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Vegetarian diets have hidden benefits

Published: Sunday, February 5, 2012

Updated: Monday, February 6, 2012 03:02

 

Vegetarians and vegans can vouch that if the most frequently asked question about their diet isn't, "Why?" then it is most certainly, "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 most Americans, who rarely consider how much of each food group they consume on a daily basis. Vegetarians aren't just keeping 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 end up meeting more of their nutritional 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 by installing designated vegetarian sections in three out of the four dining halls on campus. In 2009, USF was ranked 5th in the nation by Peta2 in their Most Vegetarian-Friendly College Competition  and continues bringing new meatless options to students' tables.

The success is also apparent in the numbers. Recent studies provide counter evidence to the common misconceptions that vegetarians are malnourished, finding that vegans and vegetarians have a lower incidence of diabetes by 50 percent and vegetarians have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease mortality by 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 each serving 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, meat eaters would be able to share the same health benefits that vegetarians do without forgoing animal products in their diets. However, meat and animal fats are primary sources of cholesterol, which leave deposits in blood vessels that cause heart attacks. So risk of disease is dampened by eating not only more fruits and vegetables, 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 balance of nutrients, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Julia Rauchfuss is a freshman majoring in biomedical science.

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