People chose to be vegetarians for various reasons. It may be for health reasons, environmental reasons, due to a belief in animal rights, or a number of other factors. Moreover multiple studies speak to the benefits of a more plant based diet both for our health and for the environment. However like any diet, it is important to understand what it means to be a vegetarian before deciding if it is the right diet or lifestyle for you.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
At its most basic form, being a vegetarian means refraining from eats meat, poultry, and fish. However there are varying degrees of vegetarianism based on how much you want to limit animal products from your diet.
Types of Vegetarian Diets
- Vegetarian: The general vegetarian diet usually refers to someone who does not eat meat of any kind but does eat products that come from animals like milk, eggs, and honey for example. Vegetarians focus on a plant based diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts as well as dairy, eggs, cheese, and other products that are derived from animals.
- Vegan: Refrains from eating any and all animal products and animal derived products including all meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, and any animal product
- Lacto Vegetarian: A lacto-vegetarian usually refers to a vegetarian who does not eat eggs but does eat other dairy products. For example, a lacto-vegetarian would drink milk and eat cheese or yogurt, but would not eat anything made with eggs.
- Ovo Vegetarian: An ovo-vegetarian usually refers to a vegetarian who does not eat any meat products but does consume eggs or dairy. This is also sometimes just called a vegetarian and is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism
Studies continually show that a plant-based diet has many benefits for your health and the environment. However making the jump to a vegetarian diet can be difficult for some and it is important to understand the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet before choosing to go vegetarian.
- Vegetarian diets are linked to numerous health benefits including longer life, reduced risk of chronic disease, and reduced risks of many diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and more.
- Has been shown to increase energy levels and alertness.
- Lower food costs since most grains and plant-based products generally are less expensive than meats.
- Environmental benefits since the carbon footprint is much lower from plant based foods than meat
- Can lead to weight loss if someone is focused on a lower fat, mostly plant based vegetarian diet.
- Vegetarian diets can lead to vitamin deficiencies depending on diet. Some vitamins, like b12, are only found in meats, dairy, and eggs. If a vegetarian isn’t actively ensuring that they get proper nutrients, some do experience deficiencies. This is more difficult in stricter vegetarian diets like veganism.
- Some people believe that becoming a vegetarian will automatically make them more healthy. Vegetarians who continue to eat unhealthy foods will not benefit. For example if you continue to consume lots of pasta loaded with butter, cheese, and cream; you are not likely to see the health benefits of going vegetarian.
- Although this is becoming far less of an issue due to the popularity of vegetarian diets, it can sometimes be difficult to find food at restaurants or share meals with people who eat meat.
How Does a Vegetarian Diet Work?
So you have decided to adopt a vegetarian diet, but how do you start? Use this information to help you begin to follow a vegetarian diet. Already a vegetarian? Use these tips to learn new ways to follow your diet and tips for continued success.
One of the first things you need to do when becoming a vegetarian is to decide what animal products you will be eliminating. Are you eliminating all animal products including any animal derived products? Are you just cutting out meat, poultry, and seafood? Will you be consuming eggs? How about dairy? Once you decide that, use these tips to help you get started.
To ensure you are getting enough nutrients, protein, fiber, and other essentials in your diet consider using the following diagram to help plan balanced meals. Including whole grains, legumes, dairy, and vegetables/fruits at each meal will help you to do this without intensive meal or menu planning.
Find New Recipes
One of the best ways to start any diet is to begin by finding new recipes. Try to cook one new vegetarian recipe each week and you will begin to learn delicious combinations, ideas, and ways to eat vegetarian meals.
Try Meat Replacements
At the beginning it can be difficult to give up meat. To make the transition easier, consider trying vegetarian versions of meat products. There are delicious vegetarian crumbles that can be used in place of ground meat, vegetarian chick’n products to replace chicken, and lots of other delicious vegetarian, meatless products that can be found in the freezer and refrigerated sections.
Try New Proteins
In addition to trying vegetarian meat replacement products, try other new proteins. Give tofu, seitan, or tempeh a try. You can also replace proteins with things like lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy. Simply adding a poached or fried egg to a bowl or veggies and whole grains can make a delicious meal.
Today there are an abundance of vegetarian restaurants with delicious choices. Try some in your area to not only experience delicious vegetarian food but also to get ideas.
Find Your Staples
Like any diet, it is always helpful to have a few go-to recipes that you can turn to. An easy meal with a ton of options is to make veggie bowls with a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, couscous), topped with quickly sautéed or steamed veggies, a protein source (nuts, eggs, tofu, tempeh, cheese), and a drizzle of vinegar, hot sauce, olive oil, yogurt, or dressing. You can also always turn to veggie burgers, bean based wraps or burritos, and whole wheat pasta with veggies.