Broccoli or Chicken? Both!

Being a hardcore non-vegetarian myself, I have often been the victim of disapproving glances whenever my eyes gleam with pure joy and my face beams at the thought of eating something non vegetarian. You see, I stay in a hostel which provides only vegetarian food, and I have been through torture. My roommate on the other hand is a pure vegetarian and cannot comprehend my glee at the prospect of a little fish or chicken. She has often tried to convince me that being vegetarian is the way to go, but the advice has fallen on deaf ears(paneer is NOT better than chicken, never!). In this article, I shall attempt to put forward some of the negative aspects of following a vegetarian diet. For one, people following a strict vegetarian diet are not healthier than their omnivorous counterparts. In fact, on average, they suffer from as many, or more medical complaints as compared to non-vegetarian individuals, who include meat or eggs in their diet.

There are only animal, but no vegetarian sources of Vitamin B12, which is why herbivores (e.g rabbits), meet their Vitamin B12 requirements by eating plants that are infested with insects, or by eating their own feces ( interesting, eh?), while in ruminants (sheep, cows), the microbes fermenting and digesting plant material in the rumen (the first stomach) incorporate cobalt into Vitamin B12, which is subsequently absorbed and utilized.

The possible deficiencies that may develop if a balanced eating plan is not consumed are of Vitamin B12, zinc, calcium and iron. Vitamin B12 is important for nerve transmission and implicitly, necessary for life. Calcium is required for strong bones, among other functions. Iron to prevent anaemia, thus for blood and zinc for immunity and healing.

Some studies have also proven that vegetarian diets worsen cholesterol or triglyceride profiles in some people. A high potassium / manganese ratio is generally also responsible for total cholesterol levels to rise following the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle. Likewise, a rise in zinc is common when switching to vegetarianism, being partly supported by a decrease in iron (high zinc / iron ratio), which may result in raised total triglyceride levels. At the same time, lower protein and/or phosphates would be the cause for VLDL triglyceride fractions to go up – which of course can also happen following an increase in the intake of calcium and simple carbohydrates (sugar, honey, sweet fruits).

There are the strict vegetarians and the non vegetarians, both of whom enjoy optimal health.

The secret to a healthy life is not the of diet itself, but frequently the avoidance of what is generally conceived as being junk food – which can be part of an omnivorous and vegetarian lifestyle. At the same time, someone’s diet should be based on genetic requirements — to complement one’s individual chemical make-up, but should not be based on dogmas or agendas.

It is what is included, rather than excluded, in our diets, that counts. For example, there are vegetarians who subsist on bagels and pasta alone (the white diet); or who cut out all meat but eat cookies and candy — not balanced eating plans, to say the least. One’s choices are the key to healthy eating: select nutrient-dense foods more often and nutrient-lacking ones less often. After all, the name we place on ourselves is not as important as our overall choices.

While a vegetarian diet may help prevent many chronic diseases, an unhealthy vegetarian diet can create a different set of medical problems. A daily diet of only rice and vegetables may be “vegetarian” but far from a healthy and balanced diet. Vegetarians who include dairy foods in their diet need to avoid loading their plates with saturated-fat laden, full-fat dairy foods such as whole milk and cheeses. Even though fatty meats may be limited on a vegetarian diet, a steady diet of fatty dairy products could cause the amount of artery-clogging saturated fat that is consumed to be off the Richter scale!

Following a vegetarian lifestyle irresponsibly can lead to malnutrition and health problems. Anything that we do has an impact on our lives. It is our responsibility to ensure that we make wise choices and see to it that we are educated about our own particular brand of lifestyle. Doing so keeps us healthier, happier and lets us live longer.

Anushka Mathew

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