Vegetarianism is often a fashion trend today, so there is a concern that focusing on a vegetarian lifestyle is not always a well-thought-out step.
However, a vegetarian diet undeniably has a beneficial effect on health, as long as it is varied enough to provide all the nutrients the body needs.
We consider nutrition being one of the most important determinants of health in today’s society.
We associate optimal nutrition with a higher life expectancy, a significant reduction in the risk of developing all chronic diseases during life, and a consequently better quality of life.
Many people today focus on a vegetarian lifestyle, but it is important that the vegetarian diet is sufficiently diverse and provides all the nutrients the body needs.
Becoming a vegetarian can be a healthy choice if a person has:
- Expert knowledge and understanding of nutrition based on scientific knowledge or the opportunity to be under the supervision of a nutritionist or nutritionist;
- Enough time and motivation to carefully plan and observe the necessary variety of products in the diet, also in the long run.
Characteristics of Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism, as a general term for a plant-based diet, includes a variety of dietary plans and products, and different motives for focusing on a vegetarian lifestyle.
There are many types of vegetarianism, but the most common is lactovovegetarianism, where all types of meat and fish are excluded from the diet, and dairy products and eggs derived from live animals are used.
Veganism is the most stringent form of vegetarianism, which requires abstinence from all animal products – milk, cheese and other dairy products, eggs, honey, and the wearing and use of wool, silk and leather products.
Myths and Facts About Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism, like most other nutritional concepts, is shrouded in conflicting views and myths, so I think it is necessary to explain some of them based on scientific opinion.
It is difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get the amount of protein they need in their diet.
The notion that meat is just like a synonym for protein often prevents us from seeing other valuable sources of protein.
The healthy diet menu includes a variety of plant protein products: beans, peas, lentils and soy products from the legume group (which also includes peanuts), whole grain products (barley, oats, wheat, rye, buckwheat, rice), nuts, seeds.
Low-fat dairy products and eggs are also a rich source of protein for lactose-vegetarians.
By carefully planning vegetarian meals, we can easily take the amount of protein we need in with our diet, with the added benefit of health – plant protein products have more fiber and less saturated fat.
Dairy products must be in the diet to form strong bones.
Dairy products are not the only source of calcium that can provide strong bone growth.
Calcium, vitamin D and protein are important for bone health.
We also find each of these elements in plant products – both green leafy vegetables and fortified products such as soy milk.
Eating soy increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
Including soy products in your diet is a simple way to provide both your body’s protein and calcium. There are studies whose results seem to confirm the pro-cancer effects of soy and vice versa, which confirm a prophylactic, i.e. anti-cancer effect.
Several cancer research organizations around the world claim that moderate daily consumption of soy products (1-2 servings per day) has not been shown to have a cancer-preventing or cancer-promoting effect.
Vegetarian diet is not suitable for pregnant women, children and athletes.
A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can provide all the necessary nutrients at all stages of a person’s life – both for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and for children and athletes.
This is possible if all the necessary nutrients are actually absorbed, including those that are needed in greater quantities by a particular group of people.
“Vegetarian” means “healthy”.
The words “vegetarian” or “vegan” on the product label do not automatically mean healthy. Biscuits and sweetened cereal flakes for vegetarians can contain a lot of added sugar and unhealthy fat.
Processed products such as vegetarian burgers may also not be healthier than their animal counterparts. The best way to assess the health of a product is to understand its composition by reading the label.
If the product is low in saturated fat, added sugar and salt, this information is a better indicator of health than the claim “vegetarian”.
Vegetarians have a limited choice of food.
Usually vegetarians have an even wider choice of dishes than omnivores, because almost every dish is also possible vegetarian version – including pizza, burger, stew, pate.
In addition, vegetarians have the opportunity to discover and include in the diet of different variations of many well-known products – a wide variety of cereals, different bean varieties, lentils, peas, which are most often underestimated and included in the diet of omnivores.
The wide variety of nuts and seeds available also only increases the nutritional value of vegetarians.
Nutrients To Look Out For
A vegetarian diet usually provides the necessary amount of protein if the amount of calories ingested is adequate.
Although plant proteins do not contain enough of all essential amino acids, this can be offset by taking different combinations of products during the day.
