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Food & Nutrition

Expert - View Vegetarianism and good health – no doubt about it!

Meat was always considered as an alpha and omega of nutrition but we know today, also according to some newer medical literature that rich vegetarian diets give the body everything it needs for its development and normal function. Rich and well planned vegetarian diets are the key to our health.

Dejan Kupnik, M.D.
Pre-hospital Unit - Centre for Urgent Medicine, Maribor, Slovenia


Meat was always considered as an alpha and omega of nutrition but we know today, also according to some newer medical literature that rich vegetarian diets give the body everything it needs for its development and normal function.

Food products which contain a lot of fat (meat, sausages, whole-fat butter, sweets, whole-fat milk and milk products) are in a direct correlation with higher incidence of brain strokes, heart infarctions and intestinal cancer (colonic carcinoma). With that kind of food, we receive a lot of saturated fat which progresses the atherosclerotic processes and can ultimately lead to heart and brain infarctions. There is also a close connection between eating meat and the development of colonic cancer. Why is that so? Such food passes through our gut very slowly because meat doesn't contain any dietary fiber (complex sugars by structure) - which accelerates peristalsis and the passing of digested food. Slow passing of food through the gut gives more time to some agents (like added preservatives) to act on intestinal mucosa. We know that many of these agents are potential carcinogens which means that alone or in combination with other factors, they can cause the development of cancer. It has also been scientifically proven that in the process of frying meat a lot of carcinogenic agents are produced.

On the other hand, vegetarian food does not contain any saturated fats (except milk and milk products), but is very rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers. That is why such food is considered as a safety factor against cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Dietary fibers are indigestible complex sugars by structure which bind water in the intestines and by that accelerate the passage of intestinal contents. This works against constipation and diverticulosis, it also helps in lowering the blood lipids (along with water, dietary fibers also bind cholesterol) and works as prevention against cancer – with the faster passage of intestinal contents the mentioned carcinogenic agents cannot be in contact with intestinal mucosa for very long.

Vegetarian food contains a lot of vitamins and minerals and some of them (A, E, C vitamins and selenium) work as antioxidants – they help to slow down the progression of atherosclerotic processes, cancer development and the aging process.

Complex sugars which can also be found in vegetarian diets do not cause high oscillations of blood sugar after meals (as simple sugars, found in refined kitchen sugar, sweets etc., do) and cause slower and more equalised release of insulin (one of the hormones which controls blood sugar levels).

Can vegetarian diets be dangerous?

It has never been proved by any bigger study that vegetarian life style can be considered as a risk to our health. On the contrary - well planned and rich vegetarian diets are suitable for all life stages, including pregnancy and lactation and are considered to provide normal development and function of the human body. Our everyday diets should contain cereals, legumes, fresh vegetables and fruits (also dried fruits), nuts, seeds and milk with milk products (low-fat for adults and whole-fat for children). The diets consisting of only fruits and vegetables do not offer enough essential nutrients needed for normal body function and are especially unsuitable for growing children.

What about the vitamin B12?

For a long time, it was considered that soya products like miso, tempeh, tamari, shoyu and some other algae products like nori alga contain enough of the B12 vitamin. But it was recently discovered that such products contain only so-called B12 analogs, chemical compounds that only chemically resemble the B12 vitamin but do not have any physiological effects on our body like the true B12. Sometimes these false B12 can even disturb the absorption of the true B12 vitamin in our gut. So what to do? We must take care to consume milk and its products. There is also some soya and cereal products enriched with true B12 vitamin and it was proven that consuming such products at least four times a week keeps body levels of B12 vitamin in the proper amounts needed for normal functioning of the body.

Do we have to eat fish?

Extremely important for the growth of a fetus are the so called Omega 3 unsaturated fatty acids (especially for the development of the brain, the whole nervous system, and retinas of the eyes). They can be found in fish products, but vegetarian future mothers can get omega 3 fatty acids by eating flaxseeds. It was proven that flaxseeds contain a lot of omega 3 fatty acids which can (considering physiological reactions) equally compete with the fatty acids from the fish. The flax-seeds fatty acids also offer a good prevention against heart arrhythmias and help to slow down the progress of atherosclerotic processes.

Preparing vegetarian meals

The vegetables should not be overcooked, 15 minutes of heat exposure is enough. By cooking the vegetables too long many of the vitamins – especially the C vitamin and the folic acid are destroyed. The latter is also very important for the normal development of a fetus, especially of its nervous system.

To enable easier absorption of iron from the gut we can add some lemon juice to our vegetable and fruit salads and also to other dishes like soya and cereal stakes.

We should also not fry our food too much because this process is proven to be connected with a faster progression of atherosclerosis, heart/brain infarctions and the development of cancer.

To finish...

Rich and well planned vegetarian diets are the key to our health. Our life is not something we can buy on the market every day. It is a unique phenomenon - a one time opportunity in which we have to invest in, in order to get something good in return. In the light of these words, vegetarianism grants tremendous health improvements and preventative health care – both physically and mentally.