Many people follow a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons, ranging from health-conscious choices to philosophical objections, but there is a lot to know about this diet before you embark on it.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet comes in various forms, but the fundamental definition is a diet that precludes meat and fish. This can come in varying levels, ranging from vegan to flexitarian, but the basic intention is the same – to reduce our dietary dependence on protein sources that come directly from animals. Some of the most common forms of vegetarianism include the following.
- Vegan – A vegan does not consume anything that has been derived from animals, including meat, fish, egg, and dairy products (from cows), nor do they use silk, leather, wool, beeswax or gelatin.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – The most common form of vegetarianism, these individuals do not consume red or white meat, nor do they consume fish, but they do eat dairy products and eggs.
- Pescatarian – This variation is similar to the lacto-ovo-vegetarian approach, but these individuals do consume fish, often because they require the protein and mineral boost, or because they are less morally opposed to fish consumption.
- Flexitarian – This is someone who follows a plant-based diet whenever possible, but will occasionally consume meat, based on the social situation or dietary options. This is not technically considered a vegetarian diet, but it is very close.
Vegetarian Diet Benefits
Less fatty food and higher levels of fiber help to make veggie diets very effective in the prevention of diabetes. According to a study in the Current Diabetes Reports, a vegan diet is beneficial for reducing lower blood sugar levels of people with diabetes.
Antioxidant-rich foods and a lack of cholesterol often define this diet, which can lower your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other risk factors for heart disease.
Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are able to give the immune system a boost and prevent chronic diseases, caused by oxidative stress and free radicals.
A reduction in meat consumption has been linked to improved neurotransmitter function and hormone levels, improving mood and symptoms of depression.
Less fatty foods and a focus on fruits and vegetables will keep you full, thanks to the fiber, but won’t tip the calorie scales, thus helping you lose weight.
How Do You Become a Vegetarian?
Becoming a vegetarian is relatively simple, although, following a lifetime of eating meat, the temptation to return to your old ways will be difficult. Some of the best pieces of advice for aspiring vegetarians include the following:
- Educate yourself on the harmful effects of the meat industry on the environment, and on the lives of countless animals around the world.
- Research the many vegetarian diet benefits, and gathering information on how to best make the transition, to make the process easier.
- Start slowly, with avoiding red meats, before proceeding to fish and fowl. This gradual reduction will give your lifestyle and your body a chance to adjust and will make your bid more successful.
- Ensuring that you get enough protein is essential, and often the biggest problem with this dietary shift. Be conscious of how your diet needs to change to remain healthy.
- By telling friends and family, it will help keep you accountable and may ensure that they provide vegetarian options when you come over for dinner, or they choose a vegetarian-friendly restaurant when you go out together.
Vegetarian Diet Risks
There are a few risks involved in a vegetarian diet, primarily nutrient deficiency. Meat and fish provide a dense supply of nutrients, namely protein, minerals, and fats, so be sure that you replace this in your diet, or else you will experience the negative side of this diet. B12 and calcium are the two other nutrients that vegetarians often lack, so supplementation may be required.