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Vegetarians & Vegans Information

  • Vegetarianism is the practice of not consuming the flesh of any animal (including sea animals) with or without also eschewing other animal derivatives, such as dairy products or eggs. Some vegetarians also choose to refrain from wearing clothing that has involved the death of animals, such as leather and fur. Veganism excludes all animal products from diet and in some definitions from attire also, whether or not the production of clothing or items has involved the actual death of an animal (dairy, eggs, honey, wool, silk, down feathers, etc.). Vegetarians have varied motivations including religious, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, environmental, social, economic, health, political, and personal concerns.
  • There are a variety of different practices of vegetarianism, including lacto-ovo vegetarianism, lacto vegetarianism, ovo vegetarianism, and veganism. Other dietary practices commonly associated with vegetarianism include fruitarianism (a diet of only fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant), macrobiotic diet (a diet of mostly whole grains and beans; not all macrobiotics are vegetarians as some consume fish), natural hygiene (its classic form recommends a diet principally of raw vegan foods), raw veganism (a diet of fresh and uncooked fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables), freeganism (all commodities produced under capitalism, not only those from animal sources, contribute to exploitation and avoid buying anything, including food), and dietary veganism (where vegans don't use animal products of any kind, dietary vegans restrict their veganism to their diet).

    The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have stated: "Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals." Some studies suggest that vegetarian food helps keep body weight under control and reduces risk of Heart diseases. American vegetarians tend to have lower body mass indices, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less incidence of heart disease, hypertension, some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, dementias such as Alzheimer's Disease and other disorders that may be diet-related. The health of a group of 27,000 vegetarians is currently being followed at a UK centre of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), the largest study of the long-term effects of vegetarian diet.

    Although potentially diet related, most studies do not control for other lifestyle variables that typically coexist with vegetarianism, for example increased exercise as part of a general concern for physical wellbeing that often accompanies the adoption of a vegetarian lifestyle.

    Scientific study of mortality and health on diet found that both vegetarian and non vegetarian with optimal life style choice in regard to exercise, smoking, and good nutrients intake live equally long and healthy life. Vegetarian diets seem to reduce heart problems, though its overall effect on longevity was no difference once other life style variables are factored in.

    It is clear that many people live healthy lives as vegetarians (vegetarian Olympic athletes are often cited) and though it is commonly thought that vegetarians have higher rates of deficiencies in iron or calcium, studies endorsed by the ADA found that this was not true. These nutrients can be found in green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts, and fortified juices or soymilk.. Studies suggest that a vegetarian diet may help keep body weight under control and reduce the risk of heart disease.

    A 1999 metastudy compared six major studies from western countries. The study found that the mortality ratio was the lowest in fish eaters (0.82) followed by vegetarians (0.84) and occasional meat eaters (0.84) and which was then followed by regular meat eaters (1.0) and vegan (1.0). In "Mortality in British vegetarians", it was concluded that "British vegetarians have low mortality compared with the general population. Their death rates are similar to those of comparable non-vegetarians, suggesting that much of this benefit may be attributed to non-dietary lifestyle factors such as a low prevalence of smoking and a generally high socio-economic status, or to aspects of the diet other than the avoidance of meat and fish."

    Western vegetarian diets are typically high in carotenoids, but relatively low in long-chain n-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. Vegans can have particularly low intake of vitamin B12 and calcium if they do not eat enough items such as collard greens, leafy greens, tempeh and tofu. High levels of dietary fibre, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and magnesium, and low consumption of saturated fat could all be beneficial aspects of a vegetarian diet. The health impact of high carbohydrate and n-6 fatty acid intake, and relatively low consumption of protein, retinol and zinc, is unclear as vegetarians probably have levels close to those recommended.

    Vegetarian diets typically contain similar levels of iron to non-vegetarian diets but this has lower bioavailability than iron from meat sources, and its absorption can be inhibited by other dietary constituents. Vegan diets are usually higher in iron than vegetarian diets because dairy products are low in iron.[83] Iron stores are lower in vegetarians than non-vegetarians and iron deficiency is thus more common in vegetarian and vegan women and children (adult males are rarely iron deficient), but iron deficiency anaemia is rare.

    Food plants do not contain vitamin B12 so the main sources for vegetarians are dairy products and eggs, fortified foods and dietary supplements. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be detected in vegetarians, and particularly vegans, but clinical evidence of deficiency is uncommon. This is due to the fact that the human body preserves B12, using it without destroying the substance.

    A vegetarian diet does not include fish - a major source of Omega 3; although some plant-based sources exist such as soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and, especially, hempseed and flaxseed. Plant foods can provide alpha-linolenic acid but not the long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Eggs and dairy products contain low levels of EPA and DHA. Vegetarians, and particularly vegans, have lower levels of EPA and DHA than meat-eaters. The health effects of low levels of EPA and DHA are unknown but it is unlikely that supplementation with alpha-linolenic acid will significantly increase their levels.

    Vegetarians and vegans have low intakes of vitamin D, which is involved in calcium metabolism. Calcium intake in vegetarians is similar to non-vegetarians but vegans typically have a substantially lower intake. Consequently vegans have an increased risk of fractures but the evidence for impaired bone mineralisation in vegetarians is less clear.

    Supplementation of vitamin D creates a challenge for vegans because of the sources of the vitamin D available in dietary supplements. Vitamin D2 comes from plants, but in order for the body to convert it to usable vitamin D, sunlight is required. If an individual has adequate sunlight exposure (and a nutritionally balanced diet) the body can manufacture its own vitamin D given, meaning that D2 as a supplement is rather questionable. The preferred form of supplemental vitamin D, because it is more easily used by the body, is D3, which comes from two sources: fish liver and sheep's wool, both problematic for vegans, although vegetarians would be able to use the latter.

    Vegetarian diets typically have sufficient protein intake as long as a variety of plants sources are available and consumed - it is rare for vegetarians in developed countries to have insufficient protein intake. Proteins are composed of amino acids, and a common concern with protein acquired from vegetable sources is an adequate intake of the "essential amino acids", which cannot be synthesized by the human body. While dairy and egg products provide complete sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians, the only vegetable sources with all eight types of essential amino acids are soy, hempseed, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. It is not necessary, however, to obtain protein from these sources -- the essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating a variety of complementary plant sources that, in combination, provide all eight essential amino acids (eg. rice and beans, or hummus and pita). While it is a common myth that complementary protein sources must be combined within a single meal to maximize nutritional benefit, a varied intake of complementary sources over the course of a day (or a number of days) is generally sufficient, especially when protein consumption is substantially above minimum physiological requirements.

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