To attain a healthy weight, it is important to balance our energy intake with our energy output. In other words, if we consistently take in more food (& thus more energy) than our body can make use of, the excess energy will be converted to fat which finally results in weight gain.
Today, vegetarianism, as a form of dieting and healthy lifestyle is becoming more and more popular the world over. Vegetables and fruit, abundant in useful fibres, vitamins and minerals are undoubtedly a necessary part of healthy diet; but it is often seen that initial euphoria over rapid weight loss slowly turns into hypertension, disappointment & depression followed by a disrupted body metabolism & weakening of the immune system.
So, before taking up a latest ‘fashionable’ weight reduction programmed & passing on the ‘meaty’ goodness, it will be wise to consider both nutritional benefits and risks of the vegetarian diet.
Followers of strict vegetarianism abstain from all animal products in their diet, substituting them with either fresh or cooked plant-based food. Proponents of this method are of the view that animal proteins found in meat, fish, eggs and cheeses contain toxins, which not only disturb the nervous system functions but make our liver and kidneys work in an ‘excess’ regime.
Indeed, a strict vegetarian diet is rich in dietary fibre and enhances the removal of harmful substances from intestines, thus substantially reducing risk of atherosclerosis and cancer. Moreover, glutamine, an amino acid occurring widely in beans, rice & cereals, aids in regulating high blood pressure; while the absence of uric acid (which otherwise tends to accumulate in connective tissues in and around joints in the form of crystals) ensures the prevention of gout and other age-related diseases of the joints. High levels of folic acid, vitamins C and E, magnesium and low consumption of saturated fat are among other benefits of this diet.
On the other hand, strict vegetarians remain deprived of a good dose of essential ‘constructive’ material - proteins, the main share of which is acquired from animal origin products, which can lead to serious health consequences as blood pressure problems, infertility, impotence etc. Protein insufficiency proves to be particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women. Till recently, soy was believed to be an adequate substitute for animal protein, however, research revealed that it contains phytohormones, which contribute to hormonal imbalance in males, for example obesity. Another drawback of a vegetarian diet is the deficiency of iron, which can result in anemia, condition accompanied by loss of strength, drowsiness, increase morbidity and chronic fatigue; whereas a lack of zinc in the body can trigger the eruption of skin diseases as eczema, dermatitis and alopecia.
Semi-vegetarian diets primarily consist of vegetarian food, though occasional exceptions are made for some non-vegetarian foods, including fish and other seafood, milk products (lacto-vegetarianism), eggs and honey.
Thanks to seafood, this diet offers a good source of easily digestible protein, vitamins A, D, E & nutritionally important omega-three fatty acids, which not only benefit the hearts of healthy people but also significantly reduce the risk of sudden death caused by cardiac arrhythmias of heart patients as well as protect against coronary heart disease. Observations show that lacto-vegetarians rarely suffer from iron deficiency; besides, sufficient intake of phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium help strengthen immunity, while iodine is essential in prevention of thyroid disease. An even greater number of trace elements are obtained from honey products.
In comparison with strict vegetarianism, this diet has more optimal nutritional value. Exclusion of milk & eggs from one’s meal ratio can cause the deficiency of vitamins B12 and D, calcium and iron, but supplementing a diet with fish and seafood helps eliminate possible risks to health. It should be noted that lacto-vegetarianism may not be an advisable diet for people above 35 due to increasing intolerance.
Raw food diet
The enthusiasts of this diet completely exclude animal origin food from their diet which includes fruits & raw vegetables, nuts & nut pastes, grains & legume sprouts, seeds, plant oils, sea vegetables, herbs, and fresh juices. The meal is mostly raw with exception of bread, cooked from wholegrain flour without adding yeast.
The large amount of dietary fibres in this diet ensures prevention of colonic inertia, constipation, and tumors of the intestine. Together with pectin, they ‘clean’ the body from inside, being equally beneficial in combating skin disease as well as those of the cardiovascular system. Raw food swiftly fills the entire volume of the stomach, allowing a person to regulate his weight and avoid obesity; & last but not least, raw food preserves maximum vitamins.
Those following this diet must ensure that their intake of vitamin B12 is adequate, since it is produced by bacteria and does not occur reliably in plant foods. Its deficiency can result in anemia and neurodegenerative diseases. Besides, this type of food is not recommended to people suffering from allergies, especially those sensitive to certain proteins. People with a history of chronic pancreatitis, other diseases of the pancreas or gall bladder must avoid eating raw food.
Any diet can offer benefits if followed properly. Make sure your diet includes a variety of foods to meet all nutritional requirements. As long as one consumes enough calories and supplements missing vitamins, going vegetable may give provide the results you have always been looking for.