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Part-time vegetarian

By Ayah Murad , Family Flavours - Apr 15,2019 - Last updated at Apr 15,2019

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

By Ayah Murad

Clinical Dietician

Most of us grew up eating meat and animal products practically every day so many of us cannot imagine a day without meat or poultry. But going meatless one to three days a week will benefit you nutritionally without having to deprive yourself of mansaf or the occasional shawerma!

We know that fruit and vegetables are a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These components have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties that are associated with many health benefits that can decrease the risk of major diseases. According to credible research, a regular consumption of more than 400 grammes of fruit and vegetables a day is associated with reduced cancer incidence by 20 per cent as well as lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease, cataracts and some of the functional declines that are associated with ageing.

People who consume fruits and vegetables can manage their weight better than people who consume high-calorie foods with low nutritional density. Fruit and vegetables can protect us from excessive weight gain due to their low energy density — they stabilise blood sugar levels and offer a feeling of fullness. An adequate consumption of fruit and vegetables can protect against cardiovascular and other diseases and is important for weight gain prevention.


Why limit your intake of animal products


Even though animal-based foods are rich in protein and iron, B- vitamins, zinc, magnesium, calcium and selenium, studies show that people who regularly eat processed meat (particularly red meat) are at higher risk of developing illness, including cancer. Pancreatic cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer have been linked to heavy meat consumption. Meat also contains a lot of saturated fats and cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease when consumed in high amounts. Meat may also contain high levels of hormones, which can trigger reproductive problems and early-onset puberty in children.

The one type of meat to cut out completely from our diet is processed meat, which includes most cold cuts and hot dogs. The combination of sodium, saturated fat and preservatives (nitrates) they contain raises our risk of getting heart disease or cancer. 


Key, as always, is moderation


You can be healthy and get all your nutrients by following a vegetarian-like diet three times a week. These “vegetarian days” can give your liver the time to detox (rid the body of toxins that are associated with high-protein diets).

The aim is to eat five to nine handfuls of different types of fruits and vegetables a day. Remember that it is not only the fibre in fruit and vegetables that matter but the essential phyto-molecules combined with vitamins and minerals that are hard to find in animal sources. 

Choose fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables whenever possible. I also recommend adding dried beans, peas and lentils to your dishes. Nuts and seeds are a heart-friendly type of fat and are high in protein and fibre as well. However, since they are high in calories, eat them in small amounts. 


Why not be full-time vegetarian?


There are different types of vegetarians. Some avoid all types of meat and animal products (vegans) while others eat dairy and eggs but avoid all types of meat (lacto-ovo vegetarians) and some eat animal products and avoid all types of meat except fish (pescatarians). 

Being vegetarian or vegan does not necessarily make you healthier. Cutting out animal products but loading up on high-carb foods like pasta and bread will harm your health and waistline.

Becoming a full-time vegetarian requires careful cooking methods and planning to ensure you are getting all the benefits and proper nutrients. Fruits and vegetables do not contain high amounts or even full form of protein.

Some full-time vegetarians are not aware that frying food (a falafel burger or fried vegetables in a Panini or just stir-fry vegetables in a wok) reduces nutritional value and packs on calories.

So being a full-time vegetarian, in my expert opinion, does not add value to your health. On the contrary, it depletes you of most vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins, calcium, iron and protein. 

Remember to stick to a balanced diet and avoid extremes for a healthier you!


Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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