Practical Issues > Health - Index > Vegan Index

Vegetarians can be described in a number of ways. Some vegetarians exclude only red meat while others also exclude chicken and fish. Others exclude all meat products, including eggs and milk products.

Friday, November 2, 2001

Vegetarian diets have health benefits

By Bob Guinn
Clemson Extension Agent

Vegetarians can be described in a number of ways. Some vegetarians exclude only red meat while others also exclude chicken and fish. Others exclude all meat products, including eggs and milk products. However the important aspect of being a vegetarian is not what you exclude but what you include in your diet.

Vegetarian diets that are well planned can offer sound nutrition and health benefits to adults. In general, vegetarians are healthier and have less disease problems than the general population. According to research, most vegetarians have also adopted a healthier lifestyle which includes more physical exercise, limited alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, and they maintain a healthy weight.

Research has shown that high-protein, high-fat, low-fiber diets create an environment in the colon that promotes the development of cancer in some people. A high-meat diet has also been associated with cancer as well. A religious group, the Seventh-Day Adventists, whose diet is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet has significantly lower mortality rates from cancer than the rest of the population.

Vegetarians have typically healthier body weights, healthier blood pressures, and they suffer less from coronary artery disease. The factor most directly related to coronary artery disease is saturated fat and vegetarian diets are lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than typical meat-based diets. In general, adults who eat vegetarian diets can reduce risks for several chronic diseases including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.

Most of the problems that are associated with vegetarian and other diets center on proper planning. The vegetarian has the same responsibility that all of us should take more seriously and that is using a variety of foods that will deliver all the nutrients we need while maintaining a healthy body weight. A well planned vegetarian diet can provide adequate amounts of all the nutrients a person needs for good health. At one time, adequate protein was considered to be a problem for vegetarians. Research has shown that proteins of whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables can provide adequate amounts of all the amino acids. Individuals that include milk and eggs in their diets receive high-quality proteins and are unlikely to develop protein deficiencies. Adequate intake of vitamin D and B12 should be watched closely if milk products are not included in the diet.

Clemson Extension Agent Bob Guinn can be reached at 470-3655 or by e-mail at rguinn@Clemson.edu