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Vegetarianism part 1: Why vegetarian? And what doctors say about the diet

Ahram Online speaks to vegetarians in Egypt and a doctor who stresses why setting a plan for that lifestyle and diet choice is so important

Ingy Deif, Monday 6 Feb 2012
vegetarian food
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Although in a notably staggering economy it might be more economical for Egyptians to switch to a vegetable diet and forego meat, many current vegetarians have their own reasons, such as ethics, hygiene or being "unique."

"To me every part of an animal resembles a part of my body: I too have ribs, shoulders and legs, and I simply can't eat a part of something that breathes!" says Salma Amin, an executive manager who had been a devotee of vegetarianism for the past ten years.

For Heba Tawfeeq, a housewife, shunning meat and poultry began since childhood. "I simply thought that eating something that once had blood flowing through its body is gross!" she exclaims.

Another example we came upon was a group of school girls in Maadi district, who actually thought that being a group of friends who are vegetarians was cool and made them stand out in a crowd!

As for the few men Ahram Online interviewed who endorsed this diet, most had the notion that being a vegetarian can help you live longer and avoid cardiovascular diseases.

"There are various justifications for following a vegetarian diet, whether they be ethical, religious, financial or just for the sake of preventing specific illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption," described Dr Iman El-Tahlawy, assistant professor of Public and Environmental Health, National Research Centre.

"But," the doctor continues "a person should be clear on the type of diet they choose, understand the risks involved and make up for whatever is missing to make sure they get their daily nutritional needs."

Hazards involved

Dr El-Tahlawy elaborates on the risks involved when a person pays no attention to maintaining the right nutritional balance in the case of strict vegetarian diets as follows:

"Keeping fit and healthy is attainable for vegetarians as long as special attention is paid to replacing the elements that might be lacking in their food choices and could subsequently result in health hazards such as anaemia (iron deficiency), macrocytic anaemia (deficiency of B-12) or rickets (vitamin D deficiency)" she says.

"It is very important to note that it is not very advisable for children to follow strict vegetarian diets. Fatigue can set in, for example, as well as 'low protein quality' due to a lack of certain amino acids found in animal proteins. This can be avoided by ensuring that the diet contains various forms of vegetarian protein sources."

Finally, she notes, that vegetarian females should ensure they should ensure they are getting enough calcium.

Know your vegetarianism

"Vegetarianism varies greatly according to a person's preference. For example, some vegetarians follow a very strict diet, avoiding even derivatives of animal products. Others follow what we call a 'flexitarian' diet, where they do occasionally eat meat, fish, chicken, dairy products and eggs. However, there are generally three kinds of vegetarians and knowing which category you fall into is vital to help you plan a balanced diet:

Vegans abstain from all kinds of chicken, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.

Lacto-vegetarians don’t eat any kind of meat, fish, or chicken and eggs, but do consume dairy products.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians do eat eggs, dairy products, but avoid fish, meat and chicken.

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