“I’m a vegetarian.” When I say this, people look at me like they feel bad for me. Then they ask the inevitable question, “Why?”. I have nothing against people who eat meat, but I just find vegetarianism to be a healthier lifestyle for me. I usually add that I don’t encourage others to become a vegetarian without knowing all the facts, which probably sounds hypocritical and confusing. For that reason, I want to dedicate this blog post to explaining vegetarianism and the health benefits and drawbacks associated with following a vegetarian diet. Ultimately, I will give you my final opinion on whether or not I think it’s healthier, but this blog post is meant to give you all the information to make your own informed decision.
First off, a vegetarian is defined as someone who does not eat anything that was once alive. Vegetarians do not eat any meat, but they will eat eggs, cheese, and dairy. As with many of my articles (and my life), I like to put things in list format. Also like life, I like to give you the good news first…
Benefits of Vegetarianism:
Lower risk of disease. Studies have shown that vegetarians have a lower risk of death by heart disease than non-vegetarians (morbid, I know). Vegetarians often have lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and fewer instance of Type 2 diabetes than non-vegetarians. Lastly, vegetarians tend to have healthier weights and lower incidences of cancer.
Decreased cholesterol and saturated fat intake. Cholesterol comes from animal products only. Consequently, vegetarians tend to eat less cholesterol than their omnivore counterparts. Studies have also confirmed that vegetarians generally eat less saturated fat than non-veg heads.
Heart healthy. The vegetarian diet consists of heart healthy ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and soy products. These foods contain fiber and phytochemicals, which are great for heart health.
Drawbacks to Vegetarianism:
Eating out is hard. Vegetarian options are limited at sit-down and take-out restaurants. Sometimes the only vegetarian dish is pasta or a sandwich with cheese. Being a vegetarian means planning ahead to know the places with the best vegetarian options.
Less protein options. This one may seem obvious because obviously vegetarians don’t eat meat. It’s very important for vegetarians to be aware of healthy vegetarian protein options and be mindful of their protein intake. Vegetarian proteins are plentiful, including foods such as yogurt, milk, tofu, oats, beans, nuts, tempeh, quinoa, seitan, bulgur, and much more!
Plentiful carbohydrate options. Because of the limited protein options, carbohydrates tend to dominate vegetarian menus. This reiterates my first point that pasta or bread and cheese sandwiches may be the only vegetarian option at times. Even some of the fantastic plant based proteins, like quinoa, oats, and beans, are packed with carbohydrates. Eating too much of foods rich in carbohydrates can cause weight gain. I advise anyone who makes the switch to vegetarianism to meet with a Registered Dietitian for proper nutrition education.
“Is Being A Vegetarian Healthy?” A vegetarian diet can be healthy with proper nutrition knowledge, planning, and thoughtful food choices. Don’t be what I call a “french-fry and ice cream vegetarian” that eats all the vegetarian junk food, like pizza, chips, and desserts. With a little guidance, the vegetarian diet can be full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins. And the side effects of lower body weight, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and decrease risk of disease aren’t too bad either!
Tips for going meatless: If you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian but are too scared to take the plunge, try going meatless for one meal a day. Chances are your breakfast is already vegetarian. Add a meatless lunch of dinner to your repertoire. Check out my recipes page for healthy meatless meals.