Plant-based nutrition is becoming more and more popular worldwide. While people are moving away from omnivores, the question remains: Are vegetarian and vegan diets truly healthy? The answer is yes, but with a caveat. Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy when they are properly planned, provide sufficient nutrients, and help prevent and treat disease.
However, vegetarianism is still surrounded by numerous myths. Let’s look at the facts.
Vegetarians and vegans don’t get enough protein
Since meat has become synonymous with protein, many consumers are desperate to find all sorts of plant-based sources of the substances it contains. However, special tricks are not needed here – a well-thought-out diet is enough. In general, plant proteins contain more fiber and less saturated fat. This composition is the cornerstone of a heart-healthy diet. There are numerous plant sources of protein that fit perfectly into a healthy diet: legumes, soy products, whole grains, nuts, skim milk.
Vegans should consume more protein than meat eaters and lacto vegetarians. The reason is that proteins derived from whole grains and legumes are less absorbed by the body than animal proteins. Proteins of plant origin are enclosed in the walls of cells, which makes it difficult to extract and assimilate them. Vegans are advised to consume foods such as bean burritos, tofu, chili lentils, and deep-fried vegetables.
Bone health requires milk
Milk is not the only food that can help the body build strong bones and protect them. Bone health requires numerous nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, and protein. Each of these ingredients is present in plant-based dishes such as broccoli, bok choy, tofu, and soy milk.
If you do not consume dairy products, then you need an additional source of calcium obtained from plant sources. It is advisable to consume foods rich in calcium – cereals, orange juice and tofu. Such a diet should be accompanied by physical activity, yoga, running, walking and gymnastics are useful.
Eating soy increases the risk of breast cancer
For vegans and vegetarians, soy is an ideal source of both protein and calcium. There is no evidence that soy increases the risk of breast cancer in any way. Neither children nor adolescents who ate soy showed increased levels of the disease. Regardless of the type of diet, variety is key.
Vegetarian diet is not suitable for pregnant women, children and athletes
Proper vegetarian and vegan diets can satisfy all the needs of people of all ages, including pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and athletes. You just need to be sure that the body receives all the necessary nutrients. For example, pregnant women need more iron; they should eat more iron-rich foods that include vitamin C, which will help increase the body’s ability to absorb it. Iron is poorly absorbed when it comes from a plant source. A combination of iron and vitamin C is needed: beans and salsa, broccoli and tofu.
A vegetarian diet can help ensure normal growth in infants, children, and adolescents. Vegans—adults and children—may need slightly more protein, depending on how their bodies process plant-based protein. However, these needs can usually be met if the diet is varied and contains enough calories.
Most competitive athletes should eat more protein and nutrients, which may well come from plant sources.
Any vegetarian product is healthy
Labels “vegetarian” or “vegan” do not mean that we have a really healthy product. Some cookies, chips, and sugary cereals may be vegetarian, but they are more likely to contain artificial sugars and unhealthy fats.
Processed foods like veggie burgers may seem like a convenient way to eat vegan, but they’re not necessarily safer than their animal counterparts. Cheese, although an excellent source of calcium, also contains saturated fat and cholesterol. The content of the product must be stated on the label. Saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium are key ingredients that indicate a product is questionable.