In the 1960’s chefs started to experiment with cooking without meat. But the meals were often tasteless. But now-a-days after experiencing for more than a quarter of a century, cooks are combining fruits, vegetables grains, and legumes in exciting new ways. The tastes are so good that even large restaurants are now offering meatless meals.
As a result, more than 30 million Americans, including one in three teens, have tried vegetarian meals, according to the American Dietetic Association. They like the health benefits and how good the food tastes. Vegetarian diets have changed, but one thing stayed the same: a plant based diet , which is low in saturated fat, high in fiber,vitamins, antioxidants, and a powerful array of protective chemicals. This is the ultimate prescription for a longer and healthier life, according to Virginia Messina, MPH, R.D. a dietitian in Port Townsend, Washington, and coauthor of The Vegetarian Way.
Research results have showed that vegetarians have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, type two diabetes and obesity than people who eat meat. According to British researchers, vegetarians have a 20% lower risk of fatal heart disease and a 40% lower risk of cancer.
Other studies found more positive facts. Fifty years ago a large study of 27,530 Seventh-Day Adventists, whose religion advocates a vegetarian diet, provided the first scientific link between vegetarian diets and better health. Researchers were amazed to discover that among the vegetarian Adventists, death rate from cancer were 50 to 70% lower than among other Americans. Since then, study after study has confirmed the benefits of vegetarian eating.
In China, where people eat little or no meat, diseases such as heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes, are far less common than in the United States.
Something that makes vegetarian meals so healthy is that they don’t have all the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes from meat. In fact, while most Americans get about 36% of their total calories from fat, vegetarians get less, usually between 30% and 34%. And most of the fat they get is the healthier polyunsaturated and monounsaturated type – and not the dangerous saturated fat that comes from animal foods.
In one study, researchers put 500 people on a vegetarian diet. After twelve days, cholesterol levels had dropped an average of 11%.
Besides the fact that vegetarian meals don’t contain saturated fat that makes vegetarian meals so healthy, they also contain the “good” fats. According to studies, both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, and many other plant foods, can lower the level of cholesterol when they’re used to replace saturated fat in the diet. And the omega-3 fatty acids found in some plant foods, such as walnuts and flaxeed, can further protect against heart disease by helping to keep artery walls flexible and supporting the electrical “system” within the heart that regulates a healthy heartbeat.
The Power of Plants
Doctors in the US have been pleading with Americans for years to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, the same foods that vegetarians eat in abundance. Most plant foods are loaded with antioxidants, like beta-carotene and vitamin C and E. They are essential to protect you against diseases. Also, plant foods contain an abundance of phytonutrients, which are natural plant compounds that have been shown to lower the risk of cataracts, heart disease, and many other serious problems.
In another study researchers found that people who got the most carotenoids, the plant pigment that are found in dark green and deep orange, yellow, and red fruits and vegetables, had half the risk of developing macular degeneration (the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in older adults) as people getting less.
Vegetarian diets cut the risk of breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancer in a number of studies. The magic ingredients include a number of cancer-fighting phytochemicals. The naturally lower levels of saturated fat in most vegetarian diets (except those that rely heavily on cheese) avoid a problem which is connected with meat-rich diets: High-saturated fat diets seem to promote the production of a form of estrogen called estradiol, which is linked to breast cancer. In a study it showed that women who ate the most animal fats had a one-third higher risk of breast cancer than those who ate the least.
Another study found that vegetarians have higher levels of “natural killer cells” – special white blood cells that attack cancer cells – in their bloodstreams.
But even if you took all the nutrients out of plant foods, the vegetarian diet would still have an edge, because of all the dietary fiber it contains. The average American gets only 12 to 15 grams of fiber per day, while vegetarians are getting as much as three times that amount.
It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of getting enough dietary fiber. because it isn’t absorbed by the body, fiber passes through the digestive tract, adding bulk to stools and helping them to move more quickly. This does more than preventing constipation. The more quickly stools and any harmful substances they contain move through the colon, the less likely they are to do cellular damage that could lead to cancer.
Also, one type of fiber called soluble fiber, forms a gel in the intestine that helps to prevent fat and cholesterol from passing through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. In a study of more than 43,000 men, for example, researchers found that those who added just 10 grams of fiber a day to their diets – about 25% of the amount vegetarians get each day – decreased their risk of heart disease by almost 30%.
Vegetarian diets also guard against other health issues, like kidney stones, gallstones, and asthma. Because high-protein diets with much meat prompt your body to excrete more calcium, oxalate, and uric acid – which are the main building blocks of kidney stones. Diets with a lot of meat increase the change of getting gallstones in women and could threaten bone density by prompting the excretion of calcium.
In a Swedish study of 24 women and men, vegetable-based meals cut the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
Balance is the Key
A vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients your body needs, including protein. This is even true for strict vegetarians, who may avoid eggs, milk and other animal foods all together. The proteins in meat are complete, that means they contain all the amino acids your body needs. The proteins in legumes and grains, however, may be low in one or more of the amino acids, but because legumes and grains contain some amino acids, eating a variety of these foods throughout the day will provide the proper balance.
However, vegetarians have the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which the body needs to make red blood cells. It’s only found in animal foods. People who don’t get enough vitamin B12 feel weak and tired. You can get plenty of vitamin B12 by eating foods which are fortified with this nutrient, such as fortified cereals, or/and you can take vitamin B12 supplements.