Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or just want to cut back on the animal products, there are both pros and cons to consuming a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy. To put it more simply, you may decrease your chances for developing certain health conditions, but increase your chances for others. Many people eat a vegan or vegetarian diet out of choice rather than allergy or sensitivity. While everyone has their own personal reasons for the foods they choose, common causes for switching to these diets include ethical, environmental, and faith-based beliefs, or efforts to lose weight and improve health.
In terms of nutritional content, a vegetarian diet is usually lower in calories and fat, and richer in fiber and nutrients, which explains why it is good for weight maintenance. Additional benefits include reduced onset of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, kidney failure, and arthritis. Vegetarian diets also tend to yield reduced levels in blood sugar and body mass index (BMI).
So what specifically do vegetarians restrict from their diet? A simple vegetarian diet only removes meat products such as pork, beef, poultry, and fish, but includes other animal byproducts. Now following a true vegan diet excludes all meats, dairy products, eggs, seafood, gelatin, honey, and any other foods that contain traces of animals. Well, then what’s left? There are plenty of healthy, delicious foods remaining that vegans still enjoy! Their meals consist primarily of whole grains like wheat or rice, starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes, legumes such as lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, or black beans, nuts and seeds such as almonds or cashews, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
With all these benefits, what could possibly be the drawback of going vegetarian? Many vegetarians, specifically vegans, are commonly deficient in a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B-12. Most of these are more bioavailable or exclusively found in animal products. As a result, many vegans need to take daily supplements to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
However you decide to live, whether you follow a plant-based diet or eat a little of everything, know that there are still so many options out there to meet your standards and goals for a healthier, happier you!