Lately more and more people have been jumping on the vegetarian bandwagon and for good reason! There are plenty of benefits to going veggie, but there are also some very common concerns. We’ll explore the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet and provide some helpful tips for those who want to give it a try.
Hi and welcome to Nutritionally speaking. I’m your host, Michaela Ballmann
There are many different diets that people follow, and when I say diet, I don’t mean a weight loss regimen, but more of a lifestyle. Some people eat only raw foods, others avoid all animal products, some eat most everything except red meat, others eschew anything in a bag/box/or package. Today I’m going to talk about the Vegetarian diet or “lifestyle”, and later I’ll include some tips about how to go “Veggie”.
Vegetarian diets are becoming very popular these days, with people having various reasons for falling off the meat wagon. Whether choosing to stop eating meat for health, animal rights, religious, or other reasons, a vegetarian diet is a healthy alternative to a traditional western diet.
There are many different types of vegetarian diet. The most common is “Lacto-ovo vegetarian” in which meat is avoided, but eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products are included. There are also Lacto-vegetarians who eat milk and dairy but no eggs, and Ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs but no dairy. Another type is Vegan, also known as “total vegetarian” in which all animal products including eggs and dairy are avoided; people vary in how strict they are in their diet and other areas of life. For example, some don’t eat honey or buy leather or any other product made out of an animal or tested on animals—there are vegan cosmetics, shoes, clothes, and much, much more! There are other hybrids of vegetarian diets like the pescatarian diet in which the person is basically vegetarian but eats fish too. This person usually doesn’t eat other types of meat, whether beef, chicken, turkey, or any other kind.
For the remainder of the podcast, when I say ‘vegetarian” I will be referring to vegetarian diets that exclude meat like Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian and vegans.
One of the most common reasons why people become vegetarian is for health. With new and old research showing the benefits of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, vegetable protein and fats, there have been more people converting to vegetarianism. So, what exactly are the health benefits of a vegetarian diet?
First, the vegetarian diet is usually lower in saturated and trans fat. Saturated fat is usually in animal products like meat, cheese, and full-fat dairy products. By avoiding these products or eating them in smaller quantities, one can reduce the dangerous effects of this fat, which include increasing the risk for heart disease, atherosclerosis, and strokes. The same is true for trans fat; trans fat naturally occurs only in animal products, but also is man-made in the form of partially-hydrogenated oils in products like margarine or shortening, so in addition to meat, a huge source of trans fat is commercial baked products like cakes and cookies. Trans fat is even worse than saturated fat in increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease/ heart disease and other diseases,
Second, the vegetarian diet is associated with longevity—meaning studies have shown that in general vegetarians live longer than meat eaters!
You can also save money by eating vegetarian. It’s amazing how cheap it can be to eat a warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, a nice salad and avocado sandwich for lunch, veggie chili and brown rice for dinner, fresh fruit throughout the day—it is so economical and makes you feel so good inside too! ?
Vegetarians tend to weigh less probably due to the fact that they eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables which contain fiber that fills you up, slows digestion and causes you to eat less. They also tend to eat less fat, so their meals are more nutrient dense and less calorie dense.
There’s a whole list of other benefits—write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to know more.
There are also some common concerns that people have about the vegetarian diet. The first thing that usually comes to mind is, can you get enough protein? First of all, we need to realize that there has been an abnormally large focus on protein lately, with many people thinking that they need to drink protein shakes, eat protein bars, and basically replace all carbs with protein. For most people (as in, people who aren’t athletes as a profession, training for a large sports event, etc.), .8grams of protein per kg is sufficient for all of our needs, even if we work out a couple hours a day. So, for a person that weighs 140# (whether man or woman), they would need about 51 grams of protein a day—that’s it. This is a really easy amount of protein to get. Let me explain:
1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein. So if you drink the recommended 3 cups a day, you already have 24 grams.
1 ounce of cheese, 2 egg whites or 1 egg all have 7 grams of protein. Even starches like bread and oatmeal have about 3 grams of protein per serving. So if you have two egg white and a slice of toast for breakfast, you are getting 10 grams.
Vegetarian protein sources like tofu, tempeh, meat substitutes, beans and legumes are also very high in protein and can be a more concentrated source of protein than meat.
You can see how easy it is to get your daily amount of protein while eating vegetarian.
To calculate how much protein you need, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (because there are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram); then multiply that number by .8 (because we need .8 grams of protein per kilogram). You will come up with the # of grams of protein you need a day.
Another concern that people have is B12. B12 occurs naturally in meat and animal products, so lacto-ovo vegetarians who eat milk and eggs have absolutely nothing to worry about. Vegans may be more at risk for a deficiency, especially if they do not eat foods that are fortified with B12. There are many vegetarian foods that are fortified, like soymilk, breakfast cereals, energy bars, or if necessary, you can take a sublingual B12 supplement. B12 deficiencies are rare and it is so easy to get enough that it doesn’t have to be a concern for most.
With all the recent research on Omega-3 fatty acids, many wonder if vegetarians are missing out on this heart-healthy fat since they don’t eat fish. This is a big topic that will take a little too long for today’s episode so I will cover it in a future episode!
Now I know that some of you will say, “what about all the unhealthy vegetarians? You know! The ones that eat a lot of cheese and pasta and forgo the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.” To you I would say that No diet is automatically healthy. No matter what your diet preference, there are food choices that are more and less healthy than others, so does eating vegetarian automatically mean your diet is healthier than one that includes meat? No!
As time goes on, You’ll find foods that you really like and others that don’t work for you. You may even miss meat and fish and want to have it every once in a while, and that’s not a big deal! Go right ahead! Our goal is to enjoy eating a variety of foods in moderation to bring us both health-promoting nutrients and satisfaction.
I hope that today’s episode was able to explain the different facets of vegetarian diets and empower you to become vegetarian if you want!
Thanks for listening to nutritionally speaking and I’ll see you next time!