In recent years, the vegetarian diet (x) has garnered widespread popularity among people worldwide. Besides the environmental and ethical benefits of reducing meat in your diet, a well-planned vegetarian diet might also help in weight loss and lower the risk of contracting chronic diseases.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
The vegetarian diet involves refraining from any meal derived from meat, poultry and fish.
Some adopt the diet for personal, religious and ethical issues, such as animal rights advocacy. Some also decide to become vegetarians for environmental reasons.
There are various forms of a vegetarian diet, and each of which varies in individual form of restrictions:
- Plant-based Diet: It is important to note that there is no actual definition of what constitutes a plant-based diet. It may not be considered as a set diet — it is best described as a lifestyle.
- Limited Dairy: Lacto-ovo vegetarians (x) do not eat meat, but will consume dairy products such as butter, cheese and milk. Ovo-lacto vegetarians, however, eat eggs, but they do not consume meat and dairy products.
- Cooked Vegetables: These are a major part of a vegetarian diet, but they do not necessarily limit dieters to only vegetables. If you are allergic to certain vegetables, you can still go for grains, fruits and legumes.
- Other Vegetarian Diets: Apart from limiting yourself to vegetables as a vegetarian, you can opt for legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains.
What to Eat as a Vegetarian
There are so many reasons why one might decide to go meatless. But when talking about nutrition, there is just one tricky trade-off — you might deprive your body of some essential nutrients.
To accommodate your body to fill these gaps, you need to have a well-planned diet based on the recommended types of foods to eat as a vegetarian:
- High fiber whole grains and legumes: These choices include bulgur wheat, whole oats, whole wheat, whole-grain rye, millet, whole barley, spelt, kidney beans, lentils, black beans, white beans, French beans and cranberry beans.
- Nuts: These examples range from almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashew nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and brazil nuts.
Why do Vegetarians Eat Fish?
Generally speaking, fish should not be included in a vegetarian’s diet. But some set of vegetarians do not classify fish as meat, so they eat it. This form is called a pescetarian diet (x). They tend to utilize an lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian Protein Dish
Since meat is not part of a vegetarian and vegan diet, most vegetarians are concerned about the lack of protein in their body.
However, this concern can be rectified since we can obtain proteins even in meat-free diets.
The following meals have enough protein to meet the body’s requirements for a vegetarian:
- Cashew noodles with broccoli and tofu
- Black bean, sweet potatoes and arugula
- Peanut quinoa and baked tofu
- Black bean salad
- Tabbouleh salad and edamame
- Vegan white-bean salad
- Black bean with hummus wrap
Vegetarian Meals for Meat Eaters
If you are contemplating the idea of consuming less meat, there are possible vegetarian recipes to incorporate into your meals. They include the following tasty options:
- Lentil bolognese
- Vegetarian korma
- Black bean veggie burgers
- Eggplant parmesan
- Veggies and tofu in peanut sauce
- Artichoke spinach lasagna
Foods to Avoid as a Vegetarian
Foods to avoid as a lacto-vegetarian typically include meat, fish, eggs and poultry, as well as any foods that contain them. Ovo-vegetarians should avoid meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products, but they may consume eggs.
Benefits of being a Vegetarian
There are so many benefits to gain from a vegetarian path. Foods derived from animals are known to contain so much fat and other components that may not be beneficial to the bodily system. In turn, most people choose to feed strictly on vegetarian diets for these reasons.
Less Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
One of the main benefits of following a vegetarian diet is the consumption of less saturated fats (x) found in meat and other protein diets. Foods such as legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are rich in substances that are known to reduce cholesterol levels in the body.
Reduces Risk of Chronic Diseases
According to studies, people who base their diets strictly on vegetables and their derivatives tend to have lower risks of developing chronic diseases and lower risks of getting high blood pressure than non-vegetarians are (x).
More Vitamin C and E, Fiber, Folic Acid and Phytochemicals
Vegetarians who stick to their diets judiciously generally consume more vitamin C and E, phytochemicals and folic acid, which are compounds needed to fight infections and maintain good health.
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
A vegetarian diet will typically reduce the risk of getting heart disease (x) in an individual by a third. Vegetarians have a 30 percent lower risk of death or hospitalization from heart diseases than people who eat more of fish and meat.
Lowers Risk of Cancer
Studies have shown that consuming a significant amount of vegetables and fruits can help an individual in reducing the risks of developing certain cancers. Studies offer evidence that vegetarians suffer less from cancer than non-vegetarians (x).
Moreover, studies demonstrate that eliminating red meat in one’s diet often reduces the risk of colon cancer. Red meat has been associated with cancer because of the naturally occurring chemicals that are formed during the digestion of meat. These chemicals have been reported to damage the cells lining the bowels and may lead to cancer (x).
Helps to Maintain Blood Sugar Levels
Consumption of more fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains can better improve the control of blood sugar in vegetarians, which can also make the body more responsive to insulin.
