Go green guide

What to keep in mind when you are switching to a vegetarian diet

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published:March 8, 2009 4:49 pm

What to keep in mind when you are switching to a vegetarian diet
Researchers are still shouting each other down about whether Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian,but the spinach-eaters club will readily provide a long list of other celebrities who are herbivore — from former president APJ Abdul Kalam to actor Shahid Kapoor. Along with,of course,the health benefits of giving up meat — reduced risk of ischemic heart disease and other cardiovascular ailments,lower instances of cancer and diabetes,and a more manageable blood cholesterol level. And as animal lovers will testify,a leafy diet is also a guilt-free meal.

So,why do a large number of people with the strongest intention of turning over a new leaf,never manage to get there? For Savita Chatterjee,a 23-year-old student,“giving up meat and fish” has been a New Year resolution since 2007. “Make no mistake,green is in. But,I never manage to stick to it for more than a week. I begin with a champion’s gusto and then,somewhere mid-way,I get lethargic and weak. It doesn’t help that I am also prone to anemia,” she says. Sometimes,when decisions are made from the heart and not the head,it helps to have a food chart ready,says Ritika Samaddar,chief dietician,Max Healthcare,Delhi. She suggests Chatterjee should “consult a nutritionist about adequate iron supplements next time she decides on changing her dietary habits”.

“A vegetarian diet is rich in minerals and vitamins,especially vitamin C,carotenoids,folic acid,and unsaturated fat as compared to non-vegetarian diet,which is high in vitamin B12,calcium,iron,and vitamin D. One must keep the requirement of nutrients in mind while shifting from one diet to the other to avoid ailments linked to the deficiency of the elements in the adopted diet,” she says.

An overnight switch from a predominantly meat-and-fish diet to a leafy fare gives the body very little chance to adapt to the new situation. “One of the problems is gastro-intestinal disturbances because non-vegetarian food has zero fibre while a vegetarian diet is all about fibre. The body may then find it difficult to digest the heaps of fruit and vegetable,” she adds.

Nutritionist Ishi Khosla,however,sounds the warning note for women who are prone to osteoporosis as “they can aggravate the situation by giving up dairy products completely without substituting it with adequate calcium sources like soya milk,beans,nuts and seeds like almond,watermelon,sesame and poppy”.

Adolescents,especially those active in sports,should also watch out for a sudden drop in blood pressure because cutting out meat affects the sodium level in the body. The dieticians advise regular intake of “lime water with salt,besides banana and saag” to maintain an optimum sodium intake.”

Samaddar advises a step-wise approach to effect the transformation—replace red meat with white meat and egg white,choose flavoured soups and gradually incorporate fibre in your diet before eliminating non-vegetarian items completely. “This will make the shift easier since taste is a very important part of a meal and one must be psychologically satisfied in order to sustain a new diet,” she says. A common mistake most neo-vegetarians make is substituting meat products with vast quantities of paneer. A planned,balanced meal must also include multi-grain bread,wheat flour,whole pulses,brown rice and coloured fruit and vegetable.

“Even most lifelong vegetarians do not eat vegetables and end up having more of mish-mashed,refined,low-fiber diet.
Carbohydrates like white flour and potatoes are bigger culprits than meat and fish. Whole wheat pasta is a better option than sooji,” says Samaddar. The vegetarian world is full of delicious possibilities,if we know how to eat right. The path to hell is paved with good intentions; turning vegetarian need not be another failed effort.

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