There are many misconceptions about the vegetarian diet. Most people associate going vegetarian with going green, which is not accurate because it really does not mean that all you can eat are green vegetables only!
Basically the vegetarian diet means not taking any meat, whether for religious or health reasons. This means focusing more on plants for food, which does not just refer to leaves but also to fruits, roots, nuts, seeds and grains.
There are many kinds of vegetarian diets – some simply exclude meat, poultry or fish, while others also exclude diary products or eggs. Certain Buddhists even exclude strong-smelling plants such as leeks, onions, garlic and durian because the strong scents disrupt the senses and interfere with meditation or prayer.
The main concern is that a vegetarian diet may not provide sufficient protein, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B that are found in meat and eggs. However, this can be resolved by taking a wide variety of foods from the seven colour groups. The rule of thumb of a good vegetarian diet is to have as many colours from each colour group at each meal to make up a balanced diet.
Considering two thirds of all medicines are made from plants, a vegetarian diet may be more healthy than we realize. In his book “What Color is Your Diet?”, author Dr David Heber who is director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, US, outlines the seven colour groups of food as:
Examples: Tomatoes, pink guava, watermelon
Contains lycopene, a potent antioxidant that reduces free radical damage to body organs and prevents certain cancers.
Examples: Honeydew melon, green peas, spinach, avocado
High in carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which reduces the risks of eye problems such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Lutein, a substance found at the back of the eye, is also believed to reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Examples: carrots, mangos, apricots, cantaloupes, pumpkin, acorn squash, winter squash, sweet potatoes
Contains cancer fighter called alpha carotene and also beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene repairs damaged skin DNA and is good for night vision.
Examples: Pineapple, oranges, tangerines, peaches, papayas, nectarines
Contains beta cryptothanxin, which helps prevent heart disease and is high in vitamin C.
Examples: Beets, eggplant, purple grapes, red wine, grape juice, prunes, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, red apples
High in powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that prevent blood clots and protects against heart disease. Anthocynins also delay cell ageing and are believed to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Examples: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, pak choi, kailan
These green leafy vegetables contain two chemicals called sulforaphane and isocyanate which fight carcinogens and keeps cancer at bay.
Examples: Leeks, garlic, onions, celery, pears, chives
Contains antioxidant flavonoids which has anti-tumour properties.
- Lowers risks of various diseases especially diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease
- Costs less
- High phytonutrients believed to prolong life
- Improves immune system
- Keeps weight down
- Rich in various vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fibre and trace elements
- Good for digestive heath
- Tendency of vegetarian restaurants to offer soy-based meat or fish look-alikes.
- May need supplementation to get a full spectrum of nutrition
- Unless home-cooked, eating outside may be costly and contain a lot of flavourings and additives
- Needs diversity in order to get sufficient nutrients for energy