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Answers and Explanations

Find answers to your nutrition, exercise, and wellness questions. This page will be updated regularly based on feedback from the community. Send us your questions at kinesiology@oxy.edu.

1. Is it dangerous to be vegetarian?

The benefits and risks of vegetarian diets depend on the variety and type of food you eat. Healthy vegetarian diets include a wide variety of plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. These diets carry minimal risk and can help protect against diseases like coronary heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. However, like all other diets, vegetarian diets that don’t include a variety of nutrients may lead to nutrient deficiencies and thus negatively influence health.

Unbalanced vegetarian diets are most likely to be deficient in nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarians should be sure to include lots of foods rich in these nutrients in their diets.

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Another concern in vegetarian diets is protein consumption. While vegetarian diets that don’t include a wide variety of foods may lead to protein deficiency, vegetarians who obtain protein from many different plant sources don’t have a problem. Here are some examples of the many sources of protein, which vegetarians could consume:

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It should be noted that the benefits of balanced vegetarian diets aren’t necessarily unique to vegetarian diets. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables that also include small intakes of red meat, fish, and dairy products can also protect against disease. Find out more on our nutrition pages.

2. Is it more important to exercise or to have good nutrition?

Even with the research, it is difficult to determine whether exercise or nutrition is more important than the other. Both nutrition and exercise are modifiable risk factors that can help prevent cardiovascular disease and premature death.  Research shows that when proper nutrition and regular physical activity are combined, the risk for premature death drops dramatically, more than simply adding the effects of each one individually.  In other words, these two lifestyle factors are synergistic.

For instance, if we participate in the recommended amount of physical activity throughout the week but overconsume calories, energy intake would exceed energy expenditure.  This could result in weight gain and associated health problems associated with being overweight.  On the other hand, if we have a healthy diet, but neglect exercise it is possible to increase risk for cardiovascular disease 2-5 fold.

3. Do fast food restaurants serve anything that is healthy?

Although it is cheap and convenient, fast food can suffer from low nutrient density and can be high in trans-fat, saturated fat, sodium, and calories. However, by making smart choices you can avoid the most harmful menu options. Fast food chains usually have nutritional guides available online and in-store to help you in your dietary decisions, but if you are looking for some quick tips check out the list below.  Keep in mind, even if your family follows the tips below, fast food consumption should be limited.  Check out the Healthy Family Meals page to learn how to make quick healthy meals at home.

Tips for making healthier choices at fast food restaurants:

    1. Substitute fried foods for healthier options: Instead of french fries, order a side salad and do not use all of the salad dressing. Instead of fried chicken, choose grilled chicken. If you can’t ignore the fry craving, fast food restaurants will prepare fries without salt to help cut down on the sodium as long as you ask.
    2. Drink water:  Soda can add many calories to your meal. A 32-oz Big Gulp of regular cola packs about 425 calories. Choose water instead and add lemon for more flavor.
    3. Skip the fattening condiments and add-ons: Order your burger without mayonnaise, bacon, or cheese to reduce fat and unnecessary calories. If you are afraid of a bland burger, ask for your own ketchup and mustard packets so that you can control the amount of sauce in your meal. Also consider adding more vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, and lettuce to add a crunch and boost your burger’s nutritional value.
    4. Never supersize your meal: Fast food portions are already large and can amount to 1000 calories or more. Rather than supersizing, consider splitting your meal with a dining buddy.
    5. Choose whole-wheat when available: Some fast food restaurants offer whole-wheat tortillas and buns.  Whole-wheat options provide more fiber and make you feel full sooner.

 
References
Ding, E. L., & Hu, F. B. (2010). Commentary: Relative importance of diet vs physical activity for health. International Journal of Epidemiology, 39(1), 209-211.
Marsh, K.A., Munn, E.A., & Baines, S.K. (2012). Protein and vegetarian diets. MJA Open, 1(2), 7-10.
McEvoy, C.T., Temple, N., & Woodside, J.V. (2012). Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. Public Health Nutrition, 15(12), 2287-2294.
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