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Home > Art Of Healthy Living > Balanced eating > Vegetarianism and its Benefits
Vegetarianism and its Benefits
The word "vegetarian" was coined by the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom in about 1847. The word does not come from vegetable as is generally assumed; it is a derivation of the Latin word `vegetari` which means to enliven.

The practice of vegetarianism, however, goes far back in history. Many noted philosophers and religious teachers urged their followers to avoid a flesh diet. Brahminism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism acknowledged the sacredness of life and the need to live without causing any suffering so did many of the early Christians.

There are various types of vegetarians. "Vagans" are the strictest vegetarians who eat only plant foods and exclude all animal by-products such as eggs, milk, cheese, curd, butter, ghee and even honey. There are "lacto vegetarians" who eat plant foods as well as dairy products and "lacto-avo vegetarians" who eat eggs besides plant foods and dairy products. There are even fish eating vegetarians. The common factor among them is that they do not eat the flesh of warm-blooded animals.

Meat seems to have assumed an exaggerated importance nutritionally. It is generally mistakenly believed that nutritional deficiencies, especially of proteins and vitamin B12 and poor health may result if animal foods are eliminated. Studies, however, have indicated no health problems or deficiency diseases for those on a vegetarian diet.

Of the 22 amino-acids the essential components of proteins needed by the body for its normal functioning, only nine need be supplied by the diet as the body synthesizes the remaining 13. The body can use 100 per cent of this protein if all ten amino acids are in ideal proportions. If, however, one or more of the essential amino acids are present in less than the ideal amount, the value of the entire protein is reduced in the same proportions. On a quality rating scale of 1 to 100, egg protein is 95, milk is 82, `meat and poultry are 67, fish 80, grains are between 50 to 70 and legumes, nuts and seeds are between 40 and 60.

The so-called protein deficiency in a vegetarian diet is in fact more imaginary than real as the contribution of the protein value of green vegetables has been ignored and the true protein requirement is less than that assumed. Green vegetable protein is as high in quality as milk protein and thus makes a very valuable contribution to the vegetarian`s protein nutrition. The high quality of this protein balances the lower quality of other vegetarian proteins such as nuts and beans. The recommended daily allowance of 70 value proteins is 44 grams per day for women and 56 for men. Researchers have now discovered that the actual protein requirement is much less, being 1 5 grams per day of 100 value protein or 21.5 grams of 70 value protein or 30 grams of 50 value protein. A wholesome vegetarian diet can, therefore, easily meet the body`s protein needs.

Moreover, it is possible to combine two low-value plant proteins to get a protein of higher quality. Thus, wheat which has a deficiency in the amino-acid lysine but an abundance of sulphur-containing amino acids can be combined with beans which have the opposite enrichment combination. Taken together, they complement each other to form a complete protein.

As regards the adequacy of B 12 nutrition, lacto-avo vegetarians and lacto vegetarians should not feel concerned on this score, as the B,, needs can be easily supplied by dairy products and eggs. A quarter litre of milk or hundred gms. OT cheese or one egg per day will supply the recommended daily allowance. This vitamin once eaten is stored in the liver. Vagans, however, do not get this vitamin in their food, yet reliable scientific studies have found no evidence of B 12 deficiency diseases. It is therefore, presumed that this vitamin can be synthesised in the body.

Benefits of Vegetarianism
A vegetarian diet can have many nutritional benefits, if it is rich in fruits and vegetables, and contains moderate amounts of seeds, nuts, whole grains and legumes. One of the main benefits of a proper vegetarian diet is its low caloric content in relation to the bulk supplied, which helps maintain ideal weight.

Another benefit of the vegetarian diet is the much lower in take of fat, if dairy products, seeds and nuts are eaten sparingly. This accounts for lower serium cholesterol levels found in vegetarians, which considerably reduces the risk of developing heart diseases and breast and colon cancer.

A third nutritional advantage of the vegetarian diet is its high fibre content. Fibre, being indigestible, increases the bulk of the faeces, keeps them soft and makes them easy to expel. One study has indicated that lacto-avo vegetarians consume twice as much and vagans four times as much fibre as non-vegetarians. High fibre intake has been associated with decreased risks of diseases of the colon, appendicitis, cancer of the colon and rectum, hiatus hernia, piles and varicose veins.

McCarrison, one of the greatest authorities on food, has outlined a perfect diet. According to him, "a perfectly constituted diet is one in which the principal ingredients are milk, milk products, any whole cereal grain or mixture of cereal grains, green leafy vegetables and fruits. These are the protective foods. They make good the defects of other constituents of the diet, protect the body against infection and disease of various kinds, and their use in sufficient quantity ensures physical efficiency."

Vegetarianism is thus a system based on scientific principle and has proved adequate for the best nutrition free from the poisons and bacteria of diseased animals. It is the best diet to man`s optimum physical, mental and spiritual development.
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