Whether we are talking about veganism or vegetarianism, both of these lifestyles are, and have been on the rise for quite some time now. There are some compelling reasons why people make the switch to these lifestyles. Some want to live longer, healthier lives. Others have made the switch because they want to preserve Earth’s natural resources. Others just plain love animals of all kinds and are opposed to including them in their diet. At the end of the day, retailers will encounter many customers who are either vegetarian or vegan.
“Vegetarian” is defined as avoiding all animal flesh, including fish and poultry. Those who abstain from all animal products are rapidly growing and known as vegans. There is a large body of scientific research that indicates health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases.
According to the 2008 “Vegetarianism in America” study, published by vegetariantimes.com,1 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 0.5 percent, or 1 million, of those are vegans (consume no animal products at all). Additionally, 10 percent of U.S. adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian- inclined diet.
There is no arguing that the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have profound health benefits. And there is lots of data retailers need to be familiar with that support the following benefits (among others):
Cardiovascular Health: Vegetarian diets help to prevent heart disease. Animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol in the diet. Additionally, fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels2 and animal products contain no fiber. When people switch to a high-fiber, low-fat diet their serum cholesterol levels often drop significantly.3,4
As far back as the early 1900s, nutritionists were quick to point that people who consumed no meat had lower blood pressure.5 They also discovered that vegetarian diets could, within two weeks, significantly reduce a person’s blood pressure.6 Health professionals determined that eliminating meat, dairy products and added fats reduced the blood’s viscosity which, in turn, brought down blood pressure. Furthermore, plant food products are generally lower in fat and sodium and have no cholesterol. Vegetables and fruits are also rich in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Cancer: Vegetarian and vegan diets are naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber and chock-full of cancer-protective phytochemicals. Large studies in England and Germany have shown that vegetarians are about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer compared to meat eaters.7,8,9 Similarly, breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in nations, such as China, that follow plant-based diets.10 Meat and dairy products contribute to many forms of cancer, including cancer of the colon, breast, ovaries and prostate. Harvard studies that included tens of thousands of women and men have shown that regular meat consumption increases colon cancer risk by roughly 300 percent.11,12 High-fat diets also encourage the body’s production of estrogens. Increased levels of this sex hormone have been linked to breast cancer. Daily meat consumption triples the risk of prostate enlargement. Regular milk consumption doubles the risk and failure to consume vegetables regularly nearly quadruples the risk.13
Vegetarians avoid the animal fat linked to cancer and get abundant fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer. In addition, blood analysis of vegetarians reveals a higher level of “natural killer cells,” specialized white blood cells that attack cancer cells.
Diabetes: A vegetarian or vegan diet will promote healthy weight as these diets are often lower in calories than non-vegetarian diets, which can help with weight management. Also, people following a vegan diet tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than people who follow a nonvegetarian diet. A healthy body weight can improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of diabetes complications.
Additionally, a vegetarian or vegan diet will improve blood sugar control and insulin response. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts can improve blood sugar control and make your body more responsive to insulin. Also be very cognizant that a vegetarian diet can also have the opposite effect on blood sugar if it is rich in simple carbohydrates, especially starches, such as potatoes, white rice and white bread.
Bridging the Nutritional Gap
Retailers need to make their vegetarian and vegan customers aware of possible dietary nutritional gaps and make the correct supplement recommendations. The following are widely regarded as supplements vegetarians and vegans need to bridge the nutritional gaps and should be widely available in your store:
Calcium: As we all know, calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone strength. Sources of calcium for vegetarians and vegans include calcium-fortified soymilk, calcium- fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice, tofu made with calcium sulfate, and some dark-green leafy vegetables. The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies. Consuming enough plant foods to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic for many vegetarians and vegans. Therefore, calcium supplements are viable options. An often better option is a calcium formula that contains vitamin D, which is crucial for calcium absorption.
Iron: The National Institutes of Health suggests that vegetarians and vegans need to eat twice as much dietary iron as meat-eaters. This is due to the lower absorption of non-heme iron in plant foods. For this reason, many health professionals recommend iron supplementation for vegetarians— especially athletes and females (both are naturally at a higher risk for iron deficiency). Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, if taking an animal based (heme) iron supplement isn’t desirable, you can add a non-heme iron supplement to your diet in the form of ferrous sulfate. Or, a gentler option is carbonyl iron.
Vitamin B12: Low vitamin B12 intakes can cause anemia and nervous system damage. The only reliable vegetarian and vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. Take one B12 supplement daily providing at least 10 micrograms or take a weekly B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms. The less frequently you obtain B12 the more B12 you need to take, as B12 is best absorbed in small amounts.
Vitamin D: This compound is best known for its role in bone health—it helps the body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is deficient, we absorb very little calcium. That’s the main reason that calcium supplements often contain vitamin D. If calcium is not absorbed due to a vitamin D deficiency, the result is weaker bones that are more likely to fracture. There are two forms of supplemental vitamin D: D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is always vegan and is made from exposing fungi to exposure to UV rays. Vitamin D3 normally comes from fish oil or sheep’s wool, but there are vegan versions. A great deal of research has been conducted on vitamin D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 is effective at increasing bone mineral density (when given to people who are deficient). Vitamin D2 can also increases vitamin D levels temporarily, but is not as effective as vitamin D3 at keeping vitamin D levels raised when taken only weekly. If you take vitamin D on a regular basis, D2 should be fine, whereas if you are only going to take it sporadically, without getting sun in the interim, or find that your vitamin D levels will not increase on D2, then you should opt for D3.
The vegetarian and vegan communities are growing largely because of the mountain of scientific research that indicates health benefits increase when the amount of food consumed from animal sources decreases. That said, retailers must familiarize themselves with the data so they can provide this growing segment with the information they need to make informed choices. Moreover, retailers must offer the products that will ultimately be essential for people living vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. In the end, from a business perspective, there are profound opportunities for retailers to create new profit centers if they are strategically positioned for their vegetarian and vegan customers.
Mark Becker is an account manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. Becker has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 102 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at Facebook.com/marklbecker and on twitter at Twitter.com/becker_mark. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com or www.EnergyatLast.com.
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