Given the current worry on a wide array of chronic lifestyle related diseases, vegetarianism is rapidly gaining global popularity. According to the Indian perspective vegetarianism means not eating animal flesh such as meat, fish, seafood, and poultry.
In the broader sense vegetarians are of different kinds. They could be: Vegans
- those who do not consume any animal product; Lacto-Vegetarians
- those who include dairy products in their diet; Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarians
- those who may consume dairy and egg products; Pesco-vegetarians
- those who eat seafood but not the flesh of other animals; Pollo-vegetarians
- those who occasionally eat chicken or fish but not red meat; and Flexitarians
- those who predominantly eat plant based diet but occasionally eat animal meat as well.
The Vegan group includes the strictest vegetarians. They avoid all animal products. So much so, they do not use leather, fur, silk, wool or even cosmetics that have animal products in them. Dairy foods and honey are also exempted. Although this is a very healthy way of eating, the diet needs to be carefully planned since these diets may be deficient in micronutrients like iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and folic acid. These micronutrients need to be taken care of by way of supplementation.
On the other hand, non vegetarian foods are relatively high on fat and cholesterol. These foods also lack phytonutrients that have important antioxidant benefits. Again, if the non-vegetarian / meat dish is not cooked properly or the portion size is not right, it could be highly greasy and heavy for the stomach.India is entangled in the web of diabetes and obesity. And it’s estimated that more than 75 million Indians could suffer from diabetes by 2030. More precisely every one out of four urban Indians are seen to be overweight
. And this is primarily due to the big change that has occurred in the eating habits of Indians in the recent years. The traditional vegetarian Indian food comprising legumes, pulses, and vegetables has been largely replaced by processed and junk food high on ghee, butter, cream and full fat dairy foods that are high on saturated fat and cholesterol which increase heart disease risk and diabetes. Even if the low fat versions of milk are being used at home, paneer (cottage cheese) and cheese bought from supermarkets are high on fat. The low fat cheese and paneer have limited availability in India. Their consumption when eating out is also inevitable.
With the passage of time, we have become more health conscious and have certain health facts totally clear in our mind. We are much more aware of the importance of fiber, the health risks of cholesterol and fats, and the benefits of phytonutrients exclusively found in plant foods. We are now aware that plants can be excellent source of protein and calcium (earlier these were thought to be found only in animal foods).
A ‘no cholesterol, low-fat plan’ for a vegan diet could be the secret behind weight loss and reversal of metabolic syndrome. It could be the most important preventive tool for diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
A healthy plant based vegan diet exclusively includes:
|Vegetables: 3 or more serves of vegetables per day. (1 serve = 100g of raw vegetables).|
Vegetables are packed with vitamin C (cabbage, capsicum), beta carotene (carrots, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts) fiber and other nutrients. Dark green vegetables like radish leaves, mint, cauliflower greens, amaranth, coriander, fenugreek, drumstick leaves provide calcium and iron in substantial quantities.
|Whole grains and millets: 5 or more servings a day. (1 serve is 2 small chapatis, half a cup of oats, 2 medium sized breads, 1 cup of cooked cereal or millet).|
This group includes wheat, bulgar wheat, buckwheat, oats, whole grain breads, millets like jowar, bajra, ragi, barley, and maize. One main grain dish has to be present in every meal. Grains give energy and are rich in protein, B vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc and fiber. Ragi is the richest source of calcium amongst plant foods. Garden cress seeds are the richest source of iron amongst plant foods. Flax seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids whereas sesame seeds are high in calcium and iron. Fenugreek seeds contain a high amount of soluble fiber.
|Fruits: 2 or more servings a day. (1 serve is 1 medium sized fruit or a bowl of chopped fruit).|
Fruits are rich in fiber (mango, apple, pear, pomegranate, pear, fig, banana), vitamin C (amla, guava, orange, lime, melons, strawberries), beta carotene (papaya, mango, pear).
Choose whole fruits over juices.
|Legumes: 2.5 to 3 or more servings a day. (1 serve is 1 cup cooked pulse or 25 to 30g raw pulse), 20g raw soybean, half a cup of raw soy nuggets or granules).|
Legumes are rich in protein, calcium, iron and B vitamins. This group also includes soya milk and tofu.
*1 cup = 150 ml
After extensive research, the Washington based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends consumption of just Four Food Groups namely Fruits, Legumes, Whole grains, and Vegetables. Neal Bernard, president of the PCRM is currently conducting a study amongst Indians to test the effects of a low fat vegan diet free of animal products on weight and other lifestyle related chronic conditions. The study draws up an ideal vegan diet for Indian palates to tackle diabetes and obesity.
PCRM’s earlier research proves that a low fat vegan diet free of animal products including dairy foods could be the best way to prevent and reverse diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.
In the US, such a diet has helped around 150,000 Americans lose weight and improve cholesterol, blood pressure. The PCRM’s 21 day vegan Kickstart in India is designed to be a three week online program wherein the participants eat a healthy low fat vegan diet without counting calories. The research team believes that ‘the best way to lose weight and reverse disease is to jump into a completely dairy-free, plant-based diet for three weeks’. The results of the intervention would be revealed after the study completion and are being eagerly awaited for.
In a nutshell, the low-fat vegan diet could be a very beneficial new way of eating. The exclusion of milk from the plan is somewhat still under debate since milk is an alkaline food and is a great source of good quality protein and calcium. Nevertheless, the golden rule is to be kind to your stomach by eating only a little and just filling half of it at any given time. Above all one should consume food with all the senses alive and never overload it under any situation.