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Advantages and disadvantages of being a vegetarian: Discoveries from medicine

The abandonment of eating animal products is becoming increasingly popular. Some become vegetarians and vegans for religious or cultural reasons, others believe that the vegetarian diet helps them prevent atherosclerosis, cancer, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases. Do the medical records confirm this?

Researchers from universities participating in the 5-100 project tried to find the answer.

Benefits of a new diet

From a physiological point of view, a person needs several nutrients that the body cannot synthesize and that are only consumed with products of animal or vegetable origin, says employee at the Department of Food and Biological Technologies at Ural State University from the south, Lina Tsirulnichenko.

“The absence of these dietary factors can lead to various health disorders, including the immune system and the endocrine system. It is necessary to pay special attention to the diet of a growing organism when it is extremely important to create all the necessary conditions for each person to be healthy in the future. “Against this background, one can talk about negative aspects of the vegetarian diet, especially the vegan. In addition, a sudden change from the traditional food system to the alternative can produce an increased stress level and cause various health problems,”

; explains the expert for Sputnik.

According to Lina Tsirulnichenko, the vegan diet can in several cases be recommended for a short period based on a certain person’s personal health indicators to restore health.

“It is necessary to remember that there are cultural and religious aspects of food where the vegetarian diet is the lifestyle,” the expert emphasizes.

According to researchers from the Russian University of Friendship of Peoples – RUDN for its abbreviation in Russian – the exclusion of foods of animal origin changes the chemical composition of the diet. They tested how this is reflected in different body systems and affects the possibility of getting sick. The results of his research are published in the international scientific journal Microelementi v Medicine (Microelements in Medicine).

Vegetarians and vegans are known for rarely suffers from diseases of the colon, including oncology. According to Alexéi Gálchenko, assistant at the Department of Medical Elementology at the RUDN Medical Institute, there are several reasons for this.

“First of all, vegetarians consume much more dietary fiber. These components accelerate the passage of food through the intestines. In addition, they are not digested by the human body and act as food for the intestinal flora. In addition, food passes through the intestines accelerates magnesium ions “Magnesium and calcium deficiencies are often observed in the countries of Northern Europe and North America”, the expert explains to Sputnik.

Many vegetarians and vegans report that after leaving animal products, they feel calmer. According to researchers, this is because the body receives a larger amount of magnesium which balances the function of the central nervous system.


According to experts, one of the disadvantages of the vegetarian diet is the risk of anemia. This is not about iron deficiency anemia. One of the biggest threats to vegetarian and vegan health is megaloblastic anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. Plant foods almost completely lack this vitamin because plants, according to researchers, do not accumulate it.

If vegetarians consume a large amount of B12 from eggs and dairy products, vegans cannot. Attempts are currently being made to find vitamin B12 in vegan-consumed products, but the problem has not yet been resolved.

“Mixed food lovers often suffer from megaloblastic anemia. This is due to the fact that, unlike vegans and vegetarians, they consume insufficient amounts of folic acid and its deficiency leads to abnormal cell division,” reports Alexei Gálchenko.

How about calcium absorption?

Another problem for vegans and to a lesser extent for vegetarians is the reduction in bone density. Vegans tend to consume less calcium, which is the main component of the inorganic bone matrix. Most importantly, calcium is poorly absorbed from most plant foods. Vegetarians, on the other hand, consume a lot of calcium, even more than those who eat all kinds of food. At the same time, the problem of reduced bone density is also relevant to them.

According to the researchers, the reason for this is that a good absorption of calcium in the intestines is impossible without another important component in the food: vitamin D. This vitamin is primarily present in fish and in smaller amounts in other products. of animal origin, such as liver or eggs. The products vegetables contain low amounts of vitamin D..

Vitamin D deficiency is typical of non-tropical countries, it is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the northern regions. Vitamin D can be produced in the human body from ultraviolet radiation, but in Russia’s central latitudes this can not completely solve the problem.

The results of the research from RUDN researchers show that the imbalance in the presence of the most important micro- and ultra-microelements in food increases the risk of deficiency in those who exclude one or other products from the diet.

Vegans eat a lot of iron, but iron in plant foods has low bioavailability and is therefore poorly absorbed. Vegetable foods also contain iron absorption inhibitors (phytic acid). As a result, vegans have a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia compared to people who eat animal foods.

Cholesterol and trace elements

According to RUDN experts, the direct consequence of a vegetarian and especially vegan diet is the reduction in the consumption of saturated fatty acids and cholesterol. The latter is almost exclusively included in products of animal origin, which is why vegans do not consume it.

Cholesterol is an important substance for the human body: it regulates the physical properties of the cell membrane, as well as it participates in the synthesis of many hormones. In healthy people, the liver performs the function of synthesizing cholesterol even if it is lacking in the diet.

An excessive amount of cholesterol can not find a place in tissues and circulates for a long time in the blood vessels. This increases the risk of the proteins that carry cholesterol in the bloodstream being oxidized, leading to atherosclerosis. Later, the atheroma plaques worsen the rheological properties of the blood, causing many cardiovascular diseases.

The vegans’ diet is usually less rich in calories than those who consume products of animal origin. As a result, the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes decreases. In the prevention of diabetes, various trace elements play an important role. Plant foods are rich in manganese, copper and chromium which regulate blood sugar levels. At the same time, another element that is necessary to regulate the level of insulin in the blood is zinc and it is less absorbed from plant foods.

At present, all food groups in the population have a high risk of iodine deficiency, according to the results of other research. This risk is higher for vegans and vegetarians. In addition, the properties of agricultural soil play a role in status of iodine in the body. To solve this problem, many countries are taking measures to prevent iodine deficiency (food fortification).

A poorly thought-out diet can have unpleasant consequences for vegetarians and vegans as well as for those who consume animal products as well, believes Alexéi Gálchenko.

“Developing a diet is a complicated task, so it is necessary to consult a professional dietitian,” he concludes.

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