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Vegetarian Diet

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Vegetarian diets are diets that comprise of foods and food products mostly obtained from plant sources. Sources of foods from the plants are beneficial as they are high in dietary fiber and generally lower in saturated fat. However, vegetarian diets also included foods from the animal sources like milk and milk products, eggs, fish, shellfish (all types of sea foods).

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Types of Vegetarian Diet

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian - includes dairy foods and eggs
  • Lacto-vegetarian - includes dairy foods, but no eggs
  • Vegan - no animal foods of any type

Health benefits are not the only reason that people (vegetarians) prefer to eat a vegetarian diet. There are several other reasons, for example certain group of people choose to eat a vegetarian diet because of religious beliefs; others feel that eating flesh of animals is unethical and an act of cruelty, so they give up eating all kinds meat and meat products obtained from animal sources. Some people are compelled to eat a vegetarian diet as it is more affordable than animal foods.

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Daily recommended food intake

  • 6 to 11 daily servings of bread (whole wheat, multigrain, flax seed), cereal, rice and pasta.
  • 3 to 5 servings of vegetables (all different colors)
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits (all different colors and texture)
  • 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt and cheese (Low fat)
  • 2 to 3 servings of tofu, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Use fats (butter, margarine), oils and sweets (desserts) in moderation.

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Health Benefits of Plant Foods

  • There is reduced risk for obesity, constipation, diverticular disease of the colon, calcium kidney stones, osteoporosis, dental erosion and dental caries among vegetarians.

  • There is conclusive scientific evidence that risks for hypertension, coronary artery disease, type II diabetes, and gallstones are lower in people who eat a diet that is low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber.

  • Reducing fat in the diet may reduce cancer risk and, in helping weight control, may reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

  • It is strongly believed that veggies can prevent or reduce the risks of developing breast cancer, colonic cancer and lung cancer:
    • Diets that are rich in beta-carotene (the plant form of vitamin A) and vitamin C (most fruits and vegetables) may reduce the risk of all types of cancers.
    • Although the exact role of total dietary fiber, fiber components, other nutrients and substances in these foods is not fully understood, fiber-rich foods like grains and vegetables from the cabbage family (cruciferous vegetables) may reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.

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Implications of Dietary Deficiencies

Vegan diets should include a vitamin B12 supplement, because this nutrient occurs only in animal foods. The body's need for vitamin B12 increases during pregnancy, breast-feeding, and elderly people also should be especially cautious about adopting vegetarian diets because their bodies may absorb vitamin B12 poorly.

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Diet Tips to Keep in Mind!

  • As the vegetarian diets are mostly high in bulk, make sure that your caloric intake is sufficient to meet the body's requirements for energy.

  • Foods that are high in bulk and dietary fibre like grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts are known to cause intestinal discomfort, bloating and gas. Their consumption should be increased slowly and sensibly.

  • Include all the different varieties of foods to keep your diet nutritious, balanced and interesting.

  • Make sure to include all the food groups like grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables to make up for the deficits in one food by another.

  • Protein from soy and beans has been shown to be nutritionally equivalent to proteins of animal origin and, thus, can serve as the sole source of protein intake if desired.

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What You Can Do

  • Consult a registered dietitian, especially if you are breast-feeding, during pregnancy, or if you are recovering from an illness.

  • Minimize intake of less nutritious foods such as sweets and fatty foods to maximize the absorption of nutrients from your diet.

  • Choose the constituents of your diet very carefully; select whole or unrefined grain products instead of refined products, variety of nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, including good sources of vitamin C to improve iron absorption, low-fat or nonfat varieties of dairy products.

  • Limit the intake of eggs to three or four per week as eggs (egg yolks) are high in cholesterol.

  • Usually, take iron and folate (folic acid) supplements during pregnancy.

  • Supplement your baby's needs for vitamin D and iron if you are exclusively breast-feeding beyond 4 to 6 months of age.

  • Use properly fortified food sources of vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D, such as fortified soy beverages or cereals.

  • If sunlight is inadequate, take a vitamin D supplement during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.

  • Dietary sources and supplements for vitamins and minerals:
    • Vitamin B12 - fortified soy beverages and cereals.
    • Vitamin D - fortified soy beverages and sunshine.
    • Calcium - tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, seeds, nuts, kale, bok choy, legumes (peas and beans), greens, lime-processed tortillas, and soy beverages, grain products, and orange juice enriched with calcium
    • Iron - legumes, tofu, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, whole grains, and iron-fortified cereals and breads, especially whole-wheat. (Absorption is improved by vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables and potatoes with skins.)
    • Zinc - whole grains (especially the germ and bran), whole-wheat bread, legumes, nuts and tofu
    • Protein - tofu and other soy-based products, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains and vegetables

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Vegetarian Diet