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In our meat-and-potatoes or burger-and-fries American diet, some still are concerned about the health of those who eat mostly plant-based foods. The following will help separate the fiction from the facts.
Myth 1: All plant-based diets are about the same.
FACT: Vegetarians who eat dairy products or eggs are called "lacto-ovo vegetarians." Those who eat no animal products are called "vegans," or strict or total vegetarians. There are many variations of these two main types of plant-based diets. When someone declares himself/herself a "vegetarian," it is best to ask the person exactly which foods are eaten and which are avoided. Most likely, the person is a "lacto-ovo vegetarian."
Myth 2: There are very few vegetarians.
FACT: Recently, it has been estimated that about 4% of the United States is vegetarian. Restaurants report that about 27% of the customers want a vegetarian option when they order.
Myth 3: A diet without meat is nutritionally deficient.
FACT: A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (one that includes dairy products) can easily provide all the essential nutrients to a person choosing from an abundant food supply. However, as a diet becomes more restrictive, it may be more difficult to get all the necessary nutrients. Following the guidelines outlined in the Vegetarian Food Pyramid provides most nutrients in adequate supply. (See "The vegetarian food pyramid," in this issu.) The adequacy of any diet depends on the variety and the amount of foods that are included. A registered dietitian can provide accurate diet instruction. The nutrients of greatest concern in the vegan or macrobiotic-type diets are vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and possibly calories. Nutrient needs are greatest during periods of growth. So, a more restricted vegetarian diet does not meet the needs of children, infants, pregnant women, and those in poor health.
Myth 4: One can’t possibly get enough protein without meat and/or milk and eggs.
FACT: It is difficult not to get enough protein if one eats a sufficient amount and variety of food to maintain a healthful body weight. All foods, except sugar and oil, contain some protein. Plant-based diets get protein from legumes (dried peas and beans), seeds, nuts, whole grains, and for the lacto-ovo vegetarian, also from dairy products and eggs.
Myth 5: Certain combinations of foods have to be eaten at the same meal to get the right amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
FACT: Following the amounts and number of servings recommended in the Vegetarian Food Pyramid, provides adequate amounts of the right amino acids. The amino acids in different foods can complement one another even when eaten at different meals. So, beans at lunch and brown rice for dinner are just fine.
Myth 6: All vegetarian diets are low in fat.
FACT: Vegetarian diets may or may not be low in fat. It all depends upon food choices. Some high-fat foods commonly used by vegetarians are avocados, olives and olive oil, nuts, soy-based beverages, and seeds. These fats are moderate to low in saturated fats. Lacto-ovo vegetarians also can choose cheese, egg yolks, and cream, which are foods high in saturated fat.
Myth 7: Vegetarian diets are boring.
FACT: Any diet can become boring when one eats the same foods every day. With the abundance of foods available to choose from and the variety of ways to prepare them, a diet without meat need not be dull or boring.
Myth 8: Vegetarian diets can cure cancer and heart disease.
FACT: Because most lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are nutritionally sound, higher in fiber, lower in cholesterol, and contain more fruits and vegetables, this diet pattern can reduce a person’s risk of many cancers and certain types of heart disease. However, even vegetarians must follow all the precautions physicians prescribe for decreasing the risk of these diseases.
Source: Seventh Day Adventist Dietetic Association, Angwin, CA.