Ranked #11 by the by the U.S. News & World Report, vegetarianism is a sound diet choice for overall hearth health and weight management.
Have you been considering going vegetarian? Many people are. However, before you make such a drastic change to your diet, you should be aware of everything it entails; the risks, the benefits, and what it might mean to your health, as well as the health of your family and/or unborn child.
Vegetarians are broken down into 4 types. Which type are you?
First, What Exactly IS a Vegetarian Diet?
The quick answer is a vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat. However, to be more technical, vegetarians are broken down into 4 types:
- Lacto-Vegetarian - They eat dairy products, such as milk and cheese, but not eggs.
- Ovo-Vegetairan - Who eat eggs and honey, but no diary.
- Lacto-Ovovegetarian - They eat eggs, honey, and diary products.
- Vegans - They eat only plants, no eggs, honey, or dairy products.
In this article, we will talk about lacto-ovovegetarians, as this is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
Top Benefits of Going Vegetarian
There are multiple benefits of going vegetarian, but we will list the top 5 here.
- Lower Body Weight - Studies have found that those who go vegetarian either lose weight or maintain their weight over a 5 year period, when compared to meat eaters. Since a vegetarian diet is lower in sugar and fat than a conventional diet, it's natural that most people lose weight without even trying. Of course, you will still need to watch out for junk food, sugary snacks, and processed food, but those who decide to go vegetarian find that they lose weight easily, and that their body appears to find a normal, comfortable weight with very little effort.
- Much Lower Cholesterol - Heart disease is one of the top killers around the world. A vegetarian diet leads to lower cholesterol levels, which, in turn, leads to lower incidences of heart disease. In fact, studies have found that going vegetarian is just as effective as cholesterol lowering prescription drugs.
- Lower Risk of Disease - An article in 2012, published in Food Technology, found that vegetarians had much lower risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.
- Lower Risk of Cancer - Numerous studies have linked a vegetarian diet to a lower risk of cancer than meat eaters.
- Longer Lifespan - Because of the lowered risk of developing certain diseases and cancer, vegetarians also enjoy a longer lifespan.
As long as vegetarians monitor their consumption of snack foods, junk foods, and bread, most vegetarians enjoy good health.
The Pitfalls of a Vegetarian Diet
Like everything in life, a vegetarian diet isn't all sunshine and bananas. The major risks of adopting a vegetarian diet are:
- Vitamin, Mineral, or Protein Deficiency - If vegetarians do not eat a balanced diet, they can find themselves suffering from a nutritional deficiency. The most common deficiencies are vitamin D, B12, calcium, and protein.
- Weight Gain from Carbs - Too many vegetarians fill up on refined carbohydrates, such as bread, doughnuts, or cake. This can result in weight gain.
- Low Cholesterol Levels - You might think cholesterol is a bad thing, but the truth is that the body MUST have cholesterol to work properly.
- Increased Risk of Colon Cancer - The reason for this is not fully understood, but vegetarians have a 39 percent greater chance of developing colon cancer than meat eaters.
- Low Levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential because the body does not make them. We must get them from food, and the best source of this fatty acid is fish.
You can avoid these problems by being sure to include certain foods and/or supplements in your diet.
- B12 deficiencies are easily resolved by taking a vitamin B complex supplement as directed.
- Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin for a reason; our bodies change sunlight into vitamin D. Getting 30 minutes of sunshine on your bare skin each day should give you enough vitamin D. You can also eat more foods that are vitamin D fortified, such as cereal and soya milk.
- Zinc is a tiny mineral that our bodies absolutely require. You can get this by including seeds and nuts in your diet. Brazil nuts are an easy way to get all the zinc you need. Just one large or two medium sized Brazil nuts are all you need to satisfy your zinc requirements for the day!
- Iron deficiencies can be a problem for many vegetarians if they are not careful about their diet. You can get iron by eating plenty of dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and chickpeas.
- Calcium can be another problem for vegetarians. Adding almonds, tofu, dried fruit, and calcium fortified drinks, such as orange juice and almond milk, can help add plenty of calcium to the diet.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in walnuts, soybean oil, or supplements.
- Protein is another common problem that is easily solved by adding plenty of spinach, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, and broccoli to your diet.
Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe for Pregnant Women?
A normal, healthy woman should have no problem consuming a vegetarian diet and still have a healthy pregnancy as long as she watches her diet carefully. A pregnant female should eat something from the following 5 food groups every day:
- Proteins (such as eggs, beans, lentils and nuts)
- Starchy Carbs (such as whole grain bread, rice or potatoes)
She should then add at least one source of iron such as dark green vegetables. Pregnant women on a vegetarian diet should avoid coffee or tea as the tannins make it more difficult for your body to absorb protein and iron from food. Instead, drink a citrus juice with your meals, which improve the body's absorption of iron. Of course, don't forget your prenatal vitamins!
Should I Take Supplements?
If you have any doubt as to whether or not you are consuming enough vitamins and minerals, a multivitamin is a good recommendation. Your body needs certain vitamins and minerals to operate properly and keep the immune system working in tip top shape. If you are under a doctor's care, have a health problem, are under 18 or over 50, you almost certainly can benefit from a multivitamin that includes minerals.
A Sample Vegetarian Menu
Here is a sample vegetarian diet plan. It is healthy, nutrional adequate and can aid in the prevention of some diseases.
- Total Calories: 1,500
- Breakfast - 1/2 cup of steel cut oats with ½ cup frozen blueberries
- Snack - 2 celery stalks with 2 tablespoons of almond butter
- Lunch - 2 cups of lentil soup, 1 slice of whole grain bread, 1 large orange
- Snack - 10 Pecans
- Dinner - Butter-Lettuce Salad with Egg and Potatoes, 1 pear
- Before Bed Snack - A glass of almond milk
If you are unsure if a vegetarian diet is right for you, speak to your health professional or nutritionist to ensure your best health.