Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that totally or partially excludes consumption of all animal foods, including poultry, game, fish and shellfish. The reasons for choosing vegetarianism may be related to morality, religion, culture, ethics, aesthetics, environment, society, economy, politics, taste, or health. There are many forms of vegetarianism, some of which also exclude eggs and/or some products produced from animals like dairy products and honey. Some of the major vegetarian categories include ovo-vegetarians. These people are vegetarians who eat eggs but no meat. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products such as milk and cheese but no eggs or meat. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are a combination of ovo and lacto vegetarians and eat dairy and egg products but no meat. Vegans are strict vegetarians who avoid all foods from animal sources and only eat food from plant sources.

Vegetarianism is considered a healthy, viable diet. When planned well, vegetarian diets can satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and various researches have shown vegetarianism to significantly lower risks of cancer and heart disease. Necessary nutrients, proteins, and amino acids for the body's sustenance can be found in green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts, and fortified juices or soymilk. One reason for this is that a diet rich in fruits and veggies will be high in fiber and low in fat, factors known to improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight. Vegetarians tend to have lower rates of obesity, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less incidence of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders.

Studies have confirmed that vegetarian diets provide more than sufficient protein intake as long as a variety of plant sources are available and consumed such as beans, soy, millet, and other legumes and grains which complement each other. Vegetarian foods rich in iron include black beans, cashews, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas and whole-wheat bread. Vitamin B12 is one nutrient not available in plants and can only be obtained through animal sources. Since the human body preserves B12 and reuses it without destroying the substance, clinical evidence of B12 deficiency is uncommon even among strict vegetarians and the body can preserve stores of the vitamin for up to 30 years without needing its supplies to be replenished.

The Ministry of Health has recently launched the Regenerative Health and Nutrition Policy and many of the principles in that policy are based on vegetarianism. For someone who may think a vegetarian meal is strange, a local example is a meal of rice and beans with kontomire stew which is a balanced vegetarian meal that without meat or fish would contain all the nutrients one would need in a balanced diet. For more advice on how to practice some aspects of vegetarianism, please visit your dietician for advice.


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