Some people follow a largely vegetarian diet because they can’t afford to eat meat. Becoming a vegetarian has become more appealing and accessible, thanks to the year-round availability of fresh produce, more vegetarian dining options, and the growing culinary influence of cultures with largely plant-based diets.
Traditionally, research into vegetarianism focused mainly on potential nutritional deficiencies, but in recent years, the pendulum has swung the other way, and studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free eating. Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Varieties of vegetarians.
Strictly speaking, vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat, poultry, or seafood. But people with many different dietary patterns call themselves vegetarians, including the following:
▪️ Vegans (total vegetarians): Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, and gelatin.
▪️ Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
▪️ Lacto vegetarians: Eat no meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, but do consume dairy products.
▪️ Ovo vegetarians: Eat no meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products, but do eat eggs.
▪️ Partial vegetarians: Avoid meat but may eat fish (pesco-vegetarian, pescatarian) or poultry (pollo-vegetarian).
Planning a healthy vegetarian diet.
To get the most out of a vegetarian diet, choose a variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, and whole grains. At the same time, cut back on less healthy choices, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and refined grains. Keep in mind that the more restrictive your diet is, the more challenging it can be to get all the nutrients you need. A vegan diet, for example, eliminates natural food sources of vitamin B-12, as well as milk products, which are good sources of calcium.
To be sure that your diet includes everything your body needs, pay special attention to the following nutrients:
▪️ Calcium and vitamin D. Calcium helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Milk and dairy foods are highest in calcium. However, dark green vegetables, such as turnip and collard greens, kale, and broccoli, are good plant sources when eaten in sufficient quantities. Calcium-enriched and fortified products, including juices, cereals, soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu, are other options.
Vitamin D also plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D is added to cow’s milk, some brands of soy and rice milk, and some cereals and margarines. Be sure to check food labels. If you don’t eat enough fortified foods and have limited sun exposure, you may need a vitamin D supplement (one derived from plants).
▪️ Vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. For this reason, it’s important for vegans to consider vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products.
▪️ Protein. Protein helps maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Eggs and dairy products are good sources, and you don’t need to eat large amounts to meet your protein needs. You can also get sufficient protein from plant-based foods if you eat a variety of them throughout the day. Plant sources include soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
▪️ Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health. Diets that do not include fish and eggs are generally low in active forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed and soybeans are good sources of essential fatty acids. However, because conversion of plant-based omega-3 to the types used by humans is inefficient, you may want to consider fortified products or supplements or both.
▪️ Iron and zinc. Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit are good sources of iron. Because iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended intake of iron for vegetarians is almost double that recommended for nonvegetarians. To help your body absorb iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli, at the same time as you’re eating iron-containing foods.
Like iron, zinc is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal products. Cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts and wheat germ. Zinc is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in formation of proteins.
▪️ Iodine. Iodine is a component in thyroid hormones, which help regulate metabolism, growth and function of key organs. Vegans may not get enough iodine and may be at risk of deficiency and possibly even a goiter. In addition, foods such as soybeans, cruciferous vegetables and sweet potatoes may promote a goiter. However, just 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt a day provides a significant amount of iodine.
A growing number of younger people are adopting a vegetarian diet, as the Gallup poll shows.They may do this because:
▪️ it brings health benefits.
▪️ it is a more ecologically sustainable option.
▪️ they have concerns about the treatment of animals.
▪️ it is part of a broader lifestyle choice. Some people also avoid meat and animal products for religious reasons.
Here are some ways in which avoiding meat products can enhance a person’s health.
▪️ Weight: Switching to a vegetarian diet may help a person lose weight, at least in the short-term, according to a 2016 meta-analysis. Scientists need to carry out longer term controlled studies to understand how a vegetarian diet might affect weight.
▪️ Cholesterol: A systematic review published in 2015 concluded that people who follow a vegetarian diet are likely to have lower overall cholesterol levels.
▪️ Cancer: A study of data for nearly 70,000 people found evidence that the incidence of cancer overall was lower among vegetarians than non-vegetarians. The authors suggested that a non-meat diet may offer some protection from cancer.
▪️ Heart health: Authors of a 2014 study found a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in people who followed a vegetarian diet in India. Studies in western countries had already produced similar results.
▪️ Diabetes: People who follow a vegetarian diet may be less likely to have type 2 diabetes. One reason for this may be a higher intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and a lower intake of unhealthful fats.These benefits will not automatically happen when a person stops eating meat.
Alongside a vegetarian diet, people need to make sure they:
_ get the right number of calories.
_ focus on a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
_ limit their intake of processed foods and alcohol.
_avoid unhealthful fats and added sugar and salt.
_ engage in an overall healthful lifestyle, with plenty of exercise.
_ avoid smoking.
One way to transition to a vegetarian diet is to gradually reduce the meat in your diet while increasing fruits and vegetables.
Here are a couple of tips to help you get started:
▪️ Ramp up. Each week increase the number of meatless meals you already enjoy, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce or vegetable stir-fry. Find ways to include greens, such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collards, in your daily meals.
▪️ Substitute. Take favorite recipes and try them without meat. For example, make vegetarian chili by leaving out the ground beef and adding an extra can of black beans. Or make fajitas using extra-firm tofu rather than chicken. You may be surprised to find that many dishes require only simple substitutions.
▪️ Branch out. Check the internet for vegetarian menus. Buy or borrow vegetarian cookbooks. Check out ethnic restaurants to sample new vegetarian cuisines. The more variety you bring to your vegetarian diet, the more likely you’ll be to meet all your nutritional needs.
What to know about the vegetarian diet/https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8749#foods
Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition/https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet
Becoming a vegetarian/https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/becoming-a-vegetarian