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How to be a healthy vegetarian

A 13-year study of 6000 vegetarians and 5000 meat eaters published in the British Medical Journal in 1995 showed that vegetarians generally live longer and are less likely to become obese. They’re also less likely to develop cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, bowel disease and hypertension and they have only half the risk of fatal heart attack.

“One of the main reasons is the type of fat in meat — saturated fat,” says nutritionist Lucinda Dobson. “Too much saturated fat can increase your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes etc.”

The main criticism of the vegetarian diet, and it’s a very important one, is that you’ll miss out on a special kind of iron (called haem) found in red meat, chicken, kidney, oysters and other seafood, which is more readily absorbed by the body than that found in vegetarian sources.

“However, if you plan well and eat a wide variety of foods and know which ones are high in iron and protein, there’s no reason you should be iron deficient,” assures Lucinda.

Iron-rich foods

 

  • Legumes (baked beans are great) and pulses
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meat substitutes
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified breads
  • Fermented soy products (eg tempeh)
  • Tofu
  • Fortified products (eg some breakfast cereals and orange juices)

 

Iron dos and don’ts

DO When eating iron-rich foods, combine with vitamin-C-rich vegetables and fruit, as this vitamin improves iron absorption with that specific meal. Great choices include citrus fruit, broccoli, strawberries, kiwifruit, cabbage, cauliflower, capsicum and fruit juice.

DON’T consume coffee, tea and/or excessive amounts of fibre, as they inhibit iron absorption.

DON’T The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel recommends that you don’t take iron supplements without advice from a healthcare professional, as iron is toxic in large amounts and can even be fatal at high doses. Consult your GP for a blood test to see if you’re iron deficient. Also, people with “iron storage disorder” (haemochromatosis) should never use iron supplements.

Vegans and vitamin B12

A vegan diet is much more limited than a vegetarian one. Vegans don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, which all contain vitamin B12.

“This vitamin is important for nervous system development. Because it isn’t found in many foods — only reliably found in dairy and eggs — vegans are at risk of being vitamin B12 deficient,” says Lucinda.

See your holistic doctor/GP for a blood test if you’re concerned about vitamin B12 deficiency.

Eco factor

In 2006, the United Nations (UN) revealed that the meat industry “emerged as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale, from local to global”.

Switching your car to a Toyota Prius (hybrid car) prevents about 1 ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year but, according to the University of Chicago, turning vegan (not eating any animal products, including meat, cheese, eggs, etc) can produce about 1.5 tons less carbon dioxide a year than that produced by a meat-eater. The argument is that all the animal feeding, transporting, slaughtering, processing and storage of the meat uses a lot of energy.

Animal cruelty

Cattle are castrated, their horns are removed, they receive third-degree burns from branding — all without pain relief.

According to GoVeg.com, “Animals in factory farms have no legal protection from cruelty that would be illegal if it were inflicted on dogs or cats, including neglect, mutilations, genetic manipulation, drug regimens that cause chronic pain and crippling, transport through all weather extremes, and gruesome and violent slaughter.” It also estimates that each vegetarian saves around 100 animals from the above each year.

Visit www.goveg.com for a free, downloadable Vegetarian Starter Kit; or www.peta.org/living/ to start a 30-day Vegetarian Pledge to help you go vegetarian.

Meat facts

 

  • Dairy and beef production are the highest major water users in Australia.
  • It takes thousands more litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef than it does to grow the same amount of grains or vegetables.
  • In under five years, the total dietary emissions from the meat of a family of four on the pro-meat CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet will exceed those from building and running a large 4WD vehicle.
  • The methane produced by Australia’s cattle and sheep has more impact than the emissions from all coal-fired power stations in Australia.
  • (Source: National Vegetarian Week — www.vegetarianweek.com.au)

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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