Drew’s Environmental Action League (DEAL), along with co-sponsors Earth House and Students for Sustainable Food, held a talk about popular vegetarian and vegan diet. The talk was led by Stephanie Geraci (’14), a nutrition major at St. Elizabeth College originally from Chatham, N..
According to Geraci, she chose vegetarianism for a number of reasons. “I found that I had more energy and felt more healthy,” she said. “I also like the food, have less cravings for junk food and save money because meat is usually very expensive.”
In her presentation, “Health Benefits and Concerns of Vegetarian Diets,” Geraci highlighted several aspects of vegan and vegetarian diets including health benefits, concerns, how to build a healthy diet and the type of food to buy.
Geraci explained the restrictions of the two diets: Vegetarians refrain from eating animal flesh or meat, while vegans refrain from both meat and dairy products like milk, cheese and eggs.
When describing the health benefits of vegetarianism, Geraci said “it improves heart health, reduces chances of incurring chronic diseases and can aid in weight management.”
Specifically, vegetarianism has been found to reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. Vegetarians and vegans are also 20 percent less likely to have stomach, bladder and lymphatic cancer. Moreover, the high fiber intake of vegetarians and vegans reduces cravings for food as their diets are more filling, which can help weight management.
Geraci also detailed common concerns of vegetarianism and veganism such as vitamin B12 deficiency, calcium and iron absorption and protein intake.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is very serious, as it may increase risk of heart disease. Calcium and iron are also significant to the body, specifically blood and bone health.
Vegetarians and vegans often have difficulty absorbing these minerals, as vegetables that are rich in them often inhibit their absorption. Furthermore, not consuming enough protein can also have adverse effects on the body.
The speaker reassured Drewids they could easily overcome these concerns with a few tweeks to the diet. Geraci said, “Vitamin B12 deficiency can be avoided by consuming foods that are fortified with B12 including some cereals, soy products and nutritional yeast, or by taking Vitamin B12 supplements.”
In response to the lack of calcium and iron absorption experienced by vegetarians and vegans, Geraci said, “Vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits and red bell peppers among other foods, improve absorption of these minerals.”
In reference to protein deficiency, Geraci said,“Quinoa and soy are complete proteins, while all plant foods contain incomplete proteins. By eating a wide variety of food throughout the day, adequate amounts of all amino acids can be obtained even without the consumption of animal products.” Drewids also received tips on how to build a healthy diet. She said, “The most important things to remember are to replace any animal products in the diet with vegetarian products, to eat a wide variety of foods, not just salad.”
She also added, “And to use the many recipes available, such as those found in Indian cuisine, to enhance the foods available.”
Geraci listed foods that should be included on vegetarian and vegan shopping lists. Some foods that made the cut were dried and fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, fruit juices, both soy and nut milks and olive, canola and coconut oil.
Another important food group to include is fresh vegetables. According to Geraci, “The best thing about vegetables is that you can cook them in advance and store them in a freezer for months afterwards.”
Geraci also warned Drew students about beans and pastas. She said “Go slow when eating beans, starting with a half a cup a day. Beans are a powerhouse and last a long time as they are high in fiber. Also, vegans beware: some pastas are made with eggs.”
At the end, she gave the audience members multiple handouts about the two diets in addition to a mini quiz at the end to see what students could recall from her talk. Her zeal for nutrition was clearly apparent in her presentation about the health benefits and concerns of vegetarian and vegan diets.