Everyone is going vegetarian – celebrities, models, sadhus. Go vegan, don’t put dead animals in your body, be vegetarian. While there is a case for going vegetarian, is a vegetarian diet as nutritious and healthy as one with some meat in it? Not wanting to wade into this heaty debate ourselves, we decided to turn to the experts. And the vegetarians aren’t going to be too pleased with what we found.
“In our diet, the meat portion should be less than the vegetable portion”, says Dr Shruti Sharma, Bariatric Counselor and Nutritionist, Jaypee Hospital, Noida. According to her, if one opts for lean meat like seafood and poultry, it will provide more protein and will also help in weight loss. But red meat should be avoided as much as possible as it contains fat. Meanwhile, vegetables and fruits provide essential minerals, fiber and vitamins required by the body on a daily basis. Going on a complete vegetarian diet will leave out the protein requirement from the body. Which is why, including a limited portion of non-vegetarian items along with vegetarian foods will be beneficial.
On a different note, Dr Rajeswari Shetty, Head, Dietetics, SL Raheja Hospital, Fortis explains a vegetarian diet may actually be helpful for the body. “Indians rarely consume salads and fruits on a regular basis. People eat more non-vegetarian items that hardly contain any fiber and have a lot of fat in them. The portion of fat gets increased when one cooks the meat in Indian style with a lot of oil and other items”. As an alarm bell, Shetty adds that red meat is also known to cause colon cancer.
But Shetty also mentions that vegetarian items such as potato chips and aloo tikki are also loaded with fats — “it needs to be specified. Less salted products, more fruits, salads without dressing, these items should be eaten a regular basis. While opting for a vegetarian diet, one should keep it more balanced and eat proper food items from all food groups. Only cereals and vegetables will not provide all the essential nutrients. One also needs to include nuts and milk products.”
Another reason one should opt for more vegetables rather than meat is that, “a lot of meat is processed nowadays and a lot of chemicals are added to the meat to increase their shelf life, which is very harmful for the body”, says Shetty.
Apart from weight loss, vegetables help in keeping diabetes and blood pressure levels in check since they contain complex carbohydrates, which provide added fiber in our diet. Goitrogen, obesity and thyroid will also be reduced when one eats a good amount of green leafy vegetables.
While there seems to be little consensus on whether to go totally vegetarian or not, there is no one diet which fits all. Diets need to be customised to each person. A person’s age, height and weight need to be kept in mind. Besides, it also needs to be checked if the person has diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and so on, before deciding what items to leave out of their meal plans.
“There are people who do not eat non-vegetarian foods at all, in that case, we cannot ask them to include eggs in their diet. If a person prefers non-vegetarian foods, we can ask them to limit their quantity and include vegetables in their diet. For vegetarians, substitutes for meat and poultry include low-fat paneer, sprouts, Brussels sprouts and soya products”, concludes Dr Sharma.
The bottom line? It’s all about striking the right balance. Yes, lean meat is good for you and provides a certain level of protein which a purely vegetarian diet can’t. But that’s no reason to not go green.
Have you ever tried a fully vegetarian diet?