Thinking About Going Vegetarian? Here’s What You Should Know
Plant-based diets aren’t anything new. But…they are gaining in popularity.
Why? Generally, this trend stems from the idea that plant-based diets are healthier and more environmentally friendly than animal-based diets.
But is this really true? And what do you need to know if you’re considering a shift to a more vegetarian eating style?
Read on to learn more about the various options for vegetarian eating, and how you can make plant-based food part of your healthy lifestyle.
Types of Vegetarian Diets
A vegetarian diet, by definition, relies on plant-based food sources. But the range of diets considered to be at least partly vegetarian is pretty broad. Here are the possibilities:
- Vegan: plant-based foods only
- Ovo-vegetarian: plants plus eggs (and egg products)
- Lacto-vegetarian: plants plus dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: plants plus eggs and dairy
- Pescetarian: plants plus seafood (no dairy or eggs)
- Flexitarian: plants plus small portions of meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy
What Are the Health Benefits of a Primarily Plant-Based Diet?
The health benefits of a vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) diet have been extensively documented. Compared to people who eat significant amounts of meat, vegetarians (of all types) exhibit:
- Lower risk factors for heart disease, hypertension, and stroke
- Lower LDL cholesterol
- Reduced cancer rates
- Less risk for developing type 2 diabetes
Overall, people who eat a predominantly plant-based diet are less likely to be overweight, and they are less likely to suffer from chronic health problems.
There are few primary reasons for these health benefits:
- Vegetarian diets tend to be less calorie-dense :
In other words, ounce-for-ounce there are far fewer calories in vegetables than there are in, say, a hamburger. Also, your body uses nearly as much energy to digest most plant-based foods as the calories you take in from them.This is illustrated by the fact that competitive athletes who follow a mostly vegetarian diet generally need to eat a larger volume of food to maintain their body weight than their non-vegetarian peers.
- Plant-based foods contain more fiber :
Dietary fiber fills you up and keeps you from over-eating.And soluble fiber helps to remove plaque from the walls of your blood vessels.
- A vegetarian diet supports healthy blood sugar levels :
Complex carbohydrates (like those found in most vegetables and fruit) don’t cause your blood sugar to spike the same way large amounts of simple sugars do. This helps to reduce the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Things You Should Know Before Making the Leap
Based on everything noted above, you might be thinking that a primarily plant-based diet is a good idea. Well…there’s a flip side to this coin.
Consider that just because something is plant-based does not necessarily mean it’s healthy. For example, a plant-based hamburger that has been fried on a grill with vegetable oil and topped with tofu bacon and cheese isn’t much healthier than a regular cheeseburger. And commercial meat substitutes are often as full of chemicals and preservatives as their animal-based cousins.
Breads made with flour and sugar are technically vegetarian, but they will still make your blood sugar spike, and will likely add fat to your midsection. That goes for pasta, crackers, and many other foods that are vegetarian, but very high in simple carbohydrates.
Plant-based diets can also leave you short on important nutrients like the following:
- Vitamin B-12
- Iron and zinc
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Calcium and vitamin D
- Amino acids
A healthy vegetarian diet will contain a variety of plant-based protein sources to compensate for the abundant protein found in meat. And many vegetarians will need to take supplements to ensure they get enough of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients listed above.
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