"Cibi innocentes, innocent foods, are foods obtained without bloodshed." This is what the church father Jerome of Bethlehem (331-420) said long ago - an attitude shared by most vegetarians. Respect for life is one of the main motives to eat no meat and no fish. We look at the question of how healthy a meatless diet is and how to get such important nutrients as protein and iron even without meat.
Forms of vegetarianism
In Germany, around 7.8 million people (as of January 2015) are vegetarian. The bovine epidemic BSE, the sometimes catastrophic conditions under which animals are kept and slaughtered, fattening aids in feed, antibiotics and other drug residues in meat - all these are ethical reasons why people refuse meat.
Another, increasingly important reason: vegetarians, as evidenced by various studies, are healthier than meat eaters. But vegetarians are not all vegetarians. Depending on how heavily animal foods are deleted from the diet, one differentiates:
- Ovo lacto vegetarians: they eat milk, dairy products and eggs
- Lacto-vegetarians: Milk and dairy products are accepted
- Vegans: All animal foods are rejected
How healthy is vegetarian nutrition?
At the beginning of the eighties, the University of Gießen, the Cancer Research Center Heidelberg and the Federal Health Office Berlin carried out three large vegetarian studies independently of each other - with astounding findings. Thus, vegetarians have lower blood pressure, better body weight, longer life expectancy, and lower susceptibility to cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Comparable studies from other countries come to similar conclusions. The study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has monitored 11, 000 vegetarian women for 12 years. She compared her participants with a control group that, apart from meat consumption, had a similar lifestyle and social status as the vegetarians studied.
The result: Vegetarians showed better scores in all key points, especially lower blood pressure, blood lipid and uric acid levels and better kidney function. The mortality rate was 20% and the cancer death rate even 40% lower than in the meat-eating control group. In summary, it can be concluded from these studies that vegetarians have no deficiency symptoms, that the general health status is above average and that the vegetarian diet can be described as healthy. But from a nutritional point of view there are some points to keep in mind:
Nutrients in meat and dairy products
Meat and meat products are considered to be important nutrients for iron, zinc and a range of B vitamins. This is particularly important for children up to the age of 18. If these foods are avoided, the important nutrients they contain must be supplied from other foods. Therefore, nutritionists are critical of the strict vegan food intake, in which animal protein is completely absent.
Also, calcium, vitamin B12, iron and iodine are not absorbed sufficiently. Vegetarians, on the other hand, who eat milk, dairy products and eggs and otherwise feed themselves wholeheartedly with grains, vegetables, legumes and nuts, receive enough protein.
The supply of vitamin B12 is guaranteed, as it is contained in milk, yogurt & Co. Although iron is also found in plants, animal iron is better absorbed by humans.
However, a better intake can be achieved by consuming enough vitamin C, such as fruit juice. Then up to seven times the normal amount of iron is absorbed by the body. Vegetarians should avoid products that inhibit iron intake, such as black tea, coffee, cocoa, garlic and onions. Finally, iodine is contained in marine products in milk and dairy products.
In principle, more and more doctors are in favor of a balanced, wholesome diet, in which meat is very low in any case. However, if you want to eat completely vegan, you should discuss this with your doctor and get informed. A complete renunciation of animal protein does not have to lead to deficiency symptoms.
The deceased at the age of 91 years Dr. Bruker, who offered a vegan diet, recommended to his patients a varied herbal diet, which should be enjoyed as raw as possible in order to absorb the vegetable protein. According to current knowledge about 50 grams and less (depending on body size) protein.