What is IT like to be a Vegetarian?

December 19th, 2014 | By Marjie No Comments

Types-of-Vegitarian

Being a vegetarian for most of my life has definitely had its ups and downs.

When I tell people I am a vegetarian, they say one of two things: “What do you eat then?” or “That’s why you’re so skinny!”

Both of these statements are obviously wrong. Being a vegetarian for 18 years was probably the best thing I could have done for my body. Broadly defined, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat, poultry, and fish. Vegetarians eat mainly fruit, vegetables, legumes (dry fruit and beans), grains, seeds, and nuts. Many vegetarians eat eggs and/or dairy products, but avoid hidden animal products such as beef and chicken stocks, lard, and gelatin.

Generally, there are three ways most vegetarians are classified: vegans or total vegetarians, lactovegetarians and lacto-ovo-vegetarians:

Vegans or total vegetarians exclude all animal products (e.g. meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products) from their diet.

Lactovegetarians exclude meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, but include dairy products in their diet.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, and fish, but include dairy products and eggs.

People are vegetarian for many reasons, including concern for personal health and the environment, compassion for animals, or spiritual reasons. It has often been assumed that some people become vegetarian in order to lose weight. However, recent studies have shown that adopting a vegetarian diet does not lead to eating disorders. Some vegetarian diets may actually be selected to camouflage an existing eating disorder. However, it is important to note that no one should make an assumption about why a person chooses a vegetarian diet, because there are many reasons for people to do so.

Food nutritionists have been concerned about this issue for years, and encourage individuals who want to adopt vegetarianism to fully understand their reasons for choosing to do so.

Society and our commerce system have contributed to the perception that following a vegetarian diet is expensive. Most people assume being a vegetarian entails getting groceries from higher-end fresh markets and organic foods, but that’s not always the case. Affordable organic foods are found in everyday groceries stores and are just as good as the fruits and veggies in fresh markets. 

Vegan specialty foods, like prepared veggie burgers, tofu, etc., are sometimes more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts but, fortunately, they aren’t the only options. Prepared food will always be more expensive than food you make yourself, so buying the ingredients and making them at home will typically save you money. Veggie staples such as pasta, rice, tofu, and beans are much cheaper than meat. And the money you save from not buying meat can go toward paying just a little extra for nondairy milk and other healthy staples, like fruits and vegetables.

Some people also worry that with a vegetarian diet, individuals aren’t able to consume adequate amounts of the essential nutrients needed to be healthy. Vegetarian and total vegetarian diets both provide adequate protein. The daily-recommended intake for protein is 0.8 grams/kilograms and can be consumed through a variety of healthier sources such as soy, rice, beans, hummus, peanut butter, etc. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products and as a result, vegetarians should take a supplement form of B12. 

Fortified cereals and grain products are a reliable source of vitamin B12. Calcium can be obtained from leafy greens, vegetables, broccoli, almonds, carrots, and so on. And lastly, iron is readily available in a wide variety of foods such as spinach, kidney beans, lentils, and whole wheat bread.

There are several benefits to vegetarianism as well. Vegetarians are at lower risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer (colorectal, ovarian and breast), obesity, and hypertension. 

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A spokesperson for the American Heart Association, Dr. Rachel K Johnson, says, “Fatty red meats and many processed meats are high in saturated fat, which raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases risk of coronary heart disease.” In one study of more than 35,000 women published in the British Journal of Cancer, those who ate the most red and processed meat were found to have the highest risk of breast cancer.

Other research has linked meat consumption to colon, prostate, pancreatic, and gastric cancers as well. One theory, according to non-profit group The Cancer Project, is that foods with high levels of fat artificially boost the hormones that promote cancer. When it comes to weight loss and obesity, new studies show that instead of focusing on reducing calories, most weight-loss interventions have recognized that vegan and vegetarian dietary patterns can result in more weight loss than those that include meat without emphasizing caloric restriction. A large-scale 2010 study from Imperial College London found that those who ate about 250 grams a day (the size of one half-pound steak) of red meat, poultry, or processed meat gained more weight over five years than those who ate less meat, even if they consumed the same amount of calories overall.

The key to any healthy diet is to choose a wide variety of foods and to consume enough calories to meet your energy needs. Before making a change, you must be sure to fully understand the health risks and benefits of becoming a vegetarian and consult a physician with any concerns.

However you choose to make the change, you can begin to achieve the health benefits of vegetarianism by significantly cutting down on the amount of meats consumed, and making vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains the focus of your meals.  Fortunately, there is much more information available on vegetarian diets today to make the journey smoother. The way to lasting change is by taking small steps on your way to that goal.

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