Time to Go Vegetarian or Vegan?

Tofu Skewers

“I’m a vegan.” Have you heard that lately? It seems like everyone’s doing it, even J-Lo! Could being a vegetarian or vegan be the next best thing to going ‘gluten free’? And more importantly, is it for you?

This following articles will look at the different types of vegetarians and what they eat, the challenges with meeting nutritional needs on a vegetarian diet, preparing healthy vegetarian meals and meeting the needs of a vegetarian athlete. For simplicity I’m going to refer to all vegetarians and vegans as ‘vegetarians’.

Before I go on, I must confess that I am indeed a vegetarian and occasional vegan. I have been since I was 15. But when I went vegetarian, I didn’t have a clue about the nutritional implications of an unbalanced vegetarian diet. As a result, my early vegetarian diet days were not as healthy as they should have been. I know I’m not alone in that experience. So, if you are considering going vegetarian you need to be prepared to read up well and learn how to have a well balanced, healthy vegetarian diet as this is essential to good health and sustaining this lifestyle.

Living ‘la vida vegetariana’ is definitely not for everyone but if you are contemplating it, you should know all the facts before making the change.

What is a Vegetarian or Vegan?

Simply said, it is someone that partially or fully avoids all animal products. There are different types of vegetarians, here are some of the main ones.

Vegan Avoid all animal foods and products including all meats, eggs, dairy, honey and even products made from animals e.g. leather, wool etc
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian Avoids all animal foods except eggs and dairy.
Lacto – vegetarian Avoid all animal foods except dairy.
Ovo-vegetarian Avoid all animal foods except egg.
Pesco-vegetarian Usually a lacto-ovo vegetarian who also eats fish.
Pseudo vegetarian Usually avoids red meat, but includes poultry, beef extracts e.g. gelatin, fish, eggs and dairy products.
Fruitarian Avoids everything except raw or dried fruits, nuts, seeds, honey and plant based oil.
Macrobiotic Strictly avoids processed foods and exclude all meat, dairy and eggs. They consume warm cooked grains, vegetables, pulses, seaweeds, and fermented products.

Is a Vegetarian Diet Healthier?

The simple answer is; not necessarily. Just because you don’t eat meat or animal products doesn’t mean what you do eat is healthy. A vegetarian who lives on processed foods is no healthier than an omnivore (meat and plants based diet) that lives on processed food. An unbalanced vegetarian or omnivore diet can both lead to deficiencies and poor health.

The American Dietetic Association states that ‘appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases’. Note the part where it says ‘appropriately planned’! Research also shows that vegetarians appear to have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians. So we can see that a well-planned vegetarian diet is healthy and may even reduce risks of diet related diseases but the same goes for a healthy omnivore diet too.

Achieving a healthy vegetarian diet takes planning. The next article will look at nutrients needed to achieve a healthy vegetarian diet.

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