In recent years, the vegetarian diet has increasingly gained widespread popularity. A vegetarian diet provides a wide array of nutritious foods needed to support good health. Many studies have linked a vegetarian diet to numerous health benefits such as reducing the health risks associated with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer, leading to longer life expectancy. This article reveals the science behind a vegetarian diet plan in promoting a wide range of positive health benefits.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
Vegetarian diet plan encompasses plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Typically, the vegetarians exclude meat or fish from their diet but there are different types of vegetarian that often vary in what foods they include or exclude in their diets. For example;
- Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume both eggs and dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and exclude dairy products.
- Pescatarians eat fish and avoid meat.
- Vegans do not eat all meat and animal-based products in their fresh, preserved, or processed form such as dairy, poultry, fish, eggs, including honey (Nordqvist & Olsen, 2017).
The Science of a Vegetarian Diet Plans
A vegetarian diet plan mainly consists of diverse plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. The variety of plant-based foods contains significant high amounts of important nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that meet all the body’s nutritional needs and promote good health (Link, 2018). Compared to meat-eaters, vegetarian diet plans tend to have a higher intake of fiber; micronutrients like vitamins (A, B complex, C, D, E, K); and macronutrients such as minerals (Iron, zinc, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, etc). These phytonutrients and flavonoids act as antioxidants, which play a critical role in neutralizing free radicals that cause cancers. Studies have reported a greater correlation between a vegetarian diet with lower risks of cancers, especially, gastrointestinal, colon, rectum, and stomach cancers (Key, Appleby, & Spencer et al., 2009).
Moreover, a vegetarian diet plan comprises of low-acid foods. Fresh vegetables, most fruits, and fats like olive oils form an important part of the alkaline diet that helps in maintaining an acid-base balance by reducing the body’s acid load (Collins, 2018). Consequently, acid-base balance allows effective utilization of these nutrients in the body; hence, keeping the body energized for optimum performance, and prevents various health risks associated with increased acidity in the body (acidosis) such as gastrointestinal disturbances, inflammations, and premature aging. Some research has reported that alkaline diet has an anti-aging effect on the skin, improve vision, limit muscle loss, and promote healthy growth of strong teeth and bones (Cosgrove & Johnston, 2017).
A recent comparative study found that a vegetarian diet was more effective in reducing ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood compared to the Mediterranean diet. A vegetarian diet is low in total fat, cholesterol, and saturated fatty acid; thus, leading to lower intake in the body by lowering the rates of absorption and conversion of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Consequently, reduced levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood maintain a healthy heart by minimizing the risks of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attacks. A healthy heart translates to the proper functioning of other critical body organs such as the brain, liver, and kidneys (Sofi, Dinu, Pagliai, Cesari, & Gori et al., 2018; Nordqvist & Olsen, 2017).
An extensive literature review has demonstrated the association between vegetarian diets with weight loss (Link, 2018). A vegetarian diet plan has low-fat and fewer calories intake, which provide a hunger-squelching effect and amplify the belly-bloating effect to boost the body-fat metabolism for effective weight loss. Furthermore, this moderates a person’s eating behavior by reducing their food cravings and promoting a relaxation effect to keep the body free of distress for positive impact on weight loss (Spencer, Appleby, Davey, & Key, 2003). Several studies indicate that vegetarian diet plans for weight loss may help maintain healthy blood sugar levels in the long-term. The plant-based foods for the vegetarians have been linked to improved blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes (Trapp & Levin, 2012).
Based on the evidence presented, vegetarian diet plans provide a wide array of nutritious foods to meet our body’s nutritional requirements and promote better health. In addition to numerous health benefits, the production of plant-based foods for a vegetarian diet requires less farmyard space and energy compared to animal-based foods. Producing vegetarian plant foods is more ecologically sustainable, encourages environmental conservation and protection of biodiversity.
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