For people who want to start a vegetarian diet, but are unable to do so
A vegetarian diet is, by definition, a diet free of animal meat, poultry, and fish. A vegan diet is a vegetarian diet that does not involve eating any type of animal products. There are other forms of vegetarian diets, such as lacto-ovo, which involve eating eggs and milk, but not animal meat.
The reasons why one chooses a vegetarian or vegan diet are varied. Some choose it for a healthier lifestyle, others worry about eating living beings and religion is another reason, in addition to the concern about the effects that the meat industry has on the environment.
For many, health reasons are driving forces to eliminate meat and include:
Lower cholesterol levels
Lower levels of saturated fat
Low blood pressure
Lower risk of cancer
Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
A vegetarian diet can be quite healthy; however, the vegetarian should be aware that their nutritional needs may not be fully met if certain criteria are not followed. By following a meatless diet, some essential nutrients may be missed.
The vegetarian diet needs proper meal planning if the person on this diet wants to avoid certain nutritional deficiencies. Older people, athletes, and children are at particular risk for nutritional deficiencies, as one or more of the five food groups are no longer part of the diet.
The following are the main nutrients that vegetarians should be aware of:
- Protein – Protein is necessary for the body to grow and function. When you remove meat from your plate, you must replace it with vegetable sources. Look for soy, tofu, tempeh, beans, quinoa, walnuts, and flax seeds, just to name a few. It is a common misconception that protein only comes from meat, as there are many plant sources.
- Calcium – Calcium is a mineral that is needed to build bones. This is especially important for children, athletes, women (to prevent osteoporosis) and the elderly. Traditional sources of calcium from dairy products should be replaced with vegan sources including soy, tofu, soy milk, turnip greens, fortified cereals, and beans, just to name a few.
- Iron – Iron is an essential mineral that is used to carry oxygen in the blood to all parts of the body. Lack of this nutrient can lead to anemia. As stated above, animal sources are the best sources of iron. Foods like oysters, clams, liver from different animals are at the top of the list of foods rich in iron. Plant foods contain iron and include, but are not limited to, quinoa, beans, potatoes, soybeans, spirulina, and tofu. Phytic acids found in grains and vegetables can hinder iron absorption. This can be minimized by soaking the vegetables and eating unleavened grains like crackers. Cooking also helps remove acid.
- B12 – B12 is a vitamin that humans cannot use from plant sources. Lack of this vitamin causes nervous problems, depression, tiredness, weakness, to name a few. The best sources are clam, liver, and mackerel. Vegans are at special risk from a lack of this vitamin.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that improves the absorption of iron, calcium, and zinc. Lack of this vitamin is associated with high blood pressure, osteoporosis, tooth decay, possible erectile dysfunction, and problems with blood cholesterol. Sunlight is actually the best source of vitamin D. Vegans can get theirs from fortified non-dairy milks and cereals.
- Zinc – This mineral is necessary for creating DNA, building proteins, and for a healthy immune system. Deficiencies include impotence, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. The best sources of this vitamin are animal-based and include oysters, beef, and lamb.
Vegetarian diets become unhealthy when these nutrient deficiency risks are not addressed and the proper meal replacements for meat sources are not made. Vegetarians can avoid missing the aforementioned nutrients by supplementing and incorporating plant-based products that provide them.
Eating too much junk food
Some believe that eating a plant-based diet may somehow make up for other poor food choices. Unfortunately this is not the case. Vegans and vegetarians eat unlimited amounts of French fries, French fries, cookies, and cake. They should not overindulge in junk food, ice cream, or soft drinks. Candies, cookies, donuts, Doritos, muffins, and muffins are vegan, but loaded with empty calories, fat, and sugar that can quickly negate all the health benefits a vegetarian diet offers.
Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It is still important to read labels, eat whole foods, make smart food choices, and not overindulge on junk food or that the vegetarian diet can quickly become unhealthy.
Do not exercise
Vegetarians and vegans who eat a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts are making smart choices, but yes, exercise is still important. A plant-based diet cannot compensate for all the health benefits that regular physical activity offers.
Combining a vegetarian diet with regular physical activity will make you a health powerhouse and boost your energy levels!