A person may choose to follow a vegetarian diet for various reasons, including health issues, environmental concerns, or religious beliefs. Regardless of the reason, it is important to consider a few things before becoming vegetarian.
For instance, people should know which foods to avoid and what to include in their diet to ensure that they are meeting their nutritional requirements.
Keep reading for more information on what to expect when becoming vegetarian, the potential risks, and how to make the transition.
Types of vegetarian diet
A person may choose from several different types of vegetarian diet, which differ in terms of the foods that they include or exclude. The main types include:
lacto — allows the inclusion of dairy products but not eggs
ovo — allows eggs but not dairy
lacto-ovo — allows both dairy and eggs
A partial vegetarian will exclude most meats from their diet but will include either fish or poultry. For example, a pescatarian will eat fish but avoid other meats. A pollo-vegetarian, or pollotarian, will include poultry but no other meats.
A flexitarian primarily eats a vegetarian diet. Where they differ from other vegetarians is that they will occasionally eat small amounts of meat, poultry, eggs, and fish.
A vegan will avoid consuming any animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and honey.
Learn more about the differences between vegetarianism and veganism here.
Health benefits of being vegetarian
There are some potential health benefits of becoming vegetarian. However these are dependent on what a person includes in their diet. For example if a persons diet includes mainly processed foods they are unlikely to get as many benefits as someone who primarily eats fresh vegetables fruits and whole grains.
Research has shown that a person may gain the following benefits from eating a vegetarian diet:
Following a diet that is overly restrictive in any way can lead to health issues. A person should plan any new diet carefully before starting it and discuss it with a healthcare professional to make sure that they are getting all of the nutrients that they need.
Although a vegetarian diet can be a good choice for a persons overall health it is possible to be a vegetarian and eat poorly. Many unhealthful foods are vegetarian because they do not contain animal products, and eating too many of these foods can be detrimental to overall health.
Although plant-based diets are typically rich in low calorie foods such as vegetables and fruits it is still possible to overeat, which can cause a person to gain weight.
It is important for a person switching to a vegetarian diet to make sure that they eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthful fats, and whole grains. Eating only vegetarian foods can put a person at risk of not getting enough of certain nutrients, including proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B-12.
A person should plan their diet to include sources of these and other nutrients that are essential to overall health. In some cases, supplementation may also be necessary, especially for people following more restrictive plant-based diets that cut out most or all animal products.
Key nutrients to substitute
A person may be at risk of certain nutritional deficiencies when making the switch to a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet.
The specific nutrients that a person may be lacking will depend largely on the type of vegetarian diet that they eat.
For instance, a person who still eats dairy, fish, eggs, or a limited amount of meat may not have any issues with nutritional deficiencies. Conversely, people who follow vegan diets may need to supplement with vitamins and minerals, depending on their dietary intake and restrictions.
Some of the nutrients that are most likely to be lacking include:
Most people get their protein from meat, fish, or poultry. Lacto, ovo, and lacto-ovo vegetarians can get protein from both plant and animal sources. People who follow a vegan diet will not get protein from animal products. Some substitutes can include:
certain grains, such as quinoa
nut and seed butters
Read more about some of the best meat substitutes for vegetarians here.
Iron is another nutrient that is present in red meats and other animal-based products. However, a person can get iron from other sources, such as:
whole grain whe