Disadvantage of Vegetarianism
Any time a large chunk of food options is taken away from the diet, there will likely be nutritional deficiencies. And for vegetarians, especially vegans, there is the high possibility of exhibiting a diet low in vitamins D and B12 (x), along with zinc, calcium and riboflavin.
Since vitamin B12 is found in animal products only, vegans are mostly prone to be deficient of the nutrient. Therefore, it is recommended to take supplements or consume foods that are fortified with these nutrients.
Difficult to Eat Enough Protein
One of the main reasons why most people ignore the thought of becoming a vegetarian is the fear of less consumption of protein and its plausible consequences. But interestingly, this concern is not as severe as some perceive it to be.
The more enlightened you become living as a vegetarian, you will discover hidden gems that contain high protein like tofu, tempeh, cottage cheese and other legumes.
The Challenge of Eating Out
Sometimes it is quite difficult for a vegetarian to dine out in restaurants or bistros. Most restaurants base their menus on meats and have limited offers for vegetarians. Unfortunately, removing meat from a meal does not necessarily mean that an individual is getting a balanced, healthy meal, so eating out might not even meet your body’s overall nutritional needs.
Repetitive Explanation During Dinner
When you are dining with family and friends, you will always have to ensure that they understand your preference, so it can be awkward when you tell a host that you cannot consume the offered foods.
Kindly and proactively inform your host ahead of the meal about your specific preference and inquire if a special dish for you is possible. Better still, you can arrange to arrive with your own entrée.
Issues with Family and Friends
When you choose to change your eating pattern, this modification may lead to some friction in the family. While some members of the family and friends might congratulate you, others might question or overtly challenge your choice. Others may even view your choice as a threat to their style of eating. These challenges should be treated with respect for each other. Explain to them the reasons why you are taking the path of a vegetarian and try your best to give them the best answers to justify.
You May Have to Learn How to Cook
While you can survive in life eating already-prepared foods without meat, if you want to take advantage of the health benefits of becoming a vegetarian, then you will likely have to take your time to open a good vegetarian cookbook and start getting creative. If you are not a guru in the kitchen, this choice might seem intimidating.
While cooking might make life easier for you, even if you have never opened any cookbook or you’re someone who doesn’t have a flair for anything in the kitchen, you can still become a vegetarian.
Taking Time to Read Labels
Depending on how committed you are to vegetarianism (x), you might want to start reading labels. Some food products may contain hidden animal fats and oils.
As this step may seem easy for vegetarians, vegans may need to take a little step further and avoid any products derived from animals. Products such as glues, gelatin, soap, leather clothing and shoes can be a start.
One of the key challenges vegetarians face is the low mineral density in their bones, as a result of less consumption of calcium, which is mostly found in animal-based products.
However, calcium-based supplements are possible, since they complement the vitamins derived from eating fruits and vegetables, most especially vitamin D.
Those who do not consume meat and other animal products are likely to increase the risk of anemia (x), a serious condition in which the body is not able to produce enough oxygen-bearing RBCs.
Vegetarians who eliminate meat in their diets are at greater risks of developing anemia as a result of iron deficiency.
The thyroid gland (x) is a butterfly-shaped gland found below the Adam’s apple at the base of the neck. While it is quite small, it influences the function of most vital organs in the body which include the brain, heart, skin and kidneys.
Supplements for Vegetarians
As stated earlier, Vitamins B12 and Riboflavin (B2) are found mainly in animal products. Vegetarians and vegans often find it difficult to consume enough of these vitamins in their daily diet (x). That being said, it is recommended that those cutting out animal products from their food-groups should look into supplementing with Vitamin B12 and Riboflavin products to avoid the adverse effects of a vitamin deficiency.
It is a long-standing myth that vegetarians do not receive enough protein in their diets (x). Recent studies not only show that vegetarians and plant-based eaters receive enough protein, but that switching to a plant-based diet can improve athletic performance (x). And for those looking to add more plant protein to their fitness routine, there is pea, soy and rice protein powder available on the market!
So now that we have laid to rest the myth that vegetarians do not receive enough protein, let’s address a very real problem experienced by vegetarians: zinc deficiency. The foods highest in natural zinc are, unfortunately, beef and seafood (x). There are absolutely plant sources of zinc available, but they provide small amounts at best (x). To avoid zinc deficiency, it is recommended that vegetarians or those one other plant-based diets should supplement with zinc regularly.
The Bottom Line
A vegetarian diet consists of eating foods like grains, vegetables and fruits while avoiding meat. Some vegetarians still opt to eat certain animal products such as eggs and butter.
There are numerous benefits attached to being a vegetarian, which include low consumption of saturated fats and low cholesterol in the body. A vegetarian diet also offers tons of essential vitamins while lowering the risk of heart disease.
By: Emily Brown