I belong to an on-line vegetarian group. I have access to a wonderful group of professional folks who know how to plan well-balanced vegetarian meals. But recently, a few members have stated that they have been approached by a vegetarian parent to help them establish that vegetarian diets are healthy in an effort for that parent to obtain custody of their child. Evidently, the meat-eating parent thinks that the diet is unhealthy for their child.
My heart sank when I read this. People still are not aware of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians are folks who do not eat animal meat, such as steak, chicken or fish. So, in an effort to clear up any misunderstandings about its health value, I have decided to explain why a vegetarian diet might be of benefit nutritionally.
To start, there are a variety of vegetarians:
Lacto-ovo vegetarian—eats no animal meat, but does eat eggs, and dairy products
Lacto vegetarian – eats no animal meat or eggs, but eats/drinks dairy products
Pesco vegetarian – eats no animal meat, but has the occasional fish.
Vegan– eats no animal products including dairy products and eggs.
By no means is this the full list of types of vegetarians but they are the most common. Most frequently asked question to a vegetarian: How do you get your protein? (Or some variation on this question). Here is a quick answer: beans, lentils, soy, tempeh, chickpeas (makes hummus…yum), nuts, seeds, some whole grains, and vegetables. Now if a person is a lacto-ovo- or lacto-vegetarian then they can include dairy products and eggs as a source of protein.
Benefits of a vegetarian diet include:
- Decrease risk of certain cancers
- Decrease risk of heart disease
- Decrease risk of diabetes
- Help control hypertension
- Help control high cholesterol
- Help with weight control
- Improve bone mineral density
Now, with any nutritional lifestyle changes (this shouldn’t be looked at as a diet), there needs to be some thought on what types of foods to include especially with certain vitamins and minerals. I have included just a couple of great resources online that can help you get started.
Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group http://vegetariannutrition.net/
Vegetarian resource Group http://www.vrg.org/
In 2009, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics put out a position paper stating the following:
“Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” Volume 109, Issue 7, Pages 1266-1282 (July 2009)
[There are several scientific references attached to that position paper]. So as you can see, when the leading nutrition association states it’s safe for all stages of the life cycle, parents should feel relatively secure in knowing that a vegetarian lifestyle is very doable, and NOT unhealthy. It pains me to hear that parent’s rights are being questioned when something so basic has already been established by the medical/scientific community, as safe. By the way, if anyone has seen my child, then you will know that folks mistake him for a 6 yo and not a 5 yo. And guess what? He doesn’t like eating meat…well, maybe the occasional pepperoni pizza
Here’s to your health (raising glass of water).