What do Pam Anderson, Al Gore, Gandhi, Deepak Chopra, Bill Clinton and Demi Lovato have in common? They are all either vegetarians or vegans. There is no denying the health benefits that vegetarian and vegan diets afford. In fact, there are dozens of studies that espouse the remarkable health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets.
According to pcrm.org, a “vegetarian” is defined as avoiding all animal flesh, including fish and poultry. Vegetarians who avoid flesh, but do eat animal products such as cheese, milk, and eggs, are ovo-lacto-vegetarians (ovo = egg; lacto = milk, cheese, etc.). Vegans abstain from all animal products. This group is rapidly growing. Research indicates that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources decreases. Therefore, vegan diets are considered the healthiest.
Although many older Americans still enjoy red meat and chicken, an estimated 2.5 million of people 55 and older have abandoned red meat and poultry in favor of a predominantly plant-based diet. Some people decide to go vegetarian or vegan because they can’t bear the thought of harming any living creature. Others do it for the health perks, of which there are many. Retail staff should educate their growing vegetarian and vegan customer base on these health benefits, a few of which include:
Cancer-protective: Vegetarian diets are naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and loaded with cancer-protective phytochemicals.
Cardiovascular Health: Vegetarian diets also help prevent heart disease. Animal products are the main source of saturated fat and the only source of cholesterol in the diet. Vegetarians avoid these risky products. Additionally, fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels2 and animal products contain no fiber. Furthermore, eliminating meat, dairy products, and added fats reduces the blood’s viscosity (or “thickness”), which, in turn, brings down blood pressure.3 Plant foods and supplements are generally lower in fat and sodium and have no cholesterol. Vegetables and fruits are also rich in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Diabetes Prevention: Non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset) diabetes can be better controlled and sometimes even eliminated through a low-fat, vegetarian diet along with regular exercise.4 A diet low in fat, high in fiber and high in complex carbohydrates, allows insulin to work more effectively. While a vegetarian diet cannot eliminate the need for insulin in people with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, it can often reduce the amount of insulin needed.
As previously mentioned, there are profound benefits to being vegetarian and vegan. Nonetheless, it’s not as easy as simply eliminating meat, poultry, and seafood from your diet. Animal products offer a vast array of nutrients that support growth, body functions and a healthy immune system. Therefore, it’s crucial for vegetarians and vegans to obtain these nutrients from another source. That said, vegetarians and vegans must consume adequate amounts of the following compounds, among others, to ensure that a plant-based diet is a healthful one. Many of these foods and supplements are found in health food stores.
Calcium and Vitamin D
This combination is essential to building strong, dense bones when you’re young and keeping them strong and healthy as you age. Each day, you lose calcium through the skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces. However, the body cannot produce new calcium. Vitamin D plays an important role in protecting bones and your body requires it to absorb calcium. Children need vitamin D to build strong bones and adults need it to keep their bones strong and healthy. If you don’t supplement with a good calcium formula that includes vitamin D, you may lose bone, have lower bone density, and you’re more likely to break bones as you age. Calcium can be a concern for vegans and vegetarians who do not eat any milk or dairy products. They must replace animal food sources with plant-based proteins. If you eat dairy, maximize the body’s blood-clotting and bone-building abilities by including non-dairy calcium foods in your diet, including broccoli, enriched whole-wheat bread, and calcium-fortified soy cheese, orange juice, or cereal in your daily diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of omega-3s for years. Studies have shown that the omega-3s help prevent and fight heart disease, as well as cancer, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, ulcers, diabetes, hyperactivity and other diseases. The most beneficial form of omega-3s, containing two fatty acids—EPA and DHA—can be found in fish. However, it can be a challenge for the vegetarian to get an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids when he or she is no longer eating fatty fish. Incorporating a sufficient amount of plant-based foods or supplements high in the omega-3 fatty, acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can optimize your omega-3 intake.
Most associate meat with protein. However, you can easily satisfy your protein needs by consuming plant-based foods, including beans, legumes, nuts, soy, as well as plant-based powdered protein supplement formulas. If your customer is unsure of daily protein requirements, the daily protein intake for vegetarians and vegans is the same as your weight in kilograms.
Vitamin B-12 Low vitamin B12 can cause anemia and nervous system damage. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with vitamin B12, including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals, and B12 supplements. Vitamin B12, whether in supplements, fortified foods, or animal products, comes from micro-organisms. Most vegetarians/vegans consume enough B12 to avoid anemia and nervous system damage, but many do not get enough to minimize potential risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications. To get the full benefit of a vegetarian/vegan diet, do one of the following:
• Eat fortified foods two or three times a day to get at least three micrograms (mcg or µg) of B12 a day
• Take one B12 supplement daily containing at least 10 micrograms
• Take a weekly B12 supplement containing at least 2,000 micrograms.
Be sure to check the nutrition facts label or the ingredient list to ensure you are receiving the active form of vitamin B12, called cobalamin or cyanocobalamin. Most multivitamin products contain vitamin B12.
Zinc is crucial for metabolism, immunity and healing. Meat, seafood and animal products are high in zinc. According to the National Institutes of Health, some vegetarians need 50 percent more than the recommended 40 mg for adults over 18. Why? Because zinc found in plant foods is not absorbed as well as their animal counterparts. To maximize zinc intake include a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day, such as whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds. Zinc-fortified cereals and vegetarian “meats” are also available. When considering a supplement, take a multivitamin-mineral supplement with a zinc level near the recommended intake. Do not buy an individual zinc supplement, unless prescribed by a health professional. Large amounts of zinc can interfere with the utilization of other minerals.
Whether we are talking about veganism or vegetarianism, both of these lifestyles are, and have been on the rise for quite some time. We have all heard compelling reasons why people make the switch to these lifestyles. Regardless, retailers will continue to encounter this growing health segment. That said, this is an opportunity for retailers, if they are strategically positioned, to create new profit centers serving their vegetarian and vegan customers. VR
2. Sacks FM, Castelli WP, Donner A, Kass EH. Plasma lipids and lipoproteins in vegetarians and controls. N Engl J Med. 1975;292:1148-1152.
3. Ernst E, Pietsch L, Matrai A, Eisenberg J. Blood rheology in vegetarians. Br J Nutr. 1986;56:555-560.
4. Nicholson AS, Sklar M, Barnard ND, et al. Toward improved management of NIDDM: A randomized, controlled, pilot intervention using a low-fat, vegetarian diet. Prev Med. 1999;29:87-91.
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, visit www.vivioninc.com or www.energyatlast.com.