To put it simply, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is devoid of all meats – beef, lamb, venison, chicken, turkey, fowl, pork, fish, prawns, squid, shrimp, oyster, etc. A vegan diet is a sub type of a regular vegetarian diet with a little difference. Along with the usual animal products, vegans also avoid animal byproducts like dairy, honey, beeswax, etc. Other types of vegetarian diets include lacto-ovo vegetarianism, where a lacto-ovo vegetarian consumes eggs and milk, but no animal meats.
People choose a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons, like the concern for living organisms; religious belief, a healthier living and lifestyle, and the concern for the environment and the effect the meat industry have on it.
A lot of people adopt a vegetarian lifestyle for the following health advantages it brings with it:
- Lowered levels of cholesterol
- Lowered levels of saturated fats
- Lowered blood pressure levels
- Lowered risk of contracting cancer
- Lowered risk of contracting type 2 diabetes
The Nutrients Missed Out On
Though a vegetarian diet is considered to be extremely healthy, a vegetarian needs to realize that there are a lot of his or her nutritional needs that may not be met with if they are not careful.
A vegetarian needs to properly plan all their meals with extreme care to ensure that there are no deficiencies. Small children, athletes and the elderly are at the highest risk of contracting nutritional deficiencies as vegetarians do not consume one or more of the major five food groups that a human should consume regularly.
Mentioned below are the nutrients that vegetarians need to be particular about consuming:
- Protein – Protein is the main building block of our body and is essential for growth. With the elimination of meat from the diet, it needs to be replaced by plant sources so that there is no deficiency. Food items like soya bean, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, flax seed; nuts, etc. are some of the great sources of protein.
- Calcium – Calcium is one of the essential nutrients in the body, required to build strong bones. It is essential for young children, women, the elderly and athletes. While following the vegan diet, it becomes essential to substitute the traditional dairy sources of calcium with non-dairy sources like soy milk, turnip greens, tofu, fortified cereals, soy beans and beans.
- Iron – Iron is one of the most essential micronutrients as it plays the vital role of transporting oxygen through the blood to all the parts of the body. Animal sources like sea food are extremely rich in iron, which is why you need some of the following plant based substitutes to prevent a deficiency: beans, quinoa, soya beans, potatoes, tofu and spirulina. The phytic acids present in a lot of grains and legumes can hinder the absorption of iron in the body. This effect can be reduced by soaking the grains and legumes before cooking them.
- B12 – Vitamin B 12 is usually found in non-vegetarian sources such as liver, mackerel and clam and is not found in most plant sources. Vegans are at a high risk of suffering from the deficiency of this nutrient.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, iron and zinc in the body and is a fat-soluble vitamin. The deficiency of this nutrient results in high blood pressure, dental cavities, blood cholesterol problems, osteoporosis, and may even lead to erectile dysfunction. Sunlight is one of the most important sources of vitamin D. Vegans can get their supple of vitamin D from fortified cereals and non-dairy milk.
- Zinc – Zinc is one of the micronutrients and the one of the minerals required to create the DNA in our body. The deficiency of zinc results in abdominal cramps, diarrhea and impotence. Zinc is usually found in animal sources like oyster, lamb and beef.
Vegetarian diets take an unhealthy turn when they no longer provide your body with the nutrients it requires. This can be due to poor planning or the lack of substitutes. Supplementing the aforementioned nutrients is a must – either through plant sources or through external sources.
Consumption Of Junk Food
A lot of people believe that the consumption of fruits and vegetables cancels out all their unhealthy food choices. Sadly, this is not true. Vegans and vegetarians do not have the free reign to consume unlimited amounts of potato chips, fries, cakes and cookies. They shouldn’t overindulge in the consumption of junk food. Most junk foods like cookies, donuts, Doritos, cupcakes are vegan, but have large amounts of empty calories, sugars and fats that negate all the good that a vegetarian brings.
Just because a food is branded or marketed with the word “vegan” it doesn’t automatically make it healthy. It is important to closely read the labels and choose food according to their nutritional content and avoid junk food as much as you can.
Lack Of Exercise
Vegetarians and vegans who follow a nutritionally sound diet that contains large amounts of healthy foods like grains; beans, fruits, vegetables and nuts are indeed making an extremely healthy choice. But, this in no way means that they can do away with exercising. Without adequate physical exercising, a diet, even a plant based one, is a waste.
A combination of a healthy vegetarian diet with regular physical activity results in a healthier and an energized you!