Vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular. The reasons to start a vegetarian diet vary, but they all have health benefits, such as lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers. Research studies estimate that vegetarians account for up to 18% of the world population.
However, some vegans eat far too many processed meals, which can be heavy in calories, fat, sugar, and salt. Furthermore, they may not consume enough fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and calcium-rich meals, depriving themselves of the minerals they supply.
A vegetarian diet, on the other hand, may suit the needs of individuals of all ages, including toddlers, teens, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, with a little preparation. The goal is to be aware of your nutritional requirements so that you can develop a diet to satisfy them.
Types and Kinds of Vegetarian Diets
When most people think of a vegetarian diet, they see one that excludes meat, poultry, and fish. However, vegetarian diets differ in terms of what foods they include and exclude:
- Lacto-vegetarian diets omit meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, as well as items containing these ingredients. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter are all examples of dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian diets do not include meat, poultry, fish, or dairy foods, but they do include eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diets do not include meat, fish, or poultry, but do include eggs and dairy products.
- Pescatarian diets forego meat and poultry, eggs, and dairy in favor of fish.
- Vegan diets omit the meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products—as well as foods containing these ingredients.
Some individuals prefer consuming a semivegetarian diet, also known as a flexitarian diet, which is mostly plant-based but includes meat, dairy, chicken, eggs, and fish on occasion or in limited amounts.
How to Plan a Healthy Vegetarian Diet
Choose a range of healthful plant-based foods when you start a vegetarian diet, such as whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, to get the most out of your vegetarian diet. Simultaneously, limit your intake of less nutritious options such as sugar-sweetened drinks, fruit juices, and refined carbohydrates. If you want assistance, a qualified dietician can assist you in developing a vegetarian diet that is appropriate for you.
Here are some daily amounts based on a 2,000-calorie diet for a Vegetarian Diet according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Vegetables: 2 and ½ cups a day
- Fruits: 2 cups per day
- Grains: 6 and a half ounces per day
- Dairy: 3 cups per day
- Protein foods: 3 and a half ounces a day
- Oils: 27 grams per day
You should remember that the more limited your diet, the more difficult it might be to acquire all of the nutrients you require. A vegan diet, for example, excludes natural sources of vitamin B-12 as well as dairy products, which are high in calcium.
Pay close attention to the following nutrients to ensure that your diet has all your body requires.
Vitamin D and Calcium:
Calcium aids in the development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. Calcium levels are higher in milk and dairy products. Dark green vegetables, such as turnip and collard greens, kale, and broccoli, on the other hand, are good plant sources when consumed in appropriate quantities. Other calcium-enriched and fortified goods include juices, cereals, soy milk, soy yogurt, and tofu.
Vitamin D is also vital for bone health. Cow’s milk, some kinds of soy and rice milk, and some cereals and margarine include vitamin D. Make careful to read food labels. If you do not consume enough fortified foods and get a little sun, you could need a vitamin D supplement (one derived from plants).
Vitamin B-12 is required for the production of red blood cells and the prevention of anemia. Because this vitamin is nearly entirely found in animal sources, it might be challenging to acquire enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vegans may be at risk of vitamin B-12 insufficiency that goes unnoticed. This is because the vegan diet is high in folate, which can disguise vitamin B-12 deficiency until serious issues arise. As a result, vegans should explore vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals, and fortified soy products.
Protein aids in the maintenance of healthy skin, muscles, organs, and bones. Dairy and eggs are terrific sources of protein, and you do not need to consume a lot of them to get enough. Plant-based meals can also provide enough protein if consumed in a variety throughout the day. The soy products and meat alternatives, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, and whole grains are all plant sources. One significant challenge when you start a vegetarian diet is to find and embrace higher protein vegetarian foods that both your body and taste buds can tolerate.
Zinc & Iron:
Iron is required for the formation of red blood cells. It’s mainly found in dry peas and beans, fortified cereals, whole-grain goods, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit. Since iron is not as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended iron consumption for vegetarians is about double that of nonvegetarians. Consume vitamin C-rich foods such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage, and broccoli with iron-containing meals to assist your body to absorb iron.
Zinc, like iron, is less easily absorbed from plant sources than it is from animal products. If you consume dairy products, cheese is always an excellent choice to make. Soy products, grains, legumes, nuts, and wheat germ are all good sources of zinc. Zinc is an important component of many enzymes and is involved in cell division and protein production.
Fatty acids with Omega-3:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for cardiovascular health. Diets lacking in eggs and fish are often deficient in active forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Essential fatty acids may be found in canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, crushed flaxseed, and soybeans. However, because the conversion of plant-based omega-3 to human-useable omega-3 is poor, you may wish to investigate fortified food, supplements, or even both.
Most vegetarians abstain from meat, fish, and poultry, but others also forgo eggs, dairy, and other animal products. When you’re ready to start a vegetarian diet you should prepare in advance to cut these foods from your favorite meals.
A well-balanced vegetarian diet rich in nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, grains, and plant-based protein may provide several benefits, but it may also raise your risk of nutritional deficiencies if not well managed.
Make a point of focusing on a few important elements and rounding out your diet with a range of nutritious whole foods. That way, you can get the benefits of vegetarianism while limiting the negative consequences.