Being on a plant-based Vegetarian Diet has all the hallmarks for living a long and healthy life. We all know that but how hard is being a vegetarian. A friend of mine recently became a vegetarian and later confessed to me that he was missing his lamb curry and didn't know if he can hold out much longer. For me, it was no problem whatsoever.
Being brought up in a large family of six boys and one girl, my dad, who was the only breadwinner, wasn't by all means bringing home a lot of bacon. So we lived mostly on vegetables and very little meat.
When my brothers and sister all left home, they continued the tradition if not adding a lot more meat products to their diet. I when in the opposite direction. I won't divulge my actual age, but I have now passed my 45th year as a vegetarian, and there's no going back.
Before I continue with this article on why I think more people should become vegetarian, I'd very much like to dispel the term - vegetarian diet - because in principle it's not a diet at all, but rather a healthy lifestyle. A diet, on the other hand, would suggest someone wanting to lose weight.
And while being a vegetarian, you find it hard to put on weight; it's not so much as a diet and a lifestyle of health. Some people will disagree with me, but that's their problem, but I always say that if your health is in good shape and you are not on any medication, keep doing what you're doing because it's working.
You know the funny thing is that the first thing people always ask me when I tell them that I'm vegetarian (and this happens a lot) is where do you get your protein. I always answer them with a question - Do you know what protein is? Ninety-five per cent of them gives me a blank stare. They don't know. They never ask me where do I get my vitamins or minerals. It's always the same.
Why is it that for some strange reason people are so obsessed with the protein they know so little about. For the record, proteins are known as amino acids, and there are nine of them in all. As an example, the whole grain quinoa has all nine amino acids all lined up in perfect harmony.
It's not only meat, and it's by-products that have protein, there are more than fifty plant-based foods that also supply protein as well as being of a much higher quality. If not, I would not be talking to you after 45 years a vegetarian and someone who doesn't see a doctor or purchase pharmaceutical drugs.
The bottom line is you can easily get all the proteins, minerals, vitamins and trace elements from living a vegetarian lifestyle without the dangers meat can cause.
A vegetarian diet has the healing power to lower your cholesterol levels, prevent vision loss and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. If you go back in history after the second world war when people started experimenting with meatless cooking, they may have been colourless and tasteless or even both. After all, there was only so much you could do with brown rice and lentils or plain tofu on a bed of alfalfa sprouts.
With over a half a century of experience, we've come a long way, and today we are combining fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains in exciting new forms to make these foods taste great. Although vegetarian menus have changed, one thing that has stayed the same - a healthy plant-based diet, which is low in saturated fat and high in fibre, antioxidant vitamins and a powerful array of protective chemical compounds. It is the ultimate prescription for a long and healthier life.
Nearly 60 years ago, Seventh-Day Adventists whose religion advocates a meatless diet, provided the first scientific link between vegetarian diets and better health. Researchers were amazed to discover that among the vegetarian Adventists, death rates from cancer were 50 to 70 per cent lower than the average American.
Since then, study after study has shown the people who eat little or no meat have a much lower rate of heart disease, diabetes as well as gallstone infections. Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight than their meat-eating counterparts and also less likely to suffer from high blood pressure or stroke. That in itself, says it all.
In some places like China and Japan, where people eat little or no meat, disease such as heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes are far less common than in other parts of the world where people eat way too much animal flesh. If we were to have diets similar to that of the east, we could easily prevent 80 to 90 per cent of the chronic, degenerative diseases that other people get before the age of sixty-five.
If you think about it, one thing that makes a vegetarian diet so healthful is that it doesn't have all the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes with meat. While most Americans get about 40 per cent of their total calories from fat, vegetarians, on the other hand, only get about 30 per cent of their calories from fat.
And the best part is that most "overweight" vegetarians get to become a lot healthier from the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. And not the dangerous saturated fats that come from animal foods. I hope that this is all making sense.
Did you know that after two weeks, by changing your diet to that of a vegetarian, you could drop your "bad" cholesterol levels by an average of 12 per cent? And it's not just the lack of saturated fat that makes vegetarian meals so healthful; it's also the "good" fats that we use to replace it.
Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in the likes of olives, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based foods can dramatically lower levels of cholesterol when used to replace saturated fat in the diet.
For years, people in the know, have been pleading with Americans in particular to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, the same food that vegetarians like myself, include in abundance.
It's not rocket science that most plant foods come loaded with antioxidants such as beta-carotene, and vitamin C and E, which are essential for protecting our bodies from harmful diseases. In addition to this, many plant foods contain an abundance of phytonutrients which are natural plant compounds that appear to lower the risk of cataracts, heart disease and many other serious health problems that we face within this modern era.
Another thing is that if you were to get the most carotenoids - the plant pigments that we find in such foods as spinach, collard greens as well as a variety of deep-orange fruits and vegetables like oranges, pumpkin and carrots. In your diet, you'd halve the risk of developing macular degeneration (the leading cause of irreversible vision in older adults) than people getting less of these foods.
And even if you could take all the nutrients out of plant foods, a vegetarian dietary program would still have an edge, simply because of all the dietary fibre they contain. If you consider that the average American gets only about 12 grams of fibre a day vegetarians get as much as three times that. And you know how much fibrous material is right for you.
It's almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of getting enough fibre in your daily diet. Because your body doesn't absorb it, fibre passes through your digestive tract, adding bulk to your stools and thus helping them to move more swiftly.
And this does a lot more than prevent constipation. The more quickly stools and any harmful substances they contain, move through your colon, the less likely they are to do cellular damage that could lead to cancer.
Besides, one type of fibre called soluble fibre forms a gel-like solution in your intestine, and that helps prevent fat and cholesterol from passing through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream.
As an example, if you were to add just 10 grams of fibre a day to your diet which is about 15 per cent less than the amount vegetarians get each day, you'd be able to decrease your risk of heart disease by as much as 30 per cent. Makes you think.
To sum things up but by no means finished, a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients that your body needs, including protein. It is even true for strict vegetarians such as vegans who may avoid eggs, milk and any other animal-by-product entirely.
While the proteins in meat are complete, meaning they contain all the amino acids you need, the proteins in legumes and grains, however, may be low in one or more of the nine amino acids except for quinoa. But because legumes and whole grains contain some amino acids, eating a variety of these foods throughout the day will provide you with the proper balance.
Apart from protein, there is one nutrient that people following a strict vegetarian diet has to be aware of, and that is vitamin B12 which the body uses to make red blood cells and is thought we only find in animal food. People who don't get enough vitamin B12 tend to get tired and weak; a condition nutritional practitioners call pernicious anaemia.
But it's unnecessary to worry as you can get plenty of vitamin B12 by eating foods fortified with this nutrient such as fortified cereals, fortified soy milk or vitamin-enriched B12 nutritional yeast. I also believe, to a lesser degree, foods such as miso, tofu, and crimini mushrooms contain vitamin B12.
Please take note that the information on this site is designed for educational purposes and is intended solely for a general readership. The contents herein are not intended to offer any personal medical advice or to diagnose any health issues you may have. This information is also by no means a substitute for medical care by a licensed healthcare provider. For that, you'd need to consult your medical doctor or a health care practitioner for any advice should you require prescription medication.