Meat causes high blood pressure and heart problems, but vegetarian food often fails to provide some vital nutrients
Eating less meat reduces the risk of heart problems and more vegetables mean lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Photo: Shutterstock
It does not matter whether or not you are a vegetarian; the most important thing is to have regular exercise and eat enough fiber. Fiber and minerals, found plentifully in nuts and vegetables, are vital factors in detoxification, anti-aging, and bolstering the body's immune system.
People become vegetarians for many reasons religious, humanitarian, environmental. With the increasing incidence of heart problems and cancer these days, many consider it as a good health choice.
Research has repeatedly shown that eating less meat reduces the risk of heart problems and more vegetables mean lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
A group of researchers from Harvard University in the US led by Dr Frank M. Sacks studied the lifestyle and diet of 210 vegans, mostly young people. They found most of them to have blood pressure of 106/60 compared with 120/75 for healthy young American in their twenties.
Actually it does not take long time for a vegetarian diet to take effect. Experiments on normal eaters who stopped eating meat for just a few months found their systolic, or maximum value, falling by seven and diastolic value by three.
When they went back to their old diet the blood pressure bounced back to original levels in just two weeks.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that eating 250 grams of beef a day increases vegetarians' blood pressure by 19 percent. This amount is equal to the meat eaten by average Americans. Their cholesterol also increases and only lowers after going off meat for 14 days.
Lower blood pressure and cholesterol translated into less risk of heart problems. Following a study of 11,000 vegetarians for seven years, British researchers concluded that vegetarians are less likely to have heart illness.
What is the difference between a vegetarian and meat eater?
Scientists at Loma Linda University in the US have proved that animal protein contains more sulfur than vegetarian protein. This causes more sodium to accumulate in our body, leading to higher blood pressure. Their experiment also found that vegetable protein helps to decrease cholesterol level while animal protein increases it. This happens independently of what kind of fat or how much fat we consume.
Saturated fat in animal fat is the main cause of heart illness. These bad fats, found in animal meat and called low density lipoprotein (LDL), are less stable and oxidize easily, causing deposits in and hardening of the coronary artery, also known as atherosclerosis.
Researchers at Calgary University, Canada also warn that too much animal fat and protein cause more stress and increase the pulse rate and blood pressure.
The difference between vegetarians and meat eaters is also related to their life style. While vegetarians usually take care of their health, meat-eaters tend to smoke and drink, hardly exercise, or follow doctors' advice.
In fact, according to nutritionist Frank Sacks, M.D., of the Harvard Medical School, keeping a healthy heart does not mean having a strict vegetarian diet. Reducing meat and milk products a few times a week is good enough, he says.
On the other hand, if vegetarians eat too much processed vegetarian food, cereals, or food fried at high temperatures (even with vegetable oil), they are at risk of falling sick. Regardless of their diet, the most important thing for one is to exercise regularly and eat enough crude fiber and minerals.
It is okay for meat-eaters to shift to a vegetarian diet. But vegetarians should be aware of its difficulties, particularly when eating a vegetarian diet permanently.
Dr Do Thi Ngoc Diep, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Center, says the first threat that vegetarians face is the lack of iron. The iron in vegetables is neither high nor easy to digest. Lack of iron and vitamins such as A and D makes our body weak.
The next threat is the lack of calcium since it is found mostly in milk and milk products, seafood, and animal bones. As these foods are mostly missing in vegetarians' diets, they usually consume less calcium than normal which causes osteoporosis (weak bones or insufficient amount of bone cells) and other problems. To compensate this vegetarians should include nuts and legumes in their diet.
Lack of vitamin B12 is also a worry for vegans as it causes frequent tiredness. Pregnant women on a vegetarian diet are more likely to deliver abnormal babies due to a shortage of vitamin B12. This vitamin is found in meat, fish, egg, and milk. To make up, vegetarians should consume fermented soy bean.
Frequent health checks are recommended for complementing iron, vitamin D, vitamin A, and multi-micro minerals.
We need 20 different types of amino acids, including nine vital ones that the human body cannot produce but gets from food, mostly of animal source. Beside beans and tofu, vegans can eat small amounts of egg and milk to ensure basic nutrition.
Vegetarians should not buy packed/processed foods if their origins cannot be traced or checked. The best way is to buy and cook food.
People with liver and kidney problems placed on vegetarian diets as part of their treatment should eat some meat, fish, egg, and milk to ensure nutrition.
Due to their nutritional needs, children, older people, recuperating patients, pregnant women, and breast-feeding mothers should not stick to a vegetarian diet. Others can adopt a vegetarian diet a few times a month to decrease the risk of heart illness and obesity.