Misconceptions about being a vegetarian explained

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Research has shown that people who follow a vegetarian diet are at a lower risk for a host of health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, renal disease and some cancers.

These health benefits come from the lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol compared to a meat-based diet. Those who eat a healthy vegetarian diet, meanwhile, usually take in higher amounts of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and certain minerals that can lead to better health outcomes.

An important caveat, said TMC dietitian Amanda Gavel, is that those benefits come with a plant-based diet. Subsisting on Twinkies and potato chips doesn’t cut it.

“There is such a thing as an unhealthy vegetarian diet,” she cautioned. “You can be eating a lot of refined carbohydrates and call it vegetarian and still be overweight and unhealthy.”

There are several types of vegetarian diets, ranging from those who still eat dairy and eggs, to vegans, who abstain from those food sources. Gavel, who does not eat meat herself, said one misconception is that it’s difficult for vegetarians to get all the nutrients they need. With the exception of B12, which only comes from animal sources, even those who avoid dairy and eggs can easily get the vitamins and minerals they need. Soy milk and tofu are often fortified, although it’s important to check the label. The labels on fortified cereals look much like labels on multivitamins these days.

There is plenty of protein in vegetables and whole grains, she said. Nor does eating vegetarian have to be complicated, she said. “Just fill up your plate with a rainbow of colors, because those colors represent those vital nutrients that are going to help boost your immunity.”

Another important note: Rainbows are not just white and yellow.

Dietitians often hear people say they DO eat their vegetables, and then cite potatoes and corn as examples. Those are fine as part of a cornucopia, but they don’t provide enough variety on their own.

Finally, she said, she hears all-too-often that a vegetarian diet isn’t “manly.”

“Is it manly to be 40 and have a heart attack? It is important to make conscious decisions about the fuel we give our bodies.”

While Tucson Medical Center has always been good about offering vegetarian and vegan meal options to our patients, there has been a stronger focused effort more recently in the main cafeteria to incorporate more vegetarian entrees into the new menu that was introduced in May, said Mary Atkinson, TMC’s director of Wellness (and former head of Food and Nutrition).

Click here for information on how vegetarians can eat a well balanced diet.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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