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Smart Vegetarians

There’s more to a vegetarian diet than cutting out meat

You wouldn’t put any fluids in your car without asking a mechanic or reading the owner’s manual, yet many vegetarians cut meat out of their diets without talking to a dietician or consulting a book on the topic.

It’s not a simple matter of finding a non-meat source of protein to replace meat. The whole chemistry of your body changes, and to stay healthy, you’re going to require a diet that’s balanced a little differently than what you’re used to. Even if you’re getting all the right foods, you may be getting the proportions wrong; too much of one thing and not enough of another.

"Depending on the type of vegetarian you are, some things are going to be a little more difficult to work into your diet," says Karen Hagen, a registered dietician who gave a presentation at Meadow Park on Nov. 17 entitled The Smart Vegetarian.

"Once you know what those things are and how to get them, vitamins and nutrients and so on, it does get easier."

It’s not an exact science, but there are some basic daily requirements a budding vegetarian should at least be aware of.

The presentation covered the essentials, such as the benefits of a vegetarian diet, basic dietary guidelines, daily requirements, balanced diets, and the most common mistakes vegetarians make.

The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

Although environmental and ethical reasons are important to most vegetarians, the number one reason people cut meat out of their diets is health, according to Hagen.

"The American Cancer Association, the American Heart Association, they are all in agreement that vegetarian diets contribute to better health, and recommend vegetarian diets to patients who are ill," she says.

There are different types of vegetarians, from Vegans, who don’t consume any animal products, including honey, to semi-vegetarians, who eat small amounts of meat, typically fish or poultry, once in a while. Then there are Lacto vegetarians who consume dairy products, and Lacto-ovo, who will have dairy and eggs. Even a semi-vegetarian diet can have dramatic health benefits, although every kind of vegetarian will have to take care to make sure they are getting all the basics from the food they do allow themselves.

The principle health benefits are:

Low obesity – "Ever seen a fat vegetarian?" asks Hagen. Vegetarian diets are typically higher in fruits and vegetables, promote faster metabolism, and are lower in fat and calories. It takes about 15 minutes to digest an apple, for example, while it could take a full day or even longer to digest a steak.

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