The USDA has been accused of ignoring research that shows the harmful effects of meat eating in formulating its dietary guidelines. In Greece, the dietary guidelines are formulated by a health agency, and the daily diet recommendation is for a vegetarian diet. Doctors stateside, unfortunately, are often not taught enough about nutrition to properly advise their patients on a healthy diet.
A vegetarian diet may help reduce the risk of the following: cataracts, age related macular degeneration, allergies and chronic diseases (see also here), abdominal aortic aneurysms, heart disease (see also here), heart attacks, cancer (see also here, here, here), lymphoma, diabetes (see also here, here), obesity (see also here, here), Alzheimer’s disease, liver failure, blood cancers, cholesterol (especially with a whole foods vegan diet; see also here), gallstones, rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer, and arthritis.
Vegetarians appear to have higher levels of the following: creatine (when given a supplement), enzyme activity that may prevent aging, telomerase activity that may also slow aging, plasma protein levels, aspirin levels in the bloodstream, a higher metabolism, greater body odor attractiveness, higher IQs, larger, better-formed, and more frequent bowel movements (oh, and a longer life span).
Vegetarians may have lower levels of the following: industrial toxins (see also here, here) such as flame retardants, mercury, and xenoestrogens (which lower male sperm count); total mortality (including cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality); DNA damage; and lower trans-fat intake. Vegetarians seem to also generally experience better moods (less depression and anxiety), possibly due to lower consumption of the inflammatory omega-6 arachidonic acid found in animal products (predominantly in chicken and eggs).
On average, vegans have been found to be deficient in three nutrients (maybe zinc) whereas omnivores may be deficient on average in seven nutrients. DHA/EPA and Vitamin D supplements may be useful, but Vitamin B-12 supplements are the single most important consideration for vegetarians and vegans. A Vitamin B-12 test is recommended for pregnant vegetarians and vegans just to double check adequate B12 status since the results of deficiency can be so devastating.
Vegetarian sources of Vitamin B-12 include supplements and fortified foods (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Making sure the diet has enough iodine, which can be obtained through iodized sea salt or seaweed, is also important. In extreme cases in which genetic diseases result in a body’s inability to make certain compounds, meat or supplements may be necessary to counteract the deficiency.
Topic summary contributed by Denise.
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