Vegetarian diets have been around since the beginning of human kind. Vegetarian diets aren’t just about vegetables and it is actually quite difficult to do a vegetarian diet well!
Just so you know, there are several categories for being a Vegetarian:
Pesco-vegetarian – Eats dairy foods, eggs, fish but no other animals
Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – Eats dairy foods and eggs but no animals or fish
Lacto-vegetarian – Eats dairy foods but no animals, fish or eggs
Ovo-vegetarian – Eats eggs but no dairy foods, animals or fish
Vegan (the most strict) – Eats no eggs, dairy, fish or meat
Pros (if followed well):
• Low in saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein (excess animal protein can have its problems)
• High in good (usually!) carbs, fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, high in phytochemicals (a real plus here!)
• Less risk of obesity
• Lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease and lower risk for coronary artery disease
• Lower incidence of high blood cholesterol levels, hypertension, type II diabetes, constipation, gallstones, prostate and colon cancer.
• Deficiencies in iron and zinc are common. The reason for this is that iron and zinc are mainly found in animal products and a vegetarian may not be aware of the foods they need to eat to ensure they get enough iron and zinc. Vegetarians can also eat foods that can inhibit the absorption of iron such as certain grains and fibres.
• Vegetarians need to be careful of weight problems – they can lose weight due to not having enough protein or food in general – or interestingly, they can gain weight. The reason for weight gain is usually that the vegetarian may be eating too many refined grains and too much high fat dairy – their high intake of dairy (eg cheese) is because this helps to flavour their food and they may tend to have too much.
• Protein deficiencies can also occur. This is important as there are few bodily functions that don’t rely on protein! It is important for a vegetarian (and especially a vegan) to know how to combine plant protein sources to get the most complete protein from their diet.
• This leads me to the Vegan diets. Vegan diets in particular are difficult diets and there is an increased risk of developing a deficiency in Vitamin B12 as this is found in animal foods. A Vegan would need to obtain their Vitamin B12 from fortified foods or supplements. They may obtain very small amounts from fungi (mushrooms) and fermented foods such as tempeh or miso (due to bacteria possibly synthesising Vitamin B12) – but both of these are a bit hit and miss – you can’t be guaranteed there would be Vitamin B12 in these foods. The bacteria in your gut may also synthesise some Vitamin B12 however it would depend on your gut health! And what do we need Vitamin B12 for? The nervous system, energy, red blood cell production, DNA production (and more!)
• Vegan diets (and some other vegetarian diets) are also potentially deficient in other B vitamins, Vitamins A and D, Omega 3 fatty acids, copper, calcium, iodine and, of course, iron and zinc – it is a long list!
So the answer is, if you want to be vegetarian, do the diet well and there could be great health benefits. If you are vegetarian and you would like your diet analysed or you want help to make your vegetarian diet the best it can be, call Michelle at Avedissian Natural Health on 9453 0779.