Veg vs Non-veg: Weighing the health benefits

FPJ BureauUpdated: Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 10:56 PM IST

To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art. Eat to fuel your body not feed your emotions. While the debate rages on between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, Aparna Kapoor weighs on the benefits of the diets

 Ever since the evolved human society has emerged, the debate between vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet has been going on worldwide. The debate seems to be perpetual and becomes a matter of concern; or rather a political agenda during election time, especially in our country, when all eyes are on your plate and on what you are eating.

The debate that has been going on for ever about the inadequacies of a vegetarian diet versus hazards of a non-vegetarian diet is both, in a way, accurate and inaccurate at the same time. But before arriving at a verdict, have you noticed that people get sick from consuming an inadequate diet or overeating, and from leading sedentary lives more than because of what exactly they are eating. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), India records deaths from diabetes and heart diseases (lifestyle diseases) more than from accidents or infectious diseases.

Does my diet form my identity?

A person’s choice of diet broadly reflects his/her cultural, religious and to some extent his/her personal identity and preferences. The concept is introduced in the childhood itself, which eventually is altered as per the personal choice when one is grown up and is ready to take his/her own decisions. The choice of food may also change due to taste, desire, health condition or some other personal or relationship-related issues.

I have seen many vegetarians turn to non-vegetarians and vice versa. Personally, I feel it is a matter of an individual choice more than any religious/social or any other pressure.

Vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet

The common classification is normally vegetarian diet and non-vegetarian diet. And then, there is the new breed that includes egg in their vegetarian diet, calling themselves ‘eggetarian’ as they consider egg to be vegetarian; whatever that means!
A vegetarian diet is one wherein a person consumes all types of plant foods along with milk and dairy, and refrains from consuming all meat and animal derived foods and by-products. There is another category in vegetarians, known as vegans, who exclude all dairy products and eggs from their diet.

As Dr Preeti Shukla, Dietician and Chapter President IDA (M.P) from Indore points out, “Non-vegetarian food no doubt is the best source of protein (the macro requirement of the body); but the vegetarian can easily substitute this requirement of their body with nuts and lentils.”

A non-vegetarian diet includes all plant foods as well as foods and by-products derived from animals like meat, poultry and fish, etc.

Being a vegetarian

Vegetarian diet is rich in minerals and vitamins, which are important to maintain the health of our body. The fibre content is rich in the vegetarian diet, which is helpful in effective digestion. A veg diet is said to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

But as everything has a flip side to it, nearly every significant study carried out on people who are vegetarians has shown that Vegetarians are at an increased risk for Iron, Zinc and Vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia. But, before the non-vegetarians’ smirk, the fact is that vegetarians can very easily get adequate nutrition from their exclusively vegetarian diet, by consuming a variety of foods from each food group.

Being a non-vegetarian

High value protein is obtained from the non-veg diet. This diet is the main source of B complex vitamin especially, B12. This diet is rich in certain amino acids, which our body cannot produce on its own. The risk of being prone to anaemia is reduced substantially. But like the vegetarian diet, this one too has a flip side. Non-vegetarians are at high risk of suffering from a chronic disease, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc. Being low on fibre, non-vegetarian diet often results in obesity if enough exercises are not included in the daily routine. Having excess of meat results in the formation of free radicals in our body; the main known reason for causing cancer, unlike fruits and vegetables, which have antioxidants that help in destroying free radicals.

This or that?

Non-vegetarians are prone to life-threatening diseases. That doesn’t mean vegetarians are safe. Only less than 10% vegetarians are following a proper diet. As the lifestyle has changed the food habits from fresh to fast food, the risk of getting unhealthy becomes equal in both. Having well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and a moderate amount of meat is good for health. Vegetarian can add mushrooms, lentils, soya instead of meat. Of course, fried foods have mouth-watering taste, so taking it once in a while doesn’t harm anything. Similarly, consuming healthy diet just for a day will not solve your health problems. Healthy eating should be the way of life, a habit.

I was a vegetarian yet healthy all my life, but it’s only after I included some portion of non-veg food recently in my diet that my performance has improved as a marathon runner,” says Shikha Banerjee from Bengaluru who works for an MNC and is a keen sports person.

I was a pure non-vegetarian, as all my meals had some portion of non veg item in it. But ever since I have switched to a pure vegetarian diet, staying fit has become easier with the same amount of efforts in the gym,” says Shaunak Kapur from Mumbai a young entrepreneur and a health freak.

Both the above statements are corollary to each other, yet, stand on the firm base of personal experience. Hence it would not be fair to draw a judgment. Every person has different constitution, metabolism, tolerances and intolerances for certain food items irrespective of diet category.

Reality check

Looking at the food habits of the current generation, EVERYONE is consuming more of refined food like sugar, white rice, refined flour etc; as compared to whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc. Refined grains are devoid of their vitamins and fibre.

Supermarkets are overflowing with the packed and processed foods. The youth is damaging their health by eating out of those colourful packets. Consumption of processed food is way up as compared to fresh fruits and vegetables world over. These foods are loaded with salt. The combination of all the above, i.e. high intake of refined foods, processed and fried foods, salt, fatty meats, promote obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes and this applies to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

Make peace with your plate

We need to stop the Debate on which category is better and understands our common problems.
We all have turned FOODIES and have invented a new category: the ‘Fast & Fried Foodies’.

And our new-found love for the food which seduces our taste buds is actually nutrient deficient and a reason for the onset of many chronic diseases. If the aim is towards health, then maintaining a healthy and an adequate diet by choosing the right quantity and quality of food is the key for both Vegetarians and Non-vegetarians.

Our attitude needs to change from ‘Fried tastes good’ to ‘Fresh is the best’. To sum up, Dr Preeti rightly says, “The basic requirements of the body should be met by food. Macro and micro nutrients. The key is to eat intelligently eat everything in moderation; veg or non-veg.”

Of course, the most important part in this equation is EXERCISE. If you keep that element out, no amount of healthy food will help you in the long term.

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