Some examples of combinations that will ensure full protein intake are legumes with cereals or legumes with nuts and seeds – such as beans with rice, whole grain bread with peanut butter (because whole grains contain more protein than refined ones).
We recommend it not to pay too much attention to the strict combination of products, as it is more important to eat as varied as possible throughout the day.
In order to ensure a sufficient amount of protein in the diet with only plant products, we recommend it to eat a certain number of portions from each protein-containing product group.
At least 5 servings of cereals a day. One serving is about half a cup of cooked cereals (wheat groats, rice, pasta, etc.), about 30 grams of dry flakes or one slice of bread. Each serving contains an average of 3 g of protein.
At least 3 servings of vegetables a day. One serving is about a cup of fresh vegetables, half a cup of boiled (stewed) vegetables or half a cup of vegetable juice. Each serving contains an average of 2 g of protein.
2-3 servings of legumes a day and nuts. One serving is about half a cup of boiled beans, a glass of soy milk, and about 30 g of nuts.
The amount of protein in different products can vary, especially for soy and rice milk. Each serving may contain 4 to 10 g of protein.
For an adult with a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, the recommended amount of protein in the diet is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, so considering the approximate protein content of different products, it is possible to easily calculate the desired menu for optimal protein.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A fish-free diet rarely provides sufficient amounts of the essential fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHS) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPS).
Therefore, it is important to take α-linolenic acid with plant products, which can be partially converted to DHS and EPS in the human body.
The sources of omega-3 in a vegetarian diet are linseed, linseed oil, rapeseed oil, hemp oil, soybean oil, walnuts and their oil.
The iron content of various plant products, such as beans and lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruits (raisins, apricots, plums) and green leafy vegetables, is quite high, but its use in the body is not as effective as the iron ingested with meat.
Vitamin C (blackcurrants, citrus fruits, tomatoes) and other acids in fruits and vegetables can promote the absorption of iron.
Whole grains, legumes, wheat and other seedlings, nuts, pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of zinc, but zinc, like iron, is better absorbed from animal products.
Fermentation of bread and germination of grains and seeds can improve the absorption of zinc. Lactovegetarians can ingest zinc with milk.
Dairy products are the major source of calcium. Its sources are also some dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, bok choy, kale, turnip leaves, leaf mustard), legumes, almonds, sesame seeds.
As the oxalic acid in some vegetables (spinach, rhubarb) interferes with the absorption of calcium in the body, there must be a great variety of plants in the diet.
As the major source of vitamin D is its formation in human skin under the influence of sunlight, vegetarians living in Latvia who do not eat fish and eggs may have to use food supplements all year round.
We find vitamin B12 only in products of animal origin. Lactovo-vegetarians can take it with milk and eggs. If none of these products are used, the vitamin can be taken with fortified products: breakfast cereals, yeast, soy.
How To Become a Vegetarian
The main precondition for the transition to a vegetarian diet to be good for health and not harmful is the mandatory replacement of products of animal origin excluded from the diet with plant products.
The transition can be implemented immediately by stopping eating meat and fish within one day, as well as gradually reducing their quantity and frequency of consumption, replacing them with alternatives to vegetation.
Switching to a vegetarian diet could also be easier than it looks, as we have studied that most often the omnivorous menu comprises only eight or nine main course recipes that are repeated cyclically.
Vegetarian dishes can vary in composition and cooking complexity, making it possible to provide the nutrients you need with little effort.
Three Easy Steps To A Vegetarian Diet
- Identify vegetarian foods already on the diet. Since usually there are several vegetarian recipes on the menu of each potential vegetarian, we can remember and cook only three of them more often.
- Customize your favorite dishes. It is necessary to recall three favorite dishes, regularly used in everyday life, which could be easily changed into vegetarian. Instead of grilled meat, you can try grilled eggplant or mushrooms, lactovo vegetarians – also grilled cheese, marinated in spices. Various soups and stews can also easily become vegetarian.
- Discover new dishes. Vegetarian cookbooks can be a wonderful help in experimenting with new food recipes. The goal is to find three delicious and easy-to-prepare recipes during the week.
Benefit – nine vegetarian meals with very minimal changes in the menu.
The Bottom Line
Remember – turning to vegetarianism is a very responsible action!