Vegetarian Nutrition For A Healthy Life

Healthy vegetarian nutrition results from adhering to a diet that provides the necessary vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats needed to sustain life and flourish.

Some animal based foods contain some of these nutients in large amounts, but a richly varied vegetarian diet can easily provide for all of our nutritional needs.

In today's nutritional literature there is a tacit assumption that there must have been some kind of ideal primordial human diet that our ancient ancestors enjoyed and that, if we could adopt such a diet, we would experience optimal health.

But we suspect that trying to determine what constitutes an ideal diet for today's humans by examining the contents of ancient archeological sites is an excercise in futility. Whatever our primeval ancestors ate, they most probably ate out of necessecity to stave off starvation.

It seems a bit of a stretch to assume that they were in search of an ideal diet like many of us today living in the twenty-first century. They most likely ate anything and everything that they could find and were able to render edible in one way or another.

What we do know about our ancient ancestors is that they inhabited all of the major continents in all of the different climatic zones before, during and after the most recent ice ages. Common sense would suggest that their different diets varied greatly from one to another. Then with the advent of fire for cooking and as the rudimentary practices of agriculture began to develop, early man's diet undoubtedly became even more varied and diverse.

So it may be nothing more than a wild goose chase to seek answers to our dietary questions in the centuries gone by. If, instead, we focus our attention on the present and try to determine what constitutes healthy vegetarian nutrition in today's terms, we may be more likely to arrive at some valid conclusions that will be useful and accountable.

There are many recent scientific studies that make claims about vegetarianism vs eating meat. The problem here is that not every vegetarian follows the same vegetarian diet. One study may show that people who eat more whole grains may have less incidence of colon cancer. Another study may show that people who eat less red meat may have better cholesterol readings. A third study might demonstrate that eating less processed foods helps to lower the risk of developing diabetes.

However, if we look at these studies as a whole, we can begin to notice a trend that, in general, would suggest that a healthy vegetarian nutritional approach to one's diet can indeed produce beneficial results.

In an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health numerous such studies were cited and the conclusion was reached that eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables was the key to good overall nutrition.

    "It's hard to argue with the health benefits of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits: Lower blood pressure; reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and probably some cancers; lower risk of eye and digestive problems; and a mellowing effect on blood sugar that can help keep appetite in check."

Not all vegetarians eat whole grains, eggs or dairy products. But all serious vegetarians eat fresh fruits and vegetables and we can use this common demoninator as a starting point as we refine our own vegetarian diet plan.

In addition to providing ample carbohydrates, proteins and fats, the food groups from the plant kingdom not only provide the vast majority of our common vitamins and minerals for our nutritional needs, but also represent our only dietary source for phytochemical antioxidants which are found only in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Common antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E and selenium help the body to neutralize "free radicals" which are products of metabolism that can cause cellular damage over time. Phytochemical antioxidants are the nutrients associated with the different fruit and vegetable color groups and are the substances that are now being associated with contributing to the prevention of various diseases.

Consequently, nutrients obtained from the plant kingdom not only provide the necessary staples of good nutrition needed for physical growth and development, but also provide our best dietary sources for the maintenance of good health and the prevention of disease.

Therefore a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is a good idea for everyone, even die-hard carnivores. Vegetarians who eat a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and grains enjoy the benefits of excellent vegetarian nutrition even while opting to decline the consumption of some or all of the food groups derived from the animal kingdom.

Now let's take a more detailed look at the different vegetarian food groups and how they can contribute to our overall vegetarian nutritional health.

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