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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are some of the changes I can expect after starting a vegetarian diet?

    I have recently switched to a vegetarian diet. Are there any immediate health benefits or physical changes I can expect?
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    The Australian Vegetarian Society's aim is to increase the number of vegetarians in Australia in order to stop cruelty to animals, benefit human health, protect ... View Profile

    You may eat more food because you're eating less fat, which is calorie-dense. Meat, the leading source of fat in the Australian diet, has no fibre and is high in calories. So relax, you may be eating more food, but it is bulky and has fewer calories per unit of volume than meat.
     
    You may lose weight. Most people are pleased that healthy vegetarian foods have less fat and calories.
     
    You may be less constipated. People who eat a  typical Australian diet may be
    constipated and not realise it. Making the switch to a healthier, high-fibre vegetarian diet can lead to more regular bowel movements.
     
    People may give you a hard time, but don't let this worry you. Your dietary changes may be perceived by your family, friends and acquaintances as threatening or as criticism. Be cheerful about your choices, and remember to let people come to their own dietary conclusions.
     
    Most new vegetarians report that they feel great! Some say they've never felt better in their lives. For some people there is a brief adjustment period where they may feel weak or tired as their bodies detoxify. This should pass quickly if you are eating a varied diet comprised of unrefined foods. Meat acts as a stimulant, and you may experience withdrawal symptoms like someone who has just given up coffee. This should pass within a few days to a month. Many do not experience this adjustment at all and most find after they adjust that they have more energy and feel better than ever.
     
    Remember, you will be embarking on an exciting journey! Get ready to enjoy a wide variety of new foods. Some vegetarians like the many meat substitutes  available commercially, especially in the beginning. You may want to branch out and try tofu, soy burgers, for example. Others find the meat-like texture unpleasant. Most importantly, you will naturally increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet which will confer long-term health benefits. You will undoubtedly find your favourite vegetarian foods after you have had a chance to experiment. Enjoy the experience!

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    Mel Haynes

    Nutritionist

    Chef, Scientist and Nutritionist. I specialise culinary nutrition and disease prevention with plant based diets. www.culinetica.com.au View Profile

    Some of the main health benefits to switching to vegetarianism or veganism include:

    weight loss (1)
    increased immune system (2)
    reduced risk of disease including CVD, diabetes and cancer (1)
    lowering of cholesterol (3)
    Reduction in stored environmental polutants (4)

    Other benefits to being vegetarian include:

    lower in clost (beans, legumes, rice, grains are cheaper than meat)
    Better for the environment (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-carbon-footprint-diet)
    Reduce the 60 billion animals in captivity ready for human consuption

    (1) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1627S.full
    (2) 22. Malter M, Schriever G, Eilber U. Natural killer cells, vitamins, and other brood components of vegetarian and omnivorous men. Nutr Cancer.
    (3) 
    http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/29/8/1777.short
    (4) http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Dioxin_Report_0605.pdf

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