Fewer vegetarians than meat-eaters are overweight. That doesn't mean avoiding meat is the key to weight control, though. With or without meat, filling up on fruits and vegetables instead of sweets, high-fat snack foods, high-sugar drinks and alcohol make weight control easier.
One of the major heart-related benefits of vegetarian eating is probably the low level of cholesterol-raising saturated fat in these diets, but this doesn't mean completely omitting meat from the diet is necessary for good health. Foods like fish, skinless poultry and even lean red meats don't add much saturated fat, as long as portions are kept moderate. Cholesterol-raising trans fat is another issue to consider. A “vegetarian” diet rich in deep-fried or high-fat foods is far from healthful.
Some studies have linked red meat to a greater risk of colon cancer, but a new report in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition questions such a link. Even if cancer or heart disease is related to processed meats and sausages, high-fat meats and those cooked at high-temperatures (which form carcinogens), that doesn’t necessarily mean all meat, fish and poultry pose a risk.
AICR claims that vegetarian eating may reduce the risk of some cancers, but emphasizes that any beneficial effects of a vegetarian diet may also be gained from one that limits meat and other animal products, and emphasizes an abundance of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. The same conclusion probably applies to heart-related and other health benefits of vegetarian eating. It’s not just what you avoid, it’s what you eat that counts.
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