The in's and out's of specialized diets

  • Wednesday, April 23, 2014

There are many specialized diets, all with their own advantages. IMAGES BY METRO CREATIVE


There are many health benefits associated with vegetarianism, veganism, gluten free and pescetarian food choices. Research indicates that vegetarians have lower levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and obesity rates are generally lower among vegetarians than their meat-eating counterparts. In addition, vegetarians have reduced incidences of type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure than meat eaters. However, unless their diets are well balanced, vegetarians also may have low levels of protein, which can compromise their overall health.

As with any diet, a vegan diet requires planning. However, when properly planned, a vegan diet can be considerably healthier than the traditional American diet. For example, cows' milk contains ideal amounts of fat and protein for young calves, but far too much for humans. And eggs are higher in cholesterol than any other food, making them a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease. Protein is essential to build and repair bodily tissues and provide amino acids. Muscle, hair, skin and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein, as are several important chemicals in the body, including hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters. Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are some amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and must come from a protein-rich diet.

Many of the foods that contain protein are animal-based (meats, poultry, milk, eggs, etc.), and these foods are commonly avoided by vegetarians and vegans. As a result, their bodies may be deficient in vital nutrients.

Another option, instead of strictly eating veggies, is the pescetarian diet.

Mount Pleasant resident Wendy Roach started as a vegan, trying for weight-loss purposes. She became a vegan for seven months, and according to Roach, it was not as hard as people thought it might be.

Specialty grocery stores and restaurants cater to vegans, offering a variety of choices.

“My weight loss was not going so well and I decided I needed fish, which for me was a healthy way to get protein,” she explained.

She lost the weight, not just from the diet but Medi-Weightloss and learning portion control.

The amount of protein needed varies by one's body weight, age and activity level. A person who is 150 pounds should eat roughly 55 grams of protein each day. A 200-pound person should eat around 75 grams. An ounce of meat has around 7 grams of protein per serving. Therefore, vegetarians and the like will have to replace those grams with other sources of protein.

Vegan foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Vegans can get all the protein they need from legumes (e.g., beans, tofu, peanuts) and grains (e.g., rice, corn, whole wheat breads and pastas). Calcium can come from broccoli, kale, collard greens, tofu, fortified juices and soymilks; iron from chickpeas, spinach, pinto beans, and soy products; and B12 from fortified foods or supplements. With planning, a vegan diet can provide all the nutrients we were taught as schoolchildren came only from animal products.

“It is more expensive to eat healthy because you're buying fresh fruit, higher-quality fish and it isn't cheap,” said Roach. “But you know it is quality that specialized grocery stores carry because they offer more organic choices.”

She did note that traditional grocery stores are coming around as far as offering more vegan/vegetarian/organic choices.

Roach suggests doing some research ahead of time before taking the plunge into a different diet.

“The labels on food are telling. Certain power bars are made with diary, for example. Almond milk is a wonderful substitute for lactose intolerance.”

Labels often include unfamiliar ingredients that may or may not be derived from animals. If you are concerned about a particular ingredient, you can consult Vegan.org for a comprehensive animal ingredients list. According to the website, most vegan foods are not yet labeled as such. “In general, we recommend that vegans concentrate their attention on the most obvious animal ingredients,” it says.

Depending on how you define “vegan,” refined sugars do not contain any animal products, and so by an ingredients-based definition of vegan, refined sugar is acceptable. However, some refined sugar is processed with animal bone char. The charcoal is used to remove color, impurities and minerals from sugar. The charcoal is not “in” the sugar, but is used in the process as a filter. Thus, by a process-based definition of vegan, refined sugar may not be considered vegan. For those who would prefer not to use refined sugar, there are several alternatives: raw sugar, turbinado, beet sugar, sucanat, date sugar, fructose, barley malt, rice syrup, corn syrup, molasses and maple syrup. If one accepts a process-based definition of vegan, then many other familiar products would also not be considered vegan. For instance, steel and vulcanized rubber are produced using animal fats and, over many areas, groundwater and surface water are filtered through bone charcoal filters. So, is a box of pasta that contains no animal products, but was transported to the store in a steel truck on rubber wheels and then cooked in boiling water at your home vegan? Under a process-based definition, possibly not. But according to such a definition, it would be difficult to find any products in this country that are vegan. Although “organic” foods may be preferred for many of the same reasons that vegan foods are (animal welfare, environmental quality, and health), a food is considered vegan regardless of whether or not it is organic.

For more information on various diets and health tips, visit:





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