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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

The Many Facets of a Vegetarian Diet : A plant-based diet provides many benefits to our health, according to Dr. Michelle Retz

Nov 02, 2014 02:22PM ● By Dr. Michelle Retz

Vegetarians have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglycerides and a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. The highest rates of breast cancer are found in countries that consume the most animal fats: the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and Australia. Studies show that vegetarian females eliminate two to three times more estrogen than meat eaters, causing a lower estrogen level and reduced risk of breast and uterine cancer, endometriosis, fibroids, PMS and heavy menstrual cycles.

Osteoporosis is another concern that results from a high protein diet. Too much protein is acidic and lowers the blood pH. The body quickly pulls calcium out of the bones to restore an alkaline environment. Over time, enough calcium is lost that brittle bones can begin to develop. A vegetarian diet, which is significantly lower in protein than a meat-based diet, can be an important factor in osteoporosis prevention.

Evidence shows that deviating from our ancestors’ predominantly plant-based diet to a domesticated animal-based diet is a major factor in the development of heart disease, cancer, strokes, arthritis and many other chronic degenerative diseases. Many medical organizations recommend that we should focus primarily on plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, peas, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy in moderation for protection against the development of chronic disease.

One of the key aspects of a plant-based diet is its high fiber content. This is preventative against diverticulosis, appendicitis and colon cancer. Low-fiber diets may allow toxins to stay in contact with the intestinal lining longer, causing increased risk of these diseases. In addition, a healthy plant-based diet is low in saturated fat, high in essential fatty acids and high in antioxidants.

Many medical experts recommend that Americans eat two to three servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables daily to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent are meeting even the lowest recommendations although studies show that a high intake of carotene and flavonoid-rich foods reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease and strokes.

These compounds are powerful antioxidants and protect us from free radical damage caused by pollution, smoking, alcohol and poor diet. They are found in bright red, yellow, orange and purple foods. The best sources of carotenes are green leafy vegetables and yellow-orange foods like carrots, apricots, mangos, yams and squash. Legumes, grains and seeds are also great sources. The best sources of flavonoids are citrus fruits, berries, onions, parsley, legumes, green tea and red wine.

Many vegetarians become “carb-etarians” or “soy-etarians". Carbs from too many grains, rice, breads, pastas and cereals increase blood sugar and diabetes risk, cause weight gain, increase cancer risk and can aggravate mood, PMS and preexisting conditions. More than half of the carbs Americans eat are in the form of sweetening agents. Additionally, soy found in vegetarian foods is often genetically modified, or only a part of the plant (soy protein isolate) is used; what is eaten is not what is found in nature. Eating soy three or more days per week puts us at risk of developing not only a food sensitivity, but also reduced thyroid function.

Food additives like preservatives, artificial colors, flavorings and acidifiers are found in processed foods. Many additives have been linked to depression, cancer, asthma, allergies, ADHD, learning disabilities and migraines. Pesticides and waxes are also a concern. The major risks of long-term exposure to pesticides are cancer, birth defects and many chronic diseases. Most waxes, which are used to prevent spoiling, have pesticides or fungicides added to them.

A healthy vegetarian diet is one that is high in plant-based protein and fiber; low in trans fats; full of healthy vegetables and fruits; lower in grains, pastas, breads, rice and cereals; devoid of refined white flour and sugar; low in pesticides and herbicides; and low in food additives and preservatives. Those at risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke or osteoporosis are urged to consider a vegetarian diet as an important step on the path to wellness.

Michelle Retz is a primary care naturopathic physician at Longevity Medical Health Center. For more information, call 602-428-6151 or visit

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