Vegetarianism and veganism are quickly becoming more popular choices of diet for many people in North America. Some groups of people choose to change to these types of diets for moral or ethical reasons. These believe that the production and consumption of meats are not only cruel to the animals, but are doing great damage to our environment. Many more groups of people are choosing this lifestyle in order to improve their overall health.
A vegetarian or vegan diet has been proven to improve the health of our population. The biggest health benefit is that this way of life significantly reduces cholesterol levels. Meat, especially the red variety, contributes greatly to high cholesterol levels in human beings. Reduced cholesterol equals reduced risk of heart attack. A vegetarian diet also consists of less saturated fat often found in meats which leads to a lower chance of heart disease.
A diet consisting of mainly fruit and vegetables reduce the risk of ischemic heart disease, myocardial infarction and angina (all of which are common in older people) due to the fact that they are high in folic acid, carotenoids, dietary fibers, potassium, and flavonoids. A vegetarian diet has also shown to lower blood pressure due to lower sodium intake, to help with diabetes due to the high fiber and complex carbohydrates found in plant foods, and to help in the prevention of some types of cancer.
There are several types of vegetarianism to consider. A true vegan consumes only plant based food. Vegans do not include any dairy products, honey, or eggs in their diet. They also avoid processed sugars since these tend to have animal by-products included in them. Soy substitutes for most of these products are available. It is virtually impossible to become overweight if one is a true vegan, and vegans tend to be extremely healthy beings. A flexitarian, or semi-vegetarian consumes limited quantities of meat. Often this type of vegetarian will add some fish or lean chicken to their diet periodically in order to add protein. Lacto-ovo vegetarians allow eggs and dairy products in their diets, but no animal flesh products at all, while Lacto vegetarians allow dairy products, but no eggs.
Many critics may voice concern of the lack of protein or certain nutrients in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Not to worry, there is a multitude of people who lead much healthier lives without meat. There are much healthier sources of protein other than the flesh of animals. One such source is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It is a whole grain that not only provides high protein, but all essential amino acids as well. Beans, lentils, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and meat substitutes also offer a great deal of protein.
It may take some planning to have a well balanced vegetarian diet, but it is not impossible or even difficult. The health benefits and energy levels you will enjoy more than compensate for the trouble you have had to go to in planning your menu. Not only are you helping your environment and animals, you are boosting your health through healthy cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, less of a chance of obesity (leading to less chance of developing diabetes), and less chance of contracting food -born illnesses.