The vegetarian diet has gained widespread popularity in recent years.
Some studies estimate that vegetarians make up up to 18% of the global population (1).
In addition to the ethical and environmental benefits of removing meat from your diet, a well-planned vegetarian diet can also reduce the risk of chronic diseases, support weight loss, and improve the quality of your diet.
This article provides an introductory guide to the vegetarian diet, including a sample food plan for the week.
The vegetarian diet includes abstinence from meat, fish and poultry.
People often adopt a vegetarian diet for religious or personal reasons, as well as ethical issues such as animal rights.
Others choose to become vegetarians for environmental reasons, as livestock production increases greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to climate change, and requires large amounts of water, energy, and natural resources (2,
There are several forms of vegetarianism, each of which differs in its limitations.
The most common types include:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish and poultry, but allows eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry and eggs, but allows dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry and dairy products, but allows eggs.
- Petsetarian diet: Eliminates meat and poultry, but allows fish and sometimes eggs and dairy products.
- Vegan diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, as well as other animal products, such as honey.
- Flexible diet: A mostly vegetarian diet that includes casual meat, fish or poultry.
Most people who follow a vegetarian diet do not eat meat, fish or poultry. Other changes include the inclusion or exclusion of eggs, milk and other animal products.
Vegetarian diets are associated with a number of health benefits.
In fact, studies show that vegetarians tend to have better dietary quality than those who eat meat and a higher intake of important nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium (
A vegetarian diet can also provide some other health supplements.
May increase weight loss
Switching to a vegetarian diet can be an effective strategy if you are looking to lose weight.
In fact, a summary of 12 studies noted that vegetarians, on average, experienced 4.5 kg more (2 kg) weight loss over 18 weeks than non-vegetarians (
Similarly, a six-month study in 74 people with type 2 diabetes showed that vegetarian diets were almost twice as effective in reducing body weight as low-calorie diets (
Plus, a study of nearly 61,000 adults found that vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than omnivores – BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight (
May reduce the risk of cancer
Some research suggests that a vegetarian diet may be associated with a lower risk of cancer – including those of the breast, colon, rectum and stomach (
However, current research is limited to observational studies, which cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Keep in mind that some studies have resulted in inconsistent findings (
Therefore, more research is needed to understand how vegetarianism can affect cancer risk.
May Stabilize Blood Sugar
Some studies show that vegetarian diets can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
For example, a review of six studies linked vegetarianism to improved blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes (
Vegetarian diets can also prevent diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels in the long run.
According to a study in 2,918 people, switching from a vegetarian diet to a vegetarian diet was associated with a 53% reduction in diabetes risk over an average of five years (
Promotes Heart Health
Vegetarian diets reduce several risk factors for heart disease to keep your heart healthy and strong.
A study of 76 people linked vegetarian diets to lower levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol – all of which are risk factors for heart disease as they grow (
Similarly, another recent study in 118 people found that a low-calorie vegetarian diet was more effective in lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol than a Mediterranean diet (
Other research shows that vegetarianism may be associated with lower blood pressure levels. High blood pressure is another key risk factor for heart disease (
Vegetarians not only tend to have a higher intake of some key nutrients, but vegetarianism has been associated with weight loss, reduced cancer risk, improved blood sugar and better heart health.
A rounded vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious.
However, it can increase the risk of some nutritional deficiencies.
Meat, poultry and fish provide a good amount of omega-3 proteins and fatty acids, as well as micronutrients such as zinc, selenium, iron and vitamin B12 (
Other animal products such as milk and eggs also contain a lot of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B (
When removing meat or other animal products from your diet, it is important to make sure you are getting these essential nutrients from other sources.
Studies show that vegetarians are at a higher risk of deficiency of protein, calcium, iron, iodine and vitamin B12 (
A nutritional deficiency in these key micronutrients can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, anemia, bone loss and thyroid problems (
Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein sources and fortified foods is a simple way to make sure you are getting the right nutrition.
Multivitamins and supplements are another option to quickly increase your intake and compensate for possible deficiencies.
Cutting meat and animal-based products can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. A well-balanced diet — perhaps along with supplements — can help prevent deficiencies.
A vegetarian diet should include a varied mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins.
To replace the protein provided by meat in your diet, include a variety of protein-rich plant foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, tempeh, tofu and seitan.
If you follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, eggs and milk can also increase your protein intake.
Eating nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains will provide a range of important vitamins and minerals to fill any food gap in your diet.
Some healthy foods to eat on a vegetarian diet are:
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, oranges, melons, pears, peaches
- Vegetables: Leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots
- Kokrra: Quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice, oats
- Legumes: Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, chestnuts
- Seeds: Flax seeds, chia and hemp seeds
- Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado
- Protein: Tempeh, tofu, seitan, natto, nutritional yeast, spirulina, eggs, dairy products
A healthy vegetarian diet includes a variety of nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and plant-based proteins.
There are many variations of vegetarianism, each with different limitations.
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism, the most common type of vegetarian diet, involves the elimination of all meat, poultry, and fish.
Other types of vegetarians can also avoid foods like eggs and milk.
A vegan diet is the most restrictive form of vegetarianism because it forbids meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and any other animal products.
Depending on your needs and preferences, you may need to avoid the following foods in a vegetarian diet:
- Meat: Beef, beef and pork
- Birds: Chicken and turkey
- Fish and shellfish: This restriction does not apply to pescetarians.
- Meat-based ingredients: Gelatin, lard, carmine, isinglass, oleic acid and suet
- Eggs: This restriction applies to vegans and lacto-vegetarians.
- Dairy products: This restriction on milk, yogurt and cheese applies to vegans and vegetarians.
- Other animal products: Vegans can choose to avoid honey, beeswax and pollen.
Most vegetarians avoid meat, poultry and fish. Some variations of vegetarianism may restrict eggs, milk, and other animal products.
To help you get started, here is a sample food plan for a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with fruits and flax seeds
- Lunch: Cover with grilled vegetables and hummus with sweet chips
- Dinner: Tofu sandwich banh mi with pickled knife
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with tomatoes, garlic and mushrooms
- Lunch: Boats of zucchini stuffed with vegetables and slices of tomato soup
- Dinner: Curry of baskets with basmati rice
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with chia seeds and berries
- Lunch: Farro salad with tomatoes, cucumber and slices of spiced lentil soup
- Dinner: Eggplant eggplant with a side salad
- Breakfast: Tofu is mixed with chopped peppers, onions and spinach
- Lunch: Burrito bowl with brown rice, beans, avocado, salsa and vegetables
- Dinner: Vegetable paella with a side salad
- Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with avocado and nutritious yeast
- Lunch: Pocket tofu marinated with Greek salad
- Dinner: Be it quinoa-black beans with zucchini noodles
- Breakfast: Green cabbage smoothie, berries, bananas, walnut butter and almond milk
- Lunch: Vegetable red lentil burger with avocado salad
- Dinner: Flat bread with grilled garden vegetables and pesto
- Breakfast: Hash kale and sweet potatoes
- Lunch: Chili peppers stuffed with tempera with roasted zucchini
- Dinner: Tacos with black beans with cauliflower rice
Above is a sample menu of what a week might look like on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. This plan can be adjusted for other vegetarian styles as well.
Most vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, and fish, although some also limit eggs, milk, and other animal products.
A vegetarian diet balanced with nutritious foods like products, whole grains, healthy fats and plant-based proteins may offer some benefits, but may increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies if poorly planned.
Be sure to pay attention to a few key nutrients and wrap up your diet with a variety of healthy foods. That way, you will enjoy the benefits of vegetarianism while minimizing side effects.
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