Health Team

Vegetarian Diet Brings Health Benefits, Challenges

Posted January 4, 2008

— Being a vegetarian in today's society has gotten easier as more stores and restaurants offer options that fit the bill. Even so, it's not the easiest way to fill your plate. The diet brings both health benefits and challenges.

About 25 years ago, Gale Wilkins decided not to eat meat. She's a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which allows dairy and egg products. Her diet and regular exercise served her well until her mid-40s when she began to gain weight.

“You know, I'm 52 and I'm at that particular age where my body's slowing down,” she said.

Wilkins went to WakeMed Registered Dietitian Erin Cross for help. Cross says many people go meatless to help them lose weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. But there are health concerns if it's not done right.

“It's becoming increasingly popular with many celebrities becoming vegetarian, which is a concern when you've got teenagers who simply drop major food groups out of their diet,” Cross said.

Without meat or meat byproducts, people need other sources of protein, iron, calcium and Vitamin D. There's soy milk, beans or legumes, nuts, seeds and natural peanut butter, which is different from other peanut butter where there's extra sugar added.

Some of those foods are also high in calories, which was a problem for Wilkins.

“Well, actually, I love nuts so I realized I had a portion control problem,” she said.

Cross told Wilkins to carefully measure servings, even with breakfast cereal.

“You may say, ‘I have a bowl of cereal in the morning.’ But if you have a deep bowl, that's maybe two to three servings,” Cross said.

Choosing the right foods in the right portions is a challenge for vegetarians.

“You must educate yourself and plan ahead,” Cross said.

Vegetarians may also consider supplements to make sure they get enough nutrients, such as calcium and iron.


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  • grant Jan 6, 2008

    Enough water goes into the production of the average cow to: float a U.S. Naval destroyer *Number of U.S. medical schools: 125

    Number of U.S. medical schools with a required course in nutrition: 30 Training in nutrition received during 4 years of medical school by average U.S. physician: 2.5 hours
    Only man to win Ironman Triathalon more than twice: Dave Scott (6 time winner) Food choices of Dave Scott: vegetarian Percentage of food grown in United States eaten by human beings: 20

    Percentage of food grown in United States eaten by livestock: 80

    You asked for it.

  • grant Jan 6, 2008

    At least some of you picked up on the B12. It is available through blue-green alge(tasty sounding huh). This is probably where the earlier stated non animal derived sorce is from. For OVO-Lacto Vegetarians, there realy is no issue other than they must still continue to eat healty. You get more than enough protein from milk, cheese and eggs. Too many empty carbs is probably the problem is for the lady gaining the weight, and not enough exercise. My family eats seafood. We only have to be aware to limit mercury high types within reason thanks to the waters being polluted. If you lift weights you learn the complete protein quality goes,,,,,Egg Whites, Milk, Fish, Turkey, chicken,then pork and beef. So why do you need the poorest of the proteins? Most Dr.s don't study nurtrition so its not surprised to see people just don't know. Most vegetarians except vegans don't eat enough vegetables just like the rest of us, belive it or not. Karem abdul Jabar was Vegan, pale & sickly? stupid rednecks

  • Sue Donym Jan 6, 2008

    Angry, it is very important for vegans to take B12 every day. It is now available in non-animal based form.

    Denver, apparently we don't know the same people.

  • denverbob234 Jan 6, 2008

    then why do all the vegetarians I know look like they have one foot in the grave?

  • Angry Independent Jan 6, 2008

    Dr. Mask didn't mention B12, which this the only nutrient required to sustain human life that is unavailable from plants.. odd. Maybe it's being added (fortified) in the processing grain foods?

  • Sue Donym Jan 6, 2008

    Even ten years ago, meat substitutes tasted like birdseed, but today you'd be amazed at what's available. Meat analogues for eveything from roast turkey to kielbasa are available now..and in some cases so realistic that it grosses me out even trying them. I don't do eggs or dairy either, but here again I have no trouble following "traditional" recipes and just subbing in fake cheese (which is available in cheddar-style, jack, you name it).

  • lolly Jan 6, 2008

    I have never had a vegetarian substitute that tastes remotely like meat, but I have not tried them all. What do you think really tastes like meat?

  • Sue Donym Jan 6, 2008

    A vegetarian diet not only makes a person healthier, it helps the environment (and of course the animals!). A quick look around Whole Foods, Earth Fare, or Trader Joe's will show that substitutes are available for any and every product that someone feels he would miss by cutting out animal products.

  • lolly Jan 6, 2008

    The brutal treatment of animals makes me wish I was a vegatarian, but I always end up craving meat....

  • amypsychrn Jan 6, 2008

    The key is moderation in everything (including moderation). Nuts are a wonderful source of the healthy fats that we need. Olive Oil is an anti-inflammatory where as many grains can cause inflammation in the body leading to health problems. You need Omega 3's and Omega 6's for a healthy life. The nation went "low fat" in the diet craze and people ate more and more carbs and the nation got fatter!