Fact or fiction: Vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters?
It’s a long-held perception of vegetarians, but while there are obvious benefits to eating a predominantly plant-based diet, forgoing meat is not inherently better for your bod. Complicating matters, there are so many different types of vegetarians that it can be difficult to discern one clear-cut result of adopting such a diet.
The good news: you can reap some perks of eating the veggie way without having to cut out all of those dishes you love so much!
In an attempt to help you better understand the issue, we’ve answered some of your meatiest questions about going veg…
Q. Is a vegetarian diet always healthier than a meat-eating lifestyle?
A. Not necessarily. Cutting out the higher-fat meats from your meals will mean reducing some of the saturated fat that can lead to clogged arteries and raise your risk for heart disease. As a result, you’ll also eliminate some extra calories, which can obviously help with weight loss. And since you’re eating more vegetables and fruit, you’re likely to take in more phytochemicals and fibre, which can mean lowering your risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer. However, if you replace those meats with other high-fat foods - sweets and snack foods, rich sauces, high-fat dairy products - you can easily cancel out those benefits. In other words, a vegetarian diet is only healthier when it means eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and consuming less saturated fat.
Q. Don’t vegetarians need to eat tofu and drink soya milk to get enough protein?
A. Vegetarians don’t have to eat soya products. If the spongy stuff is not your style, there are plenty of other veggie protein sources besides soy, including eggs and low-fat dairy products. If you plan to go the vegan route and cut out all animal products, you can get protein from a wide variety of beans, nuts and seeds. Also, consider soya in other forms such as edamame. This ideal snack is simply boiled, lightly salted soyabeans in the shell.
Q. Won’t I get bored eating the same foods all the time?
A. On the contrary, you don’t have to eat the same foods all the time just because you’re a vegetarian. Not only is there a huge variety of fruit, vegetables, grains, pulses and other wholefoods to choose from, but almost every meat and dairy product has a meat- or dairy-free stand-in. Most of these products contain protein since they’re made with soya. But many are lower in fat than the original versions. Check labels to be sure. The only limit is your imagination!
Q. Are there any risks associated with cutting out meat and animal products?
A. Actually, there are. Eating no animal products can put you at risk for a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which can lead to irreversible nerve damage. Our vitamin B-12 requirement is very small, however, and vegetarians could meet their need with fortified breakfast cereal or a B-12 supplement. If you remove all dairy from your diet, you may lack calcium and vitamin D, which can increase your risk for osteoporosis. As a result, vegetarians are advised to consume plenty of plant sources of calcium, including leafy greens, beans and soy foods. To get enough vitamin D, which enhances calcium absorption, seek out fortified cereals and soymilk.
Q. Is it okay for kids to follow a vegetarian diet?
A. Some nutritionists believe it’s not a smart idea for kids to miss out on red meat because children require iron, zinc and copper and several essential amino acids found only in meats for normal growth and development. If you’re considering raising your kids as vegetarians, first speak to a paediatrician to ensure that you aren’t depriving them of essential nutrition and to find out about proper supplementation.
Q. Is it safe to eat a vegetarian diet during pregnancy?
A. Pregnant women should be especially careful about eliminating meat products from their diets. In a study conducted earlier this year, researchers at the University of Bristol found that mums who followed a vegetarian diet during pregnancy were five times more likely to deliver a baby boy with a birth defect. While the cause was unclear, researchers speculate that a compound found in soya may be to blame and that vegetarian women were more likely to eat a diet high in soya. To prevent problems like this, speak to your doctor or a nutritionist before switching to a vegetarian diet. Or, if you’re currently a vegetarian and are thinking about having a baby, consult your doctor about any special precautions.
Q. Can you provide me with a vegetarian diet?
A. Yes! Our online vegetarian plan will take all of your dietary requirements into account when planning your weekly meals for you. No matter what type of plan you wish to follow, your diet will be a balanced and healthy way to lose weight.
Vegetarians differ widely in their strictness. Which of the following labels best describes the type of diet you plan to follow?
Pesco-vegetarian Eats dairy, eggs, fish, but no other animal products.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian Eats both dairy products and eggs, but no other animal products.
Lacto-vegetarian Eats dairy products, but no eggs or other animal products.
Vegan Eats no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or other animal products.