Add more vegetables to your diet

October 4, 2013
Doctors stress that a balanced diet based on vegetables helps prevent obesity and related diseases. / Korea Times file

Doctors stress that a balanced diet based on vegetables helps prevent obesity and related diseases. / Korea Times file

By Yoon Ja-young

Vegetables rolled with Tofu accompanied by chick peas served at Bistro Seoul. The restaurant offers a menu for vegetarians derived mostly from traditional Korean dishes.  / Courtesy of Bistro Seoul

Vegetables rolled with Tofu accompanied by chick peas served at Bistro Seoul. The restaurant offers a menu for vegetarians derived mostly from traditional Korean dishes.
/ Courtesy of Bistro Seoul

Koreans consumed an average of 11.3 kilograms of meat per person in 1980, but annual consumption more than tripled to 38.8 kilograms in 2010. Changes in diet and eating habits, however, mean there has been an increase in the number of intestinal conditions and diseases and people are looking to traditional dishes that include more fruit and vegetables.

Benefits of a vegetarian diet

The developed world in the 21st century is engaged in a war on obesity. The numbers of seriously overweight people are growing explosively around the world, and Korea is not an exception — one in three Koreans is obese according to 2010 statistics.

Obesity can be deadly condition. A research team at the Columbia University reported that it accounts for 18.2 percent of deaths in the United States from 1986 to 2006, much higher than previous estimates of around 5 percent.

Eating too much meat, one of the causes of obesity, increases our intake of fat, especially saturated fat. This increases cholesterol, leading to atherosclerosis, which in turn raises blood pressure and makes a person more vulnerable to strokes, angina pectoris and myocardial infarction. Red meat is also known to increase the risk of colorectal cancer and other cancers in the vital organs.

Doctors thus recommend eating a balanced diet based on vegetables. “A vegetarian diet prevents cardiovascular diseases such as infarction and angina pectoris. As this diet has fewer carbohydrates and little fat, it is very effective in the prevention of obesity and lifestyle related diseases,” said Dr. Cho Ae-kyung at the We Clinic in southern Seoul. Cho, who is also certified by the Korean Vegetable Sommelier Association, promotes the benefits of a vegetarian diet. A vegetable sommelier certificate is conferred on people who have expert knowledge on the characteristics of all fruit and vegetables and how to best enjoy them.

The doctor also points out that the fiber in vegetables prevents atherosclerosis and is effective in reducing the risk of cancer. A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet rich in fiber lowers risk of breast cancer by 11 percent compared with a low-fiber diet.

Potassium, which is found in abundance in vegetables, helps the excretion of sodium from our body, and a vegetarian diet lowers the blood sugar level of diabetic people as well.

Tips for balanced vegetarian diet

The vegetarian diet, however, doesn’t mean eating only plants. “In vegetarian diet, the intake of protein, which is abundant in meat, naturally decreases. Hence, it is important to pursue a balanced diet by incorporating carbohydrates, protein and fat which are all essential to the human body, along with diverse minerals and other nutrients. Don’t forget that you should take protein, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc, whether from meat or others when you start vegetarian diet,” Cho said.

However, it isn’t all simple. It naturally takes more time and effort to establish a balanced vegetarian diet than one that includes meat. Here’s a tip from chef Lee Kun-ho, who is in charge of R&D at Sun At Food, a restaurant chain business that also runs Bistro Seoul, a Korean restaurant in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. The restaurant launched a vegetarian course, which he derived from the traditional Korean dishes.

“As our body is a nature to itself, it is best to make best use of natural ingredients. To make up for nutrients that can be lacking, ‘bibimbap’ using seasonal vegetables with diverse tastes and nutrients, or using a variety of ingredients such as soya meat, nuts, seaweeds and fruits together, can be a solution to fulfilling a nutritional balance,” he said. The simplest way to enjoy vegetarian dishes at home is to substitute a meal in your favorite recipe with vegetables or beans, according to the chef.

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