Should you follow the vegetarian diet? It’s a popular diet throughout the world including up to 42% of India’s population that’s vegetarian/vegan (2018). People have different reasons for not eating meat including physical, financial, and environmental. Studies show going vegetarian can improve your overall health and help to prevent diseases like type-2 diabetes and cancer. This is a big decision though if you’ve eaten meat, poultry, and seafood your whole life. It might seem impossible to give up double cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza. However, it might be one of the best diets for you if you have health problems related to meat.
Like other diets, it’s important to get the facts about vegetarian diets. For example, it can provide several benefits for your body and brain when it’s done right. It’s still important to prepare your meals right so you’ll get the most nutrients from them. You’ll also have to make sure you’re still getting nutrients you need like protein, iron, and zinc. It’s not impossible to get them from plant-based foods but it can be tougher. There are other issues to think about also like how serious you are about staying on a new vegetarian diet. Deciding to stop eating meat is just the start.
What Is the Vegetarian Diet and Its Benefits?
People who are vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, and fish. They do this for various reasons. Sometimes it’s to improve their health. Other times it’s for ethical issues like animal right or religious rules.
Another reason people become vegetarian is for environmental reasons. That’s because raising livestock requires much energy and water, and increases greenhouse gasses.
There are also different kinds of vegetarianism. For example, “flexitarians” eat mostly plant-based food but sometimes eat meat, poultry, or fish. There are also “vegans” who don’t eat meat, eggs, or milk.
A vegetarian/vegan diet can provide various benefits including:
1. Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight then a vegetarian diet can be one of the best ways. Several studies showed that vegetarians lost more weight than non-vegetarians. This is due to factors like foods having fewer calories and less fat.
2. Blood Sugar
Many studies show that eating a vegetarian diet might help to have healthy levels of blood sugar. Some studies show that it might help prevent diabetes and even treat people who already have type 2 diabetes.
This is a major problem in the modern world. Several products on the market like sodas, energy drinks, and snack foods are loaded with sugar. What makes the situation worse is it’s white sugar instead of raw sugar.
3. Cancer Risk
Avoiding meat in your meals might help to reduce your risk of various kinds of cancer like breast, stomach, and colon. Researchers are still finding out if going vegetarian results in lower cancer risk. However, the studies done up to now seem to show that.
4. Heart Health
Many studies show that vegetarianism can help to reduce your chance of heart disease. That’s because fruit, veggies, and grains can help to keep your heart strong and healthy. It can help to lower blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol.
Possible Risks of Vegetarian Diet
It might seem like an odd idea that eating fruits and veggies could cause some risks. Here are some nutrients you might not get enough of if you stop eating meat:
Meat, chicken/turkey, and fish/shellfish are some of the best sources of protein. So, what do you do if you stop eating them? If you’re not vegan then you can still get protein from foods like milk, cheese, and eggs.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan then some of the best options are beans and lentils. The options are almost unlimited. That’s because there are 40,000+ types of beans in the world. Forget about eating green beans every day!
These fatty acids are a source of “good” fat. Fish and shellfish are a good source so if you drop them from your diet you should get this micronutrient from other food. Here are some good options:
- Chia seeds
- Olive oil
Some vegetarian diets actually allow fish and shellfish. If you’re using one then you could still get your omega-3 from salmon, sardines, and oysters.
These minerals are other important nutrients your body needs. You can use supplements but real food is always a better option. Some of the best choices include beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and (wait for it…) dark chocolate.
How about iron? These foods include:
- Calcium/Vitamin D
If you’re not vegan then you can still get these nutrients from dairy products. What if you’re vegan? In that case, you still have many plant-based options like green leafy veggies (calcium) and mushrooms (Vitamin D).
This is another nutrient non-meat eaters still need for good health. You can get this vitamin from foods like fortified cereals/yeast. If you’re not vegan then milk and eggs are options.
Tips for New Vegetarians
If you’re a newbie vegetarian/vegan here are some helpful tips to get you started:
Try a new food every week
This can include exotic fruits, veggies, and grains you’ve never heard of. Yes, variety is indeed the spice of life. Research options like quinoa, red perilla, and rambutan.
Drink lots of water
Water is important for the body and brain to stay healthy. Start with the standard 6-8 glasses per day. Make sure to drink more water during hot summers, after workouts, etc. Also, avoid flavored waters and sodas since they’re loaded with sugar and other bad stuff.
Reduce salt and sugar
Much of today’s food is loaded with or both of these ingredients. Salt increases your risk of high blood pressure while sugar boosts your chance of becoming diabetic.
Should you cut these ingredients from your diet completely? If you’re going to consume them make sure you minimize how much salt/sugar are in your food. Read food packaging and just use a little when cooking or dining.
Make half your grains whole grains
Some good options include corn, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat. When these grains are processed you lost a lot of nutrients and fiber.
There are a few key reasons. First, real food is always the best source of nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Another issue is these vitamins try to pack lots of nutrients into one tablet. So, you’ll have a nutrient deficiency if you just take these supplements.
Eat a daily vegetable salad
Raw foods are an excellent source of nutrients that are lost by cooking at high temperatures. They’re also a good source of fiber.
You can start with a basic veggie salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Homemade salad dressings like oil/vinegar can be a delicious and nutritious way to follow a vegetarian diet.