What Is A Vegetarian Diet? Is It Actually Safe?
The vegetarian diet has become increasingly popular over the years and it’s believed that about 18% of the world’s population are vegetarians. There are many benefits to following such a diet.
A vegetarian diet essentially involves refraining from the consumption of meat, fish, and poultry. People adopt a vegetarian diet for many reasons including religious, personal, environmental, and ethical reasons.
There are several forms of vegetarianism, each of which differs in their restrictions.
Types of Vegetarian Diets
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diet:
The consumption of meat, fish, and poultry is not allowed. Eggs and dairy products are allowed.
Ova- Vegetarian Diet:
The consumption of meat, fish, dairy products and poultry are not allowed. Eggs are allowed.
The consumption of meat and poultry is not allowed. Fish is allowed. Eggs and dairy products are sometimes allowed.
The consumption of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and other animal derived products (like honey) is not allowed.
This is a mostly vegetarian diet that allows the ocassional consumption of meat, fish, or poultry.
Benefits of A Vegetarian Diet
There are several benefits of following a vegetarian diet. Some studies have shown that vegetarians have a better quality of diet than people who consume meat. They also have higher levels of fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and magnesium. Other benefits of following a vegetarian diet include:
A vegetarian diet helps with weight loss. A review of 12 studies showed that vegetarians lost an average of 4.5 lbs more than non-vegetarians over 18 weeks. Another study of about 61,000 adults showed that vegetarians usually have a lower body mass index than people who consume plant and animal foods.
May Reduce Risks of Cancer:
Some studies show that consuming a vegetarian diet may help to reduce the risks associated with certain cancers such as breast cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, and stomach cancer. However, these studies are limited to observational studies. Greater research is needed to understand the impact of vegetarianism on cancer.
May Stabilize Blood Sugar:
Many studies have shown that vegetarians are able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. A review of 6 studies indicated that vegetarianism helped to improve blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. Vegetarianism also prevents diabetes as it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels in the long-term. A study of almost 3,000 people showed that people who switched to a vegetarian diet reduced their risk of getting diabetes by 53% over an average of 5 years.
Promotes Heart Health:
Vegetarian diets help to lower the risks of heart disease. A study of about 80 people showed that vegetarians have lower levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Other studies show that vegetarianism may help with lower blood pressure levels.
Disadvantages of Vegetarian Diets
Despite its many benefits, a vegetarian diet has disadvantages. Many vegetarians may suffer from nutrient deficiencies if they don’t consume well-rounded meals or take supplements. Some deficiencies that a vegetarian may have include:
Vitamin B12 Deficiency:
Vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells, neurological functions and DNA synthesis. It occurs naturally in foods obtained from animals like clams, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and dairy products. Plant-based foods do not have Vitamin B12. To avoid a deficiency, a vegetarian would need to consume fortified breakfast cereals.
Vegetarians who follow well-rounded diet usually have no shortage of protein. Especially if they consume foods like Tempeh, Tofu, beans, legumes, nuts, nut butters, seeds and quinoa. However, if a meat-free diet is followed inaccurately, it can cause a protein deficiency. This would occur if starchy foods such as fruit, bread, rice, potatoes, cereal, sweets and junk food are consumed.
Omega 3 Deficiency:
Omega 3 fatty acids work as anti-inflammatories imperative for heart health and cognitive function They help to prevent depression, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in a variety of fish. The only non-animal foods which are great sources of Omega 3 are flax seeds and walnuts. Not consuming these foods can lead to a deficiency of Omega 3. Supplements may be needed.
Vegetarian Foods to Eat
Vegetarians should consume a wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains, healthy fats and proteins. Protein-rich plant foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, tempeh, tofu, and seitan should be consumed to replace the protein provided by meats. Eggs and dairy can also boost the protein intake of a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help to fill nutritional gaps.
Healthy foods that a vegetarian diet should include:
- Apples, bananas, berries, oranges, melons, pears, peaches
- Leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots
- Quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice, oats
- Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas
- Almonds, walnuts, cashews, chestnuts
- Flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds
- Coconut oil, olive oil and avocados
- Tempeh, tofu, seitan, nutritional yeast, spirulina, eggs and dairy products
Foods To Avoid on Vegetarian Diet
Each type of vegetarianism carries its own set of restrictions. The most restrictive type is a vegan diet. Depending on a person’s needs and preferences, they may avoid the following:
- Beef, veal, pork
- Chicken and turkey
- Fish and shellfish. This doesn’t apply to pescetarians
- Gelatine, lard, carmine, isinglass, oleic acid and suet
- Eggs. This only applies to vegans and lacto-vegetarians
- Other animal products. Vegans may avoid honey, beeswax, and pollen.