What is Vegetarianism Really: A Beginners Guide to The Vegetarian Diet, What to Eat/Not to Eat, Plus the Advantages and Risks Associated with Vegetarianism.
The vegetarian diet has spread like wildfire in today’s new health-conscious, environmentally conscious, ethically conscious world. Some studies suggest that as of 2022, vegetarianism accounts for upwards of 22% of the overall population’s diet (a staggering 1.5 billion vegetarians globally). But what is vegetarianism, and why has it become so popular?
According to Oxford Languages, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat, poultry, or fish but occasionally still consumes animal by-products. Accordingly, these persons’ diets instead consist entirely of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and sometimes dairy products or eggs.
While it is true that many people are turned to vegetarianism as ethical and health consciousness grows, vegetarianism has been around throughout history as societies have been practicing this diet for religious reasons.
For example, India has the highest number of vegetarians, with nearly 40% of the Indian population conforming to vegetarianism. A further 81% of the Indian population restricts their intake of meat in some or other form.
This can be the restriction of particular meat or can be a restriction during certain days. Interesting, right? Well, there are many more cool facts about vegetarianism that we hope to share with you in this article.
So please, stay tuned while we take a further look into what a vegetarian diet truly has. We will start with a true beginner’s guide to vegetarianism, discuss the extensive health benefits of this diet, and consider some of the health risks of vegetarianism too. We will also examine how vegetarianism can (literally) save the world!
The Vegetarian Diet: A Beginner’s Guide
As discussed above, a vegetarian diet typically consists of a person not eating meat, poultry, or fish. A person may choose to follow this diet for various reasons, including religious, health, ethical or environmental reasons.
However, we have yet to discuss the different kinds of vegetarianism. Vegetarianism comes in several forms, each differentiated by its particular restrictions regarding what that person can or cannot eat.
Different kinds of vegetarians
The different forms of vegetarianism are varied, but the most commonly seen vegetarian diets are:
- The ‘ova-vegetarian’ diet: allows eggs; it does not allow meat, poultry, fish, or dairy.
- The ‘Lacto-vegetarian’ diet: allows dairy; it does not allow meat, poultry, fish, or eggs.
- The ‘lacto-ovo-vegetarian’ diet: allows dairy and eggs; do not allow any meat, poultry, or fish.
- The ‘pescetarian’ diet; allows fish and sometimes dairy or eggs but does not allow meat or poultry.
- The ‘vegan’ diet; does not allow any animal or animal by-products (including dairy, eggs, honey, etc. Nothing derived from animals may be consumed).
- The ‘flexitarian’ diet; A flexible vegetarian diet that only sometimes allows meat, poultry, or fish products.
The Vegetarian Meal Plan:
Foods You Should Avoid in Your Vegetarian Diet:
*(Varies depending on the type of vegetarianism)
- Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, or veal.
- Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey, quail.
- Fish: Any seafood (fish or shellfish).
- Dairy: any products containing milk, including yogurt and cheese.
- Meat-based ingredients (gelatine, suet, carmine).
- Other animal products (honey, beeswax, pollen).
Foods You Should Include in Your Vegetarian Diet:
- Vegetables: Dark, leafy greens (like spinach), broccoli, carrots, and asparagus.
- Fruits: Apples, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, kiwi, oranges, peaches, and melons.
- Proteins: Dairy products (milk, butter, cheese), eggs, tofu, nutritional yeast, seitan, spirulina.
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas.
- Nuts: Cashew nuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts.
- Seeds: sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds.
- Grains: Rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, and barley.
- Also, it is essential to include healthy fats like avocados and olive oil in your diet.
Health Advantages of the Vegetarian Diet:
An ever-increasing number of scientific research studies indicate undeniable health benefits to adopting the vegetarian diet.
In one study, researchers created different scenarios to study the potential health implications of particular diets. One of the scenarios they tested was based on the global dietary guidelines, one was related to the current consumption trends, and the final two were vegetarianism and veganism.
The researchers found that vegetarianism and veganism could prevent upwards of 7 million deaths yearly because of their significant health benefits. But what are these health benefits?
Well, for starters, a vegetarian diet improves heart health significantly. So much so that it is estimated that vegetarians have a 40% reduced risk of death by heart disease compared to non-vegetarians.
