Vegetarian diets have hidden benefits

By Julia Rauchfuss, COLUMNIST
On February 5, 2012

Vegetarians and vegans can vouch that if the most frequently asked question about their diet isn't, "Why?" then it is mostcertainly, "How do you get everything you need?"

What the inquisitor doesn't realize is that vegetarians often end up with a more balanced diet than mostAmericans, whorarely consider how much of each food group they consume on a daily basis. Vegetarians aren't justkeeping pace with meat-eaters in the health department; they are beating them in nutritional value.

Due to the restrictive nature of their diet, vegetarians are forced to pay more attention to what they eat and they endup meeting more of theirnutritional daily values than those with unrestricted diets. Congress recently slacked the nutritional requirements in public schools, claiming that the tomato sauce on a piece of pizza counts as one serving's worth of vegetables. On Nov. 21, Seth Meyers designated an entire segment of "Saturday Night Live" to this topic, saying, "Really Congress? Cafeteria pizza barely qualifies as a pizza; it has the same nutritional value as the tray it is served on."

USF and Meyers may see eye to eye on this point, as the University works to educate its students about healthy choices with promotions of "Meatless Mondays" and byinstalling designated vegetariansections in three out of the four dining halls on campus. In 2009, USF was ranked 5th in the nation by Peta2 in their MostVegetarian-Friendly College Competition and continuesbringing new meatless options tostudents' tables.

The success is also apparent in the numbers. Recent studiesprovide counter evidence to thecommon misconceptions thatvegetarians are malnourished,finding that vegans andvegetarians have a lower incidence of diabetes by 50 percent and vegetarians have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease mortalityby 24 percent, according to a study published in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling (ARS).

Data from a combination of studies involving more than 220,000 participants indicated that a person's risk of cardiovascular disease decreases 4 percent for each daily serving of fruit and 7 percent for eachserving of vegetables added to their regular diet, according to ARS. Because of these results, many claim that the absence of meat in a vegetarian diet is a mere correlation, not to be confused with the cause of their lower risk for disease.

That being the case, meateaters would be able to share the same health benefits thatvegetarians do without forgoinganimal products in their diets. However, meat and animal fats are primary sources ofcholesterol, which leave depositsin blood vessels that cause heart attacks. So risk ofdisease is dampened byeating not only more fruits andvegetables, but also less meat.

These studies should comfort vegetarians who find themselves defending their diet choice and overall well being from skeptics. A vegetarian diet is not required to maintain a healthy balanceof nutrients, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Julia Rauchfuss is a freshman majoring in biomedical science.

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