Vegetarian Diet – Improves quality of life?
Vegetarianism affects several areas that lead to improved quality of life. Preference for this diet, that is, has a positive effect on many aspects of life. These include better physical health, positive emotions associated with adopting a morally sound attitude, fulfilling one’s sense of belonging to a group, and engaging in mitigation of the environmental impact of livestock, poultry farming, and reckless fishing.
However, this choice also has negative aspects that cannot be controlled. These include the financial burden and access to vegetables and fruits, especially in areas where the climate is not conducive to their cultivation, or where occasional weather conditions affect their availability. The negative effects that can be controlled relate to the lack of certain nutrients.
To date, studies suggest that choosing a vegetarian diet has a positive effect on quality of life. It is no coincidence that the roots of this diet are lost in the time of ancient Egypt. Even Greek philosophers adopted it, with Pythagoras being a prominent figure – for many centuries, vegetarianism was known as the “Pythagorean” diet. Historically, in the centuries that followed, it ceased to be a choice and reappeared in the late 1800s, in the wake of the theory of evolution that raised well-founded objections to the Church-supported view of the purpose of animals for human needs only.
It can also not be disputed that the human body is not made for meat, since our ancestors were vegetarians, had wide teeth (and not sharp as carnivores need), flexible jaws for chewing seeds and a longer intestine that allows larger digestion, fermentation and absorption processes compared to meat-eating animals, which have a shorter intestine for the rapid elimination of toxins.
In recent decades, vegetarianism has become more and more popular due to its positive effect on health. India holds the lead, with 40% of its population following it. Overall, Asia has the highest prevalence, with 19% of the population adopting this practice, followed by Africa and the Middle East with 16%, Central and South America with 8%, and North America and Europe with 5%.
Of course, not everyone follows the same type of vegetarian diet, which is determined by how restrictive they are. Everyone excludes the consumption of meat or eats rarely (flexitarians). Others eat seafood and fish (pescatarians), others exclude all animal products, such as dairy and eggs (vegans).
Vegetarian diets, including strict vegetarianism (veganism), are considered healthy and nutritious and can meet the nutritional needs of people at all stages of their lives, as long as these diets are well designed. In addition, they help to better control chronic diseases, through many mechanisms. Among these is the regulation and maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome, which is known to play a role in regulating various biological functions. Disruption of it, through excessive consumption of animal protein, promotes inflammation and increases the chances of cancer.
The intake of saturated fats, which are present in them, helps to increase systemic inflammation. Activation of the TLRs (a group of proteins that play a role in the immune system) that trigger and subsequent induction of inflammation results in an increased risk of metabolic disorders and chronic diseases such as cancer, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. The latter are responsible for 43.6% of deaths worldwide.
In contrast to the above, the avoidance or exclusion of meat and / or its derivatives from the diet brings positive results in the control of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Vegans have been shown to have lower body weight, lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure and fasting glucose.
Consumption of protein from plant sources is not associated with such negative effects. The most likely etiology is their content of carbohydrates and fiber, which mitigate the potentially harmful effects observed in the intestine from the intake of animal protein.
In addition to their positive effect on proper bowel function and the prevention of cardiovascular disease, a vegetarian diet can also protect against cancer. The reasons are that those who follow it lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, as obesity is a risk factor for malignancy.
Excluding or minimizing the intake of meat and animal products can help prevent and treat inflammatory diseases.
Recently, research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (and low in animal foods) helps control the symptoms of people suffering from fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It can be an effective way to prevent other autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, due to its role in the health of the intestinal microbiome.
But can it improve the quality of life?
Adopting a vegetarian diet may be the key to improving your health, but it is not limited to this.
For many, the motivation is to improve the quality of life, ie the subjective perception of well-being and daily functionality. It includes four main areas of life: the physical, the psychological, the social and the environmental.
Scientific research has shown that it has a positive effect on all four areas of quality of life. Better health outcomes and lower rates of non-communicable diseases have a positive impact on fitness. The positive emotions associated with doing something good, along with the feeling of belonging, have a positive effect on the psychological and social spheres, respectively. Finally, the lower environmental impact of vegetarianism benefits the environmental sector.
However, there are also negative effects on the quality of life. This is because an unbalanced vegetarian diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies that would be detrimental to health, affecting the physical sector. For example, those who follow this type of diet are more likely to be deficient in iron, zinc, vitamins B12 and D, calcium, iodine, omega-3 and protein. Each of them plays an important role in the proper functioning of the body.
Therefore, the “fans” of this diet should consult their nutritionist, in order to reap only its benefits and protect their body.