a reduced risk for many chronic diseases, such as the following:
- Heart disease.In one of the largest studies to date — a combined analysis of data from five prospective studies involving more than 76,000 participants published several years ago — vegetarians were, on average, 25% less likely to die of heart disease.
- Cancer.Hundreds of studies suggest that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, and there's evidence that vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancer than nonvegetarians do. Also, ceasing to consume red meat will eliminate your risk factor for colon cancer.
- Type 2 diabetes.Research suggests that a predominantly plant-based diet can reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes. In studies of Seventh-day Adventists, vegetarians' risk of developing diabetes was half that of nonvegetarians, even after taking BMI into account.
Are vegetarians at risk for osteoporosis?
Some women are reluctant to try a vegetarian diet — especially one that doesn't include calcium-rich dairy products — because they're concerned about osteoporosis. However, even vegans (who do not eat any dairy) are not especially volunerable to fractures as long as they consume at least 525 milligrams of calcium per day.
Adequate intake of dietary calcium can be fulfilled through many vegetarian sources. Moreover, the high potassium and magnesium content of fruits and vegetables reduces blood acidity, lowering the urinary excretion of calcium.
What about protein?
According to the American Dietetic Association, eating a wide variety of numerous available vegetarian sources of protein sources every day is sufficient. Vegetarians often don’t suffer from protein deficiencies. In fact, some research suggests that eating too much protein (in particular, animal protein) is bad for bones because it increases blood acidity, lowering the urinary excretion of calcium. Thus, some meat eaters may increase their risk of poor bone health if they consume too much protein.
Important considerations in a vegetarian diet:
Overall, the benefits of a meat-free diet are pretty incredible. However, there are certain vitamins and minerals that vegetarians may not be getting enough of and should be aware of. Supplementation of the following vitamins may be necessary:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B12
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Source: Harvard Health Publications
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