Further still, vegetarians have a 10% lower chance of developing cancer. This is likely because studies have proven that consuming processed meats is directly linked to a higher risk of developing cancer. Moreover, vegetarians have a whopping 50% less chance of developing type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians.
Many of these health benefits can likely be linked to vegetarianism being highly effective for maintaining a healthy weight. Only about 18% of vegetarians are obese. Conversely, almost double the number of omnivores is recorded as being obese. This is likely because meat and meat products contain much more fat than vegetarian foods.
Environmental Benefits of Vegetarianism:
Another cool benefit of following a vegetarian diet is helping out the environment. Did you know that almost 91% of the Amazon (that is, 260 million acres of the rainforest) has been cleared and destroyed to make space for animal farming?
This rainforest is one of the biggest in the world and is responsible for absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Amazon rainforest absorbs a quarter of the 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide sucked up by trees globally.
Due to its continued destruction to make way for animal agricultural farming practices, the climate has declined dramatically in recent years.
Researchers estimate that if there were a global shift towards vegetarianism, we could eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by upwards of 60% and save at least 75% of the Amazon in the process!
The benefit of this would not only help slow global warming and make for a much healthier natural environment – but cutting these emissions would also have an estimated annual economic benefit of $570 billion!
Combined with the lost productivity and health care costs related to an illness linked to meat-based diets, vegetarianism could say an incredible $1 trillion every year!
An increasing number of people are turning to vegetarianism because of the environmental benefit. For instance, the number of people who chose vegetarianism for environmental reasons in 2018 was 31%; in 2022, this has risen to 48%.
(Potential) Health Risks Related to the Vegetarian Diet:
While vegetarianism is, for the most part, highly beneficial to your health and fully capable of providing a well-rounded diet, there are some potential major health concerns.
Becoming a vegetarian can risk certain nutritional deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients. For starters, meat, poultry, and fish provide a large amount of protein and fatty acids (like omega-3).
These foods contain micronutrients like iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and selenium. Additionally, dairy products and eggs contain calcium and B and D vitamins.
There is a high risk of vegetarians suffering from a lack of protein, iron, B vitamins, calcium, and even iodine. Deficiencies of these critical micronutrients can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, weak bones and bone density loss, anemia, and even thyroid issues.
Therefore, it is vital to properly supplement a vegetarian diet to ensure that you get these nutrients from other sources. Including a wide range of vegetables, fruits, fortified foods, whole grains, and vegetarian protein sources (such as legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, seitan, etc.) is extremely important for this reason.
Another option is to include multivitamins in your daily routine to compensate for any deficiencies you may encounter from your vegetarian diet.
Getting the best nutrition on a vegetarian diet
If you want to get the best nutrition possible on a vegetarian diet, then you need to be sure that you are eating a varied and balanced diet.
This means including various plant-based proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and fiber.
It’s also essential to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, which are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. These will help protect against chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Include beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, soybeans, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, barley, brown rice, millet, amaranth, teff, flaxseeds, hempseeds, and chia seeds in your diet. They offer a great source of protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
A vegetarian diet provides many health benefits, but some nutrients are present predominantly in animal products. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are primarily found in seafood and plant oils. Zinc, selenium, iodine, iron, and vitamin B12 are all found in meats, poultry, and fish. In addition, there are several vitamins and minerals that vegetarians must watch out for because they are found predominantly in animal foods.
For instance, calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, whereas vitamin D is produced in the skin upon exposure to sunlight. Vitamin K is found in leafy green vegetables, while magnesium occurs naturally in whole grains and nuts. Folate is found in dark green vegetables, beans, and peas. And vitamin A is found in liver, eggs, and dairy products.
Therefore, consider supplementing where required because otherwise, you would develop nutritional deficiencies, which can be debilitating.
To Sum It Up…
While becoming a vegetarian means possibly giving up some of your favorite foods, the benefits of adopting this plant-based diet truly make up for the sacrifice. In this article, we saw that the vegetarian diet consists entirely of plant-based foods and sometimes dairy or eggs (depending on your branch of vegetarianism).
We also saw that the health benefits of this diet include huge reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. There is also a significant benefit for the environment as vegetarianism has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the Amazon rainforest, all while saving vast amounts of money every year!
But regardless of your reason for going vegetarian, it is crucial to maintain a balanced diet. In this article, we have provided a list of foods to avoid and a list of foods to include in your plant-based diet. Ensure you get enough protein, nutrients, and vitamins to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet.