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Don't worry, be healthy
Published in Bikya Masr on 08 - 03 - 2011

VEGAN and vegetarian diets are fantastic for your health – according to experts at the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation (VVF).
Following the misrepresentation of a recent study into plant-based diets and health by several media sources, the VVF sets the record straight.
The study – Chemistry behind Vegetarianism – points out that vegetarians have much lower risk of cardiovascular risk factors than meat-eaters as they have lower: blood pressure, waist to hip ratio, body mass index (counted from weight and height), cholesterol levels, and concentration of other fatty substances in blood. Furthermore, vegetarians eat more nutrients which are beneficial to health such as fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins C and E, unsaturated fatty acids (good fats) and antioxidants.
The author of the review, Duo Li, focused on the intake of some nutrients often perceived as problematic and this is what he concluded about them:
Iron – iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the world but vegetarians are not any more likely to be iron-deficient than meat-eaters. Studies show that vegetarians have higher or equal iron intake to meat eaters. The confusing difference is that vegetarians don't have high levels of the stored form of iron because plant-derived iron comes in a different form. However, if the body has a constant supply, it can use the iron directly and does not need to store it.
Zinc – it was concluded that although vegetarians might have slightly lower zinc levels than meat-eaters, the difference is not significant. Vegetarians have plenty of zinc in their diet and there's absolutely no need to worry about it.
Vitamin B12 – vegans, like everyone else, can have low vitamin B12 levels and it has been suggested that eating enriched foods or supplements would be desirable but the review stated that vitamin B12 deficiency is uncommon.
Vitamin D – as this vitamin is actually made by the body whenever the skin is exposed to sunlight, vegans are not any more likely to be deficient than meat-eaters.
Omega-3 fats – omega-3 fats are found in plants so appropriate intake should not be a problem for vegans. Good sources of these are flaxseeds (linseeds), hempseeds and oils pressed from these (should be used cold because heat destroys some nutrients), walnuts, and rapeseed oil (for cooking). Another recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that vegan women have significantly more omega-3 fats in their blood than fish-eaters, meat-eaters, and lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegan men had slightly lower levels than vegan women but the same pattern was observed in the other groups as well and was thought to be linked to female hormones influencing the metabolism to a certain extent.
VVF health campaigner, Veronika Charvatova says: “The author does not suggest that vegans have nutrient deficiencies or that plant-based diets increase the risk of heart-related diseases. In fact, the review clearly states that even though vegans might need to increase the intake of omega-3 fats and vitamin B12, their risk of cardiovascular disease is still much lower than that of meat-eaters.
“It is worth noticing that the increased consumption of omega-3 fats is a general recommendation (not vegan-specific) and vitamin B12 supplementation is also recommended to everyone above the age of 50 and for people with various health conditions.”
So if you want to thrive and feel good, plant-based is the diet to enjoy!
** For more information on Viva! activities and reports, check out their website.
BM


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