The Vegetarian Diet Explained
The vegetarian diet has gained widespread popularity over the years. According to a 2010 study, there are over 1,450 million vegetarians of necessity and about 75 million vegetarians of choice across the globe. In the case of the latter, the number is expected to grow with increasing affluence and education.
A well-planned vegetarian diet is a healthy way for some people to meet their nutritional needs. The ethical and environmental benefits of cutting animal products from one’s diet are also among the main reasons why some people choose this diet over others. Furthermore, some medical studies show that a vegetarian diet may support weight loss, and even reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases or conditions.
In this article, we’re going to discuss everything a beginner needs to know about the vegetarian diet, including the do’s and don’ts when it comes to the types of food you should be eating if you wish to follow this lifestyle.
What Is a Vegetarian Diet?
In simple terms, vegetarianism is a diet free of meat, fish, and fowl flesh. However, there are several different types of vegetarians:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarianism. They don’t eat meat or fish but will consume eggs and dairy.
- Lacto-vegetarianism. They don’t eat meat and eggs but will consume dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarianism. They don’t consume meat and dairy products but will eat eggs.
- Pescetarianism. They don’t eat meat but will eat fish and sometimes eggs and dairy products.
- Flexitarianism. This is a mostly vegetarian diet, but flexitarians do occasionally incorporate meat or fish into their foods.
- Veganism. They are not exactly vegetarians and most don’t like to be called so. Vegans eliminate all animal products, including animal-derived products such as honey.
Vegetarianism and Health
Most doctors and nutritionists agree that reducing meat and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and grains can be beneficial for our health. There’s also research suggesting that by cutting back on red meat, humans could lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians have also been found to have lower glucose levels, triglycerides, blood pressure, and body mass index.
Vegetarianism and Nutrition
A meatless diet can work wonders for some individuals, but vegetarians need to make sure they’re getting enough Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, Vitamin D, protein, alpha-linolenic acid, iron, zinc, and calcium. It’s common knowledge that the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans is quite high.
Foods to Eat
Vegetarians should consume a diverse mix of vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, and healthy fats. To replace the protein provided by meat, there are a variety of protein-rich plant alternatives. If you choose to follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, you can also boost your protein intake by eating eggs and dairy.
Here are a few healthy vegetarian foods you could eat:
- Vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus
- Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, peas, beans
- Fruits: bananas, apples, pears, oranges, berries, peaches
- Grains: oats, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, rice
- Nuts: walnuts, cashews, almonds, chestnuts
- Proteins: tofu, nutritional yeast, eggs, dairy, seitan, natto, tempeh
- Healthy fats: avocados, olive oil, coconut oil
Foods to Avoid
Vegetarianism is a broad spectrum. There are many different types of vegetarian diets, and each comes with different restrictions, as discussed above.
Depending on your preferences, you may have to exclude the following foods from your diet:
- Meat: pork, beef, veal
- Meat-based ingredients: carmine, lard, gelatin, oleic acid, suet
- Poultry: chicken and turkey
- Fish and seafood
- Dairy products
- Other animal products: honey, pollen, beeswax, among others
Planning a Healthy Vegetarian Diet
The more restrictive our diet is, the more challenging it will be to find a way to get all the nutrients your body needs. Here are a few examples of food groups you may want to include in your everyday diet, along with the recommended amount based on a 2,000-calorie diet:
- Vegetables: 2 1/2 cups a day
- Fruits: 2 cups a day
- Grains: 6 1/2 ounces a day
- Protein foods: 3 1/2 ounces a day
- Oils: 1 ounce a day
- Dairy: 3 cups a day
The Bottom Line
A balanced vegetarian diet can offer several benefits, but it may also increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies if unproperly planned. Be sure to pay close attention to the key nutrients your body needs and round out your diet with a variety of vegetarian-friendly foods.