What is a Vegetarian Diet?

Updated: December 21, 2012
mid section view of a woman cutting vegetables

Discover the facts about what a vegetarian diet is all about!

Adopting a vegetarian diet and lifestyle may seem easy at first sight but it’s not, as a true vegetarian eats no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk or dairy.

In a vegetarian diet regimen, food is all plant-based so it may be difficult for one to suddenly give up their eating habits and switch to a regimen based mostly on grains, fruits, veggies and nuts.

So before deciding to become vegetarian, you should do a thorough research and get familiar with what this diet or lifestyle involves. Also, you should carefully analyze its benefits and drawbacks, as this way of living isn’t for everyone. However, this doesn’t mean a vegetarian eating plan can’t satisfy one’s needs in terms of nutrients or calories.

On the contrary, one can get all the needed proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibers, vitamins and minerals from plant-based products if they know how to properly choose their vegetarian diet cooking photofoods and mix them in nourishing and tasty meals. Did I just say tasty? Yes, vegetarian diets can incorporate delicious meals as contrary to the general opinion, a vegetarian diet isn’t  boring and tasteless.

But what matters right now it’s not how good looking or delicious these meals are. The first and most important aspect to analyze before adopting a vegetarian diet is the health effects of this regimen, in all its forms.

a Vegetarian diet is also beneficial for your health by avoiding all the hormones and antibiotics that are found in the meat supply. We are all well aware of the fact that large dosages of growth hormones and are administered to all farmed animal in order to speed up their growth and therefore increase the meat supply.

Antibiotics are also given to all farm animals to keep them from getting diseases due mostly to their unnatural living conditions and food supply.

Fish is still a better choice if as a form of meat however due to ocean pollution and fish farming practices one has to be selective and limit the intake of certain fish types to avoid the possible buildup of toxins and heavy metals on the body.

Types of vegetarian diets

The real vegetarian diet is that one that restricts the intake of meat, poultry, fish, seafood and eggs, but allows the consumption dairy products and honey. This eating regimen is less restrictive than the vegan one, which allows no products of animal origin – no milk and dairy, no meat, fish, eggs or honey.

Plant-based foods are the only one adepts of this eating regimen can rely on and they’re generally eaten raw as in this form they provide higher amounts of nutrients. Besides changing their eating habits, 100% vegans also avoid wearing clothes made of fur, wool, silk and leather and they stay away from any cosmetic derived from animal products.

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians only exclude meat from their diet but they consume milk, dairy and eggs regularly.
  • Lacto-vegetarians are allowed to consume milk and products made of it but exclude meat and eggs from their diet.
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat only eggs from all animal-sourced products, while pesco-vegetarians exclude meat, eggs and honey from their menu but eat fish.
  • Pollo-vegetarians avoid eating red meat – pork, beef and lamb, but they do eat poultry and sometimes fish and seafood as well. Fruitarians, which are a sub-type of vegans, only eat fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains. The most restrictive fruitarian regimens only allow the consumption of fruits fallen from trees, as these are the only products harvested without harming the plants.

 Advantages and drawbacks of a vegetarian diet regimen

As you can see, all these types of vegetarian diet are based mostly on foods rich in fibers, vitamins and minerals and include only low amounts of fats. Given that these fats usually come from natural sources, such as olive oil, flaxseed oil or other similar products, they’re also considered healthy so the total amount of saturated or bad fats a vegetarian eats is very low.

A lower intake of bad fats means lower levels of bad cholesterol therefore a healthier cardiovascular system, a lower risk of heart disease and in most cases, a healthier weight. Vegetarians are rarely overweight so this means they’re less prone to developing diabetes and other conditions linked with obesity.

Given that fruits and vegetables are eaten in high amounts, a vegetarian diet is usually richer in magnesium, folate, antioxidants, fibers and vitamins than a regular eating regimen. All these compounds are very important for one’s health so a vegetarian can have a really strong immune system, healthy kidneys and a sharp mind.

Still, considering the fact that animal-based products are completely eliminated in a vegan diet, levels of calcium, iron, iodine, vitamin B and D, zinc and proteins can get lower than normal so it’s very important for a vegetarian to choose foods wisely in order to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

Nourishing vegetarian foods for a healthy vegetarian diet

The solution to keeping deficiencies away after switching to a vegan eating regimen is finding healthy replacements for the forbidden foods. You won’t be able to take your recommended daily dose of calcium from dairy and milk, but you’ll satisfy your body’s needs by eating soybeans and tofu, enriched cereals, collard greens, broccoli, turnips and kales.

vegetarian diet fruits and vegetables logoTo take your needed dose of iron you’ll have to switch from meat, fish and poultry to beans and lentils, peas, whole-grains and dark leafy veggies. Still, keep in mind that iron coming from plant-based sources isn’t very effectively absorbed inside the human body, so you’ll have to supplement your vitamin C intake in order to stimulate iron’s absorption.

Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, in strawberries, cabbage and broccoli, so it won’t be that hard to keep your iron levels in the normal range. Vitamin B12 can be taken from soy products or fortified cereals, but these aren’t too rich in this nutrient so adding some supplements to your diet can be a good idea.

Animal-based protein sources can be successfully replaced with lentils, seeds and nuts, legumes, soy products and whole grains, while for getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids, you need to include soy oil, flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and soybeans in your menu. Iodine is widely available in sweet potatoes, soy, cruciferous vegetables and salt, so this deficiency can be avoided too when switching to vegetarianism.

A common problem in with a vegetarian diet is vitamin D deficiency, which is usually avoided by taking nutritional supplements or by adding rice milk, soy and fortified cereals to the daily menu.
Also, zinc is often supplemented as it’s poorly absorbed from plant-based foods like wheat germ, whole grains, soy, nuts and legumes.

But all in all, adopting a vegan regimen and lifestyle can be a very good decision if you’re looking for more than a diet to improve your health state, energy level and appearance.


Brad ClooneyWritten by: Brad Clooney (11 Posts)

Brad is fitness trainer and writer working on LA .

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