Being vegetarian benefits the body in many ways. A vegetarian diet can help lower cholesterol, and blood pressure, aiding in the prevention of heart disease. Additionally, vegetarian food is fibre-rich which helps regulate bowel movements, prevent constipation and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
A fibre-rich diet also helps in weight loss and maintenance as it keeps you full for longer. Fruits and vegetables, an integral part of this diet provide the body with vital vitamins and minerals that promote general health, immunity and a glowing complexion.
How can you define a vegetarian?
People who generally exclude meat, fish and chicken from their diet and eat a variety of plant-based foods are called vegetarians. Most vegetarian diets are rich in fibre and low in fat, especially the unhealthy saturated kind.
Within this group there are three kinds of vegetarians:
- Total vegetarians / Vegans: Those who exclude all kinds of meat and animal-based products such as milk, butter and eggs.
- Lacto-vegetarians: Those who do not consume meat, chicken and fish but allow milk and milk products.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: Those who consume milk, milk products and eggs but exclude all kinds of meat.
Good to Remember
A vegetarian diet is naturally low in fat and high in fibre. It is a healthy way of eating but you must be cautious to follow a planned diet that includes fortified foods to prevent nutrient deficiency.
Being vegetarian has its own risks
Advantages aside, some vegetarians – especially vegans, have low levels of certain nutrients which they should be careful to include:
- Vitamin B12: Plant foods are naturally lacking in Vitamin B12. So vegans who avoid dairy products and eggs need a regular source of this vitamin. To avoid deficiency, a good solution would be a fortified breakfast cereal.
- Protein: Proteins from plant foods can meet protein needs if the right food combination is eaten. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians easily get their protein from dairy products and eggs.
- Iron: Some vegetarians have a lower iron count than non-vegetarians. Iron from plant food does not absorb as well as that from meat, so vegetarians need to increase their iron intake and also consume a Vitamin C-rich food source to enhance iron absorption.
- Zinc: Vegetarians also appear to have a lower intake of zinc than recommended. Soy foods, legumes, nuts and supplemented foods are good sources.
- Calcium and vitamin D: Calcium intake of lacto-vegetarians is comparable to non-vegetarians. But when milk products are excluded, calcium levels drop. Such vegetarians are advised to have soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D, in addition to getting adequate sun exposure.
- Riboflavin: Vegetarians also have low levels of riboflavin than non-vegetarians. This can be corrected through the consumption of milk, almonds, fortified breakfast cereals, yogurt, soy, bananas and broccoli.
Well-planned vegetarian diets are healthy and help prevent chronic diseases. But make sure to ask your dietician to guide you on how to include the 'at risk' nutrients by choosing the right foods in the right combinations for a complete balanced diet.