Vegetarian diet advocates for restricting meat, fish, and poultry consumption, promising several health benefits, such as promoting heart health, reducing the risk of cancer, and facilitating weight loss.
The internet has been abuzz with searches on a vegetarian diet, with many clamoring for its health benefits in recent years. It is estimated that 18% of the world’s population are vegetarians. Some adopt this diet for environmental or ethical reasons, arguing that the planet could be saved if land cleared for animal rearing was left busy. However, others adopt this diet for health reasons since cutting meat consumption can minimize chronic diseases and support weight loss. Beginning on this diet requires proper information and a guide plan to get you started.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
Many people who are advocating for desisting from eating fish, meat, and poultry consider themselves vegetarian. These prohibitions could be due to religious purposes, health, or ethical issues such as championing animal rights across the globe. Others also chose to adopt this diet for environmental reasons, arguing that livestock raring contributes to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases, use of a large amount of energy, water, and natural resources.
Vegetarianism is divided into different categories depending on their restrictions. These include:
This diet allows you to consume dairy and poultry products (eggs) while eliminating meat, poultry, and fish.
This type allows for the consumption of eggs and eliminates fish, meat, and poultry.
Here, you abstain from fish, meat, eggs, and poultry while you eat dairy products.
This type of vegetarianism eliminates poultry and meat but allows fish consumption and moderate dairy products and eggs.
This diet is restrictive, eliminating all animal products, such as fish, meat, eggs, poultry, and honey.
As the name deduce, this diet is flexible, allowing for occasional consumption of poultry, meat, and fish.
Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Several studies suggest that a vegetarian diet is rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E, thus leading to better health than most meat-eaters. This diet also has additional health benefits, including:
It may facilitate weight loss
Adopting a vegetarian diet could hasten one’s weight loss, as indicated by many studies. For example, one review study that examined 12 studies found that vegetarians adopting a vegetarian diet result in a 2 kg weight loss than non-vegetarians over 18 weeks. Another study involving people with type 2 diabetes showed that this diet resulted in twice as effective in promoting weight loss as any low-calorie diet. This result could be due to the high fiber content in a vegetarian diet that promotes satiety and reduce calorie intake.
It could reduce the risk of cancer.
Some researchers have claimed that a vegetarian diet could lower the risk of certain cancer, such as colon, breast, stomach, and rectum cancer. Nevertheless, current studies are limited to the observation that cannot prove the cause-and-effect relationship. It means that further research is required to determine how vegetarianism could affect cancer risk.
It could be used to stabilize blood sugar
A vegetarian diet is effective in maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Minerals and fiber content of vegan foods help stabilize blood sugar levels by minimizing the glucose supply in the blood due to reduced consumption of refined carbs. Adopting a vegetarian diet also enhances satiety level, thus reducing the eating frequency, reducing glucose supply in the body, thus maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.
It May Promote Heart Health
The vegetarian diet is considered heart-friendly, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. One study found that individuals following this diet have low “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, compounds known to cause heart disease. Another study compared a low-calorie vegetarian diet with a Mediterranean diet and found that the vegetarian diet was more effective in lowering bad cholesterol levels. Reduced cholesterol levels are associated with lower blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
Potential Downsides of Vegetarian Diet
Following a strict vegetarian diet can cause some nutritional deficiencies. Eliminating meat, fish, and poultry from a diet would mean reduced proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, selenium, and vitamin B12. A vegetarian who avoids dairy and eggs may experience vitamin D, calcium, and B vitamin deficiencies. Additionally, cutting animal products from one’s diet can result in iron and iodine deficiencies, damaging the general health. A diet deficient in key micronutrients can result in fatigue, anemia, weakness, thyroid issues, and bone loss. Due to the above potential deficiencies, vegetarians do well to incorporate various vegetables, fruits, fortified foods, whole grain, and protein sources in their diet to ensure appropriate nutrition.
Foods to eat
A vegetarian diet includes many fruits, grains, proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats. Protein-rich plant foods, such as seeds, legumes, nuts, tofu, tempeh, and seitan can be used as an alternative to animal protein. The foods to eat will depend on the type of vegetarian diet you are following. Generally, a vegetarian diet will include fruits (apples, berries, bananas, oranges, etc.), vegetables (leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, asparagus, etc.), grains (quinoa, Barkley, rice, buckwheat, etc.), legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans), nuts (almond, cashews, walnuts), seeds (chia, hemp, and flaxseeds), healthy fats (avocados, olive, and coconut oil), and protein (tofu, eggs, dairy products, spirulina).
Foods to Avoid
Since there are several versions of vegetarianism, each has distinct restrictions from meat, poultry, fish, and animal products. Other lenient versions, such as the flexitarian diet, allows for occasional consumption of animal products.
Sample Meal Plan
We present you with a one-week sample meal plan to get you started on this diet.
A combination of oatmeal and fruits topped with flaxseeds
Grilled vegetables and hummus mixed with sweet potato fries
Tofu sandwich coupled with pickled slaw
Scrambled eggs and mushrooms topped with a mixture of garlic and tomatoes
Feta with tomato soup and veggies stuffed in zucchini boats.
Basmati rice served with chickpea curry
A glass of Greek yogurt topped with berries and chia seeds
Feta with spiced lentil soup and farro salad accompanied with cucumber and tomatoes.
Eggplant with a side salad
Scramble tofu with onions, spinach, and sauteed peppers
A bowl of brown rice, veggies, bean, salsa, and avocado.
Vegetable paella and a side salad
Whole-wheat toast spread with avocado
Steeped tofu pita and Greek salad
Meatballs of quinoa and black beans coupled with zucchini noodles
Smoothies made from berries, kale, nut butter, bananas, and almond milk
A vegetarian burger made with red lentil and avocado salad
Flatbread accompanied with grilled vegetables and pesto
Sweet potatoes and kale
Zucchini fritters served with tempeh and bell peppers
Cauliflower rice with black bean tacos
The Bottom Line
Many vegetarians eliminate meat, fish, and poultry from their diet, choosing to stick with plant products. Some, though, include some animal products such as eggs and milk. Proponents of this diet follow it for various reasons, including ethical issues, religious reasons, and health. The vegetarian diet has several health benefits, such as promoting heart health, reducing cancer risk, facilitating weight loss, and stabilizing blood sugar. However, the diet also has potential health risks since it restricts the consumption of several key micronutrients.