Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat (red meat, poultry). Depending on the type of the vegetarian diet, it may also exclude fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Provided that a vegetarian diet is well planned and applied after consultation with a health care provider, any individual of any age group can adopt it.

The Messinian Diet consists of local products such as olive oil, table olives, wine, fruit, and vegetables. It is based on fresh healthy ingredients that nature offers in abundance. Foods such as greens (horta), vegetables, fruit, legumes, fish, and notably olive oil and tables olives are typical Messinian products. Messinian olive oil is particularly renowned for being a 100% natural fruit juice of the highest quality and unique nutritional value, belonging to the extra virgin olive oil category. For these reasons, the Messinian Diet can deservedly support any type of vegetarian diet. 

In regards to its health benefits, it has been proven that a vegetarian diet helps reduce total blood cholesterol levels, decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. It is also associated with lower levels of obesity (body mass index) and the development of cancers.As for its nutritional value, vegetarian diets are rich in dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folic acid and antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. Studies have demonstrated that individuals that follow a vegetarian diet have lower saturated fat and dietary cholesterol levels, mainly due to the exclusion of meat. Poorly planned vegetarian diets, however, may be low in vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.In general, vegetarian diets can be part of a balanced nutritional plan and also offer health benefits for the prevention of chronic diseases. There are seven subtypes of vegetarian diets, depending on the specific food groups they allow or not (Table 1).
According to the table above, the stricter a diet is in terms of limiting animal protein sources, i.e., fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, the more acute the problems due to nutrient deficiencies might be. A careful combination of legumes with nuts or cereals, such as a lentil and rice dish, can provide high biological value protein. Since vegetarian diets do not allow the consumption of meat, the daily requirements of protein intake can be met by a variety of plant sources. Rich sources of plant-based protein are cereals, legumes and nuts.
While vegetarian diets are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, they often lack omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies cannot synthesize and need to be obtained from dietary sources. When fish is excluded from vegetarian diets, the intake of essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), decreases. These fatty acids are important for cardiovascular function, cognitive health, and visual acuity. However, some plant foods, such as flaxseed, walnuts and soy, can provide alpha-linolenic acid, which the human body uses to synthesize the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acid fortified foods, like margarine spreads, are other sources of EPA and DHA for people following a vegetarian diet.
Furthermore, the abstention from meat and dairy products and the presence of plant foods in vegetarian diets hinder the required intake of essential minerals and trace elements. Red meat is the best source of absorbable iron. Vegetarian diets that include animal protein, such as poultry meat, shellfish and some fish (perch, sardines, swordfish), offer some important amounts of absorbable iron. Plant sources of iron include legumes, mushrooms, peas, artichokes and cherries. However, iron from plant foods is not as easily absorbed from the body. To increase the level of iron absorption, it is recommended that plant foods be combined with a food source of vitamin C or animal iron source. Dishes such as chicken with mushrooms, artichokes ala polita with plenty of lemon juice (vitamin C) or a fruit salad with cherries, kiwis and strawberries (vitamin C sources) enhance iron absorption. On the other hand, iron-containing food should not be consumed with dairy products as calcium blocks iron absorption.
Dairy products are a main source of calcium so if the vegetarian diet excludes such foods, calcium has to be found in other sources. Eating fish with bones provide good amounts of calcium. Though calcium is present in legumes and some vegetables, it is not readily absorbed since the presence of phytic acid and oxalic acid prevent good absorption from the body. Vegetarians can generally meet their nutritional needs for calcium by consuming a variety of plant sources rich in calcium. Even though their bioavailability of calcium is rather low, nuts and seeds can contribute to calcium needs. Fortified with calcium food such as wholegrain breakfast cereals, biscuits, fresh juices or non-dairy milks fortified with calcium, like soymilk and almond milk, can also contribute a significant amount of calcium requirements.
Finally, vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods and has particular nutritional value, especially for the development of the nervous system. While vitamin B12 is not present in plant foods, vegetarians can meet their dietary needs from fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and soy products.
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