The vegetarian diet has become more popular in recent years. Some sources claim that vegetarians account for up to 18% of the global population.
Apart from the ethical and environmental advantages of cutting meat from your diet, a well-planned vegetarian diet will:
- Reduce your risk of chronic illness
- Encourage weight loss
- And improve your diet
This article provides a guide to vegetarian diets, including a one-week trial meal plan.
What Is a Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet means that you must refrain from eating beef, fish, and poultry. People also take vegetarian diets for religious or personal purposes and ethical concerns such as animal rights.
Others decide to become vegetarian for environmental reasons, as livestock production raises greenhouse gas emissions, leads to climate change, and requires a large amount of water, energy, and natural resources.
There are many types of vegetarianism, each of which differs in its limitations.
The most common types are:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet: Cuts meat, fish, and poultry, but allows eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto-vegetarian diet: Avoids meat, fish, poultry, and eggs but allows for dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian diet: Cuts meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products but allows eggs.
- Pescetarian diet: Cuts meat and poultry, but allows for fish and often eggs and dairy products.
- Vegan diet: Avoids meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, and other products originating from animals, such as honey
- Flexitarian diet: A vegetarian diet that includes occasional meat, fish or poultry.
Some people are still refusing meat and animal products for religious reasons.
Here are several ways in which avoiding meat products can increase the health of a human.
- Weight: According to the 2016 Meta-Analysis, switching to a vegetarian diet can help a person to lose weight. Scientists need to carry out long-term controlled trials to understand how vegetarian diets can affect weight.
- Cholesterol: A systematic review published in 2015 reported that people who follow vegetarian diets are likely to have lower overall cholesterol levels.
- Cancer: A survey of about 70,000 people found evidence that the overall incidence of cancer among vegetarians was smaller than among non-vegetarians. The authors suggested that a non-meat diet could provide some protection from the risk of cancer.
- Heart health: Authors of the 2014 report found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in people following vegetarian diets in India. Studies in western countries have also produced similar results.
- Diabetes: People who have vegetarian diets may be less likely to have type 2 diabetes. One reason for this may be higher intakes of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and lower intakes of unhealthy fats.
These advantages would not happen automatically when a human stops eating meat. In addition to vegetarian diets, people need to make sure they:
- Get the proper amount of calories
- Emphasis on a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains;
- Limit the intake of processed food and alcohol
- Avoid healthful fats and processed sugar and salt.
- Take part in an overall healthy lifestyle, with lots of exercises
- Avoid smoke
A well-rounded vegetarian diet can be both balanced and nutritional. However, this can also increase the risk of some nutritional deficiencies.
Meat, poultry, and fish supply a good amount of protein and omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients such as zinc, selenium, iron and vitamin B12. Other animal products, such as milk and eggs, also contain a significant amount of calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins.
When you cut meat or other animal products from your diet, you must ensure that you get these essential nutrients from other sources. Studies suggest that vegetarians are at greater risk for protein, calcium, iron, iodine and vitamin B12 deficiencies. Nutritional deficiency in these main micronutrients can lead to fatigue, weakness, anaemia, bone loss, and thyroid problems.
Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein sources, and fortified foods is a simple way to ensure that you get good nutrition. Multivitamins and supplements are another option to bump up your intake and compensate for potential deficiencies quickly.
Tips for getting started
Here are a few tips for converting to vegetarian diets:
- Start to learn about the nutrients needed and how to obtain them.
- Get some tips and ideas from vegetarian blogs, a nearby health food shop, or a dietitian.
- Take weekly shopping and a food schedule.
- Concentrate on a variety of meat-free recipes that provide a full protein so that you don’t end up consuming as before, but just leave the meat out.
- Consider, for example, making the change gradually over a month.
- Start with the common meat-free foods, such as mac and cheese and salad, and add them to your list over time.
Sample Meal Plan
Here’s a one-week sample meal plan for a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet to help get you started.
- Breakfast: Fruit and flaxseed oatmeal
- Lunch: Grilled vegetable and hummus wrap with sweet potato fries
- Dinner: Tofu banh mi sandwich with pickled slaws
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with tomatoes, garlic and mushrooms;
- Lunch: Zucchini boats filled with vegetables and feta with tomato soup
- Dinner: Chickpea curry and basmati rice
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with chia seeds and berries
- Lunch: Farro salad with tomatoes, cucumber, and feta with spicy lentil soup
- Dinner: Parmesan eggplant with a side salad
- Breakfast: Tofu scrambled with sautéed peppers, onions, and spinach
- Lunch: Burrito bowl of brown rice, beans, avocado, salsa, and vegetable.
- Dinner: Vegetable paella with side salads
- Breakfast: whole-wheat toast with avocado and a healthy yeast
- Lunch: Marinated tofu pita pocket with Greek salad
- Dinner: Quinoa-black-bean meatballs with noodles of zucchini
- Breakfast: kale smoothie, fruit, bananas, nut butter, and almond milk
- Lunch: Red lentil vegetable burger with avocado salad
- Dinner: Flatbread with grilled vegetables and pesto
- Breakfast: Kale and sweet potato scramble
- Lunch: Bell peppers stuffed with tempeh and fried zucchini
- Dinner: Black bean tacos with cauliflower rice
The Bottom Line
Many vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, and fish, although some also exclude eggs, dairy and other animal products.
A balanced vegetarian diet with nutritious foods such as produce, grains, healthy fats, and plant-based proteins can benefit. Still, it can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies if poorly planned.
Make sure to pay close attention to a few main nutrients and fill your diet with nutritious whole foods. That way, you will reap the benefits of vegetarianism while minimizing the side effects.