General Nutrition

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- see the menu on the right for more specific nutritional issue
Does a vegetarian diet meet the full needs of the human body?
from a reader in the USA: Yes. We weren't always meat eaters. There are entire populations today that are vegetarians - and they have fewer health problems that meat eating populations do.

Are there any documented instances where flesh of some kind is necessary?

from a member of ivu-sci:Since all of the nutrients in meat can be obtained from other sources I cannot see any situation in which it is strictly necessary to eat meat. The same probably goes for fish, although like meat, fish is a concentrated source of several nutrients which are less easy to obtain on a veg*n diet. A good example are the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) of which fish and seafoods are the main source. Vegans must convert alpha-linolenic acid (obtained from flax, canola (rapeseed) and soya oils) into these essential fatty acids.

What foods does vegan nutrition include and exclude?
from a reader in the USA: A vegan diet exludes all animal products. No flesh, dairy, eggs, or their derivatives.

See also: nutritioninanutshell.htm / hiddennastiesf_sheet.pdf

What health benefits are there to being a Vegetarian compared to being a Carnivore?
from a reader in the USA: Lower cholelsterol; blood pressure; risks of cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease...need I go on?

see also: / healthiestdietofall.htm

Do any health problems occur from being a vegetarian, i.e deficiencies of certain nutrients?
None at all! A vegan diet may be missing vitamin B12, but this is added to some foods or can be taken as a supplement. See Vitamin B12 on the right.

Where is a detailed table showing the percentage of various nutrients in all kinds of foods?
from a member of ivu-sci: Information of this sort can be obtained from food composition tables such as McCance & Widdowson's The Composition of Foods (published in the UK by the Royal Society of Chemistry). Your local library may have a copy or search online.

Is it possible to continue a vegetarian diet if you have 'diverticulosis' or 'irritable colon'?
from a member of ivu-sci: "Diets high in insoluble fibre (especially coarse wheat bran) speed up transit time through the gut, increase stool weight and relieve constipation. They are also associated with a reduced risk of diverticular disease and are of benefit in relieving at least some of the symptoms in those with established diverticulitis [1]."
Therefore, a high-fibre vegetarian diet would be a good diet to follow for diverticulitis sufferers. Indeed, there is some evidence that vegetarians may have a lower incidence of diverticular disease [2]. "However, it is preferable for fibre intakes to be increased through the consumption of a variety of cereals and vegetables rather than relying on extensive use of bran supplements [1]."

References: [1] Essentials of human nutrition. Jim Mann & A Stewart Truswell (eds). Oxford University Press, 1998. [2] Symptomless diverticular disease and intake of dietary fibre. Gear JSS et al. Lancet 1979, 511-514.

Is it safe for a diabetic to become vegetarian/vegan?
from a member of ivu-sci Not only is it perfectly safe, it may even prove beneficial. According to the British Diabetic Association, dietary recommendations for diabetics encourage a high intake of complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre and a low intake of fat, particularly saturated fat. Vegetarian diets tend to match these recommendations more closely than non-vegetarian diets. In their position paper on vegetarian diets, The American Dietetic Association state that "scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, DIABETES MELLITUS, and some types of cancer" (my emphasis). They also note that "type 2 diabetes mellitus is much less likely to be a cause of death in vegetarians than nonvegetarians, perhaps because of their higher intake of complex carbohydrates and lower body mass index" (body mass index is a measure of obesity). The text of the ADA position paper can be found online.
from a another member of ivu-sci In my opinion, there are no special dietary requirements for diabetics that can not be met with a PROPER veg*an diet. Your diet should include plenty of B-vitamin rich foods including whole grain breads and green leafy vegetables. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as spaghetti, white bread, etc. Regardless of your type of diabetes, carefully monitor your blood sugar levels as they may vary widely as you make the switch.

Is there a non animal form of glucose lowering agents for diabetics?
from a member of ivu-sci Do you mean glucose-lowering meds like Glucophage? Best bet is to check the PDR or other drug resource likely available online. (further answers wanted)

from a reader in India: There is a vegetable called bittergourd (Karela in Hindi) which is quite popular in India to lower or prevent diabetes. Also there is a spice called Methi (in Hindi don't know the English equivalent) which is to be soaked overnight and consumed on empty stomach the next morning with a glass of buttermilk. This too helps in lowering diabetes

How can I 'bulk up' and develop muscles on a vegetarian/vegan diet, instead of eating meat and taking creatine?
from Vesanto Melina, MS, RD: Regarding creatine question for athletes: The following information came from a sports nutrition presentation at American Dietetics Association convention, October 1998, which I attended. Then I have added practical information related to my books. A presentation by PhD Dr. Robert Murray explained that creatine is hydrophilic and retains water in the body, thus the bulking up effect is due to water, and generally occurs with creatine. You may not get that water effect without creatine. Creatine has not been shown to improve athletic performance; sports specialist Dr. Murray said that reliable research had not shown creatine to be effective in improving athletic performance. Research reports that showed anything like this were done in a misleading way. Furthermore, the effects of creatine over the long term are not known. Long term use could, for example, suppress one's ability to make creatine or have damaging side effects. This water effect is not actual increase in muscle. I find that sometimes vegan athletes aren't familiar with tasty and easy ways to prepare tofu (such as the tofu fingers in our "Becoming Vegetarian" and "Cooking Vegetarian" books) and don't know easy ways to include high protein foods such as lentils and other legumes in the diet. They also may not know vegan ways to get enough calories. (Or to accommodate such challenges as cooking for one, having limited cooking facilities, eating at restaurants a lot.) For further information, and details of Vesanto's speaking tours see:

from John Toomey, Australia: This is one of my favorite topics. Having worked for several years in Professional Football in Australia and having close links with many Sports Science professionals in the NFL, I can assure you that Creatine is a waste of time. Vesanto hit the nail on the head. It causes a major flow of water into the muscle cell. You can pick footballers who start using it without authorisation because they get a puffy appearance. Long term use may well be harmful. Having been a Vegan for 20 years, I have introduced many professional footballers to a vegan diet style, with many wonderful results. When it comes down to it, I have never believed in hyper protein consumption. I have never seen it do anyone a lot of good. Very lean athletes have really only one path to take to gain weight. That is, once you are getting enough protein (which requires no special effort) and enough carbohydrate (about 8 grams per kilogram of body weight) and try to make that unrefined carbohydrate, the aim should be calories, calories, calories after that. The best, most healthful source of additional calories are monounstaurates. So, I suggest adding at least one Avocado and a half cup of Olive Oil to your daily diet. I used this with many footballers and just watched them grow, without getting fat. Remember, weight gain requires calories. If you are doing the resistance training, you will stimulate muscle growth. All you have to do is provide the calories, healthfully. Good luck.

see also: foodofchampions.htm

How can a vegan diet help control high cholesterol?
from a reader in the USA: A vegan diet is free of all animal products, hence free of cholesterol. By not ingesting any cholesterol, you can help control your blood levels of it. Our bodies make all the cholesterol we need.

see also: heartdiseasefactsheet.pdf

Is it possible to be vegetarian without losing weight, possibly even gain weight?