Preggo Health Nut

Pregnant and fit is not an oxymoron.. its possible!

Vegetarian… To Be or Not to Be?!

on August 31, 2012

As I have explained in my “about me” section, I am currently taking nutrition classes and working toward becoming a dietitian in the future. So, this week I read a whole section about vegetarianism. It didn’t really focus on being pregnant and a vegetarian but, the info was great and may help some of you preggo or not, decide if this is the kind of lifestyle you would like to pursue.

First lets get into a little background/ reasoning for being vegetarian and then go over some of the health benefits of this diet. Hopefully by the end you will be slightly more informed and better able make a decision that suits your lifestyle. 

In the sixth century Greek philosopher Pythagoras cited his reasons for being a vegetarian as physical health, ecological responsibility, and philosophical concerns. Some other reason might be world hunger issues, economic reasons, ethical concerns, or religious beliefs. Whatever your reason for choosing a vegetarian diet if you understand nutrition and the health implications of this kind of diet you can better plan a well-balanced meal. The foods that you exclude from a diet aren’t as important as those that are included in your diet. Vegetarian diets that include  a variety of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fruits offer abundant complex carbohydrates and fibers, an assortment of vitamins and minerals, a mixture of phytochemicals, and little fat- characteristics that reflect current dietary recommendations aimed at promoting health and reducing obesity.

There are tons of health benefits to eating this way including lowering your weight, helping with blood pressure, and even helping to prevent cancer. Lets dive into each category so you can better understand how vegetarianism can help in each category.

Weight control
In general those eating less animal protein gain less weight. Vegetarians tend to have lower weight that can be attributed to their higher intake of fiber and low intake of fats. Because obesity impairs health in a number of ways, this gives vegetarians a huge health advantage.

Blood Pressure 
Vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension. Appropriate body weight helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure (as does a diet low in fat and saturated fat and high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables). Lifestyle factors can also affect blood pressure smoking and alcohol raise blood pressure and physical activity lowers it.

Heart Disease
The dietary factor most related to heart disease is  saturated animal fat, and in general, vegetarian diets are lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than typical meat based diets. The fats in plant-based diets- the monounsaturated fats of olives, seeds, and nuts and the polyunsaturated fats of vegetable oils- are associated with decreased risk of heart disease. Furthermore, vegetarian diets are generally higher in dietary fiber, anti-oxidant vitamins, and phytochemicals- all factors that help control blood lipids and protect against heart disease.

Cancer
Vegetarians have a significantly lower rate of cancer than the general population. Their lower cancer rates have been attributed to the higher intake of fruits and vegetables (in fact the ratio of vegetables to meat may be the most relevant dietary factor responsible for  cancer prevention). Some scientific findings indicate that vegetarian diets are associated not only with lower cancer mortality in general, but also with lower incidence of cancer at specific sites as well- People with colon cancer seem to eat more meat, more saturated fats, and fewer vegetables than do people without colon cancer. High protein, high fat, low fiber diets create an environment in the colon that promotes the development of cancer in some people. A high meat diet has been associated with cancers of the esophagus, stomach, lungs, and liver as well as increased mortality.

Other Diseases
Vegetarian diets may also help to prevent diabetes, osteoporosis, diverticular disease, gallstones, and rheumatoid arthritis.

All of these health benefits of being a vegetarian depend on wise diet planning and a well balanced diet. They also depend on the lifestyle of the individual. Many vegetarians choose to live lifestyles that differ from those who generally eat meat, they often use little drugs, smoke less, drink little to no alcohol, and are physically active. These factors play a huge role in your total health as well.

So basically, eating less meats and animal proteins can significantly improve your health. When it comes to being “vegetarian” there are tons of different variations if you don’t quite feel like you want to give up meat or animal product, but want to adopt this diet for the health benefits, here are some variations you might want to consider: lacto-vegetarians (include milk-products but not meat, fish or eggs), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (include milk products and eggs but no meat or fish), vegan (excludes all animal derived foods), or flexitarians (include small amounts of meat, fish from time to time).

If you do decide this is a lifestyle you want to pursue the most important part especially when preggo is making sure you are planing your diet wisely. You need to make sure you are getting enough energy, protein, and other nutrients to support the health of your body (and growing baby if preggo). Vegetarians who include milk products and eggs can meet recommendations for most nutrients about as easily as non-vegetarian. Those who exclude milk products and eggs can select legumes, nuts, and seeds and products made from them, such as peanut butter, tempeh, and tofu, from the meat group. And those who don’t use milk can use substitutes such as soy, almond or rice milk. As long as you are paying attention to your intake of each of these and making sure you are getting a balanced meal, eating a vegetarian diet is just as good as a meat diet. (I’ll do a post about eating a balanced meal and what you need from each food group at a later date). For now, here are the areas you want to pay special attention to and make sure you are getting enough in: Protein, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids.

I’ll leave you to decide what kind of diet fits your needs and lifestyle. Keep this in mind, the quality of the diet depends not on whether it includes meat, but on whether the other food choices are nutritionally sound. If not properly balanced, any diet can lack nutrients. Hope this info helps! If you have any questions or comments as always… feel free to ask!

1-Understanding Nutrition by Whitney and Rolfes (p 62-66)

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