Fancy being vegetarian or vegan? There are some extreme diets too such as fruitarians and breatharians which are both self explanatory and have little to recommend them! Before embarking on any diets, it is as well to keep some facts in mind. So often decisions are made on limited knowledge and in the case of what you eat, this can have serious consequences for your health.
The definition of “diet”, from one source is “the usual food and drink of a person or animal” but so often it is synonymous with weight-loss regimes. The trouble is, most of us are unaware of what our “usual” diet should consist of! It does not matter where in the world you are from, we all need the same nutrients – although how we obtain them is often different. Therefore the diet of humans has to be one which provides all the nutrients that have been shown to be necessary for growth and health. Sound reasonable? I would add here that necessary nutrients are being discovered all the time and for this reason, your main source of nutrition has to come from the food you eat, not from supplements.
Currently, there are about fifty known nutrients – too many to list here! However, there are some vital facts that must be taken into account.
- Nutrients work together, not independently.
- If you are ill, some nutrients may not be absorbed properly.
- Some foods inhibit the uptake of certain nutrients.
- Some foods use the available nutrients for their own metabolism thus robbing the body.
- Some foods, whilst being sound nutritionally, will only give these up when properly prepared.
- Where and how your food is produced will determine how nutritionally valuable it is.
I will just talk about the not too extreme form of vegetarianism. Those that adopt this way of eating do so for three reasons generally – religion, animal welfare and health. The first is difficult to argue so I won’t! All I will say is that I have been contacted several times by people needing help with gut issues who are from this category. The animal welfare reason is one I do sympathise with as I was vegetarian for ten years during my early adulthood for this cause. It is possible to be healthy if you are in this category but care must be taken with food choices if all nutrients are to be obtained. Those who choose vegetarianism for health reasons are often the ones who can succumb to ill health due to the wealth of misinformation that is currently available. These people often choose low-fat food options, eat lots of grain products and never venture out into the mid-day sun. They usually take supplements and they can be found at the gym or pounding the pavements several times a week. I am sorry to generalise but I have met these people during the last twenty-plus years of giving health advice as a nurse. This is not lifestyle which provides optimal health.
There is much that can be done to improve the usual vegetarian diet but it takes a little more thought and food preparation than for the meat-eaters. Here are some points to consider:
- Vitamin B12 is the most problematic vitamin for vegetarians (and especially vegans). It is only bio-available from animal products and although it is present in some vegetable matter, it is in the wrong form for humans. Your diet must contain pastured organic eggs, milk and cheeses (preferably raw) and fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir.
- Many vegetarians will eat copious quantities of grains and these are the foods which rob the body of nutrients, especially if not carefully prepared. The same is true of legumes which often feature as a source of protein in vegetarian diets. Click the highlighted words for information regarding preparation.
- When you eat large amounts of grain, your vitamin C requirement is increased. Obtain this from salads and vegetables rather than from lots of fruit and juice which will increase your sugar intake.
- Grains change to sugar in the gut which can lead to insulin sensitivity and diabetes.
- Meat, its fat and offal contain the fat soluble vitamins which are vital for the lining of cells, hormone production and integrity of the gut lining. When these are not eaten the diet must include eggs, cheeses and plenty of deep yellow butter.
- The body needs copious amounts of vitamin D3 which must be obtained from the sun.
My recommendations for a healthy diet and lifestyle can be found here.