Vegetarianism is defined as “the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat – red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal”. (1)
In my experience ‘going veggie’ can be a double edged sword.
It can lead to massive health benefits – when it’s done properly.
I have vegetarian meals and entire vegetable days myself and they help me enormously.
The biggest benefits from a plant based diet are:
- Raw food is good for you because of the enzymes and we need to eat more raw food than cooked.
- Digestive problems can go away (because of the prebiotics found in vegetables)
- Increases antioxidant intake via fruits and vegetables.
- Strict diets may help to promote discipline and self control (and insanity ;-))
Other times I’ve seen it lead to health problems when followed incorrectly, nutritional deficiencies and mental health problems such as depression (all via a B12 deficiency).
Other health problems typically associated with vegetarianism are anemia, pallor (a pale colour), listlessness (lack of interest or energy), and poor resistance to infection.
Allow me to explain all in this weeks article and provide you with some real solutions to make being a vegetarian a positive experience.
Today I will outline a plan in which you can get all the benefits of being a vegetarian without the associated deficiency problems.
The main reasons why people decide to become vegetarian are:
Ethical & Moral – The majority of people do so because they are against the slaughter of animals for food, they feel strongly enough about it to stop eating meat and other products made from the slaughter of animals.
Religious – Some do so due to religious beliefs.
Health – Some do it for health reasons, there are many different health reasons why people become vegetarian, some of which we will discuss. Some people do it as an attempt to lose weight.
Financial – Some people do it because they can save a lot of money in the long term. Protein is expensive, but this strategy is flawed if you ask me. Any money you save may then have to be spent on dental bills, physiotherapy and treatments, and lost days from work.
In this article I will focus more on the nutritional pros and cons rather than getting into the reasons why people make the choice to become vegetarian.
Different Types of Vegetarians
Technically there are also (many) different types of vegetarians, some of which I detail below. The main difference is normally whether the person will eat eggs, dairy or fish.
There are lacto-vegetarians who eat dairy, ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs.
Pesco-Vegetarianism who eat fish and/or seafood.
People can also be lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarians or any variation.
A vegan is one of the strictest types of vegetarian and their diet does not include, dairy, eggs or fish.
Some vegans don’t even eat honey because bee’s made it.
Many vegetarians eat a lot of processed carbohydrates and soy products to compensate for not eating meat.
I Eat More Vegetables Than Some Veggies I Know
I regularly get clients to complete food diaries and many “vegetarians” who I have worked with are very poor eaters. I eat more salad, veg and raw food than any of them and I’m not a veggie.
There are also people out there jokingly called “Grainetarians“.
I have worked with lots of vegetarians over the years, many who do just fine on their diet and are very switched on about their nutrition.
Most of the information here is very useful for the people who I call (lazy vegetarians) “grainetarians”, given their reliance on grains, wheat, bread, pasta and rice.
One lady reported that recipes in vegetarian cook books are mostly grain based.
In case you hadn’t guessed already – being a grainetarian is NOT a good health move!
Many vegetarians don’t have an issue with weight gain.
Some have trouble with being too thin but a grainetarian can actually be overweight because of the consumption of too many grains.
Processed Vegetarian Food
One of the problems faced by vegetarians today is our ‘enemy’ processed foods!
They all tend to have hidden ingredients so caution must be taken when eating processed carbs and vegetarian packaged foods such as fake meat and ready meal products.
I have always said a vegetarian eating a fake sausage, ham, turkey or a burger seems a bit strange to me. (Who am I to call anyone strange!) Plus when eating these products your soy intake goes through the roof. Soy is highly processed and can cause hormonal imbalances.
Is vegetarianism healthier for you?
Most people would be inclined to think yes, and it is easy to see why. It is all about how you do it.
There is lots of research to back up that a vegetarian diet is better(on many levels) than a typical western style – meat eating diet – with this I agree. It IS better than the typical UK diet for sure.
However, these research studies are mostly comparing (mainstream population) meat eaters who sometimes smoke, drink alcohol and eat a variety of sugary processed foods, against vegetarians, who generally don’t tend not to smoke, drink as much alcohol or indulge in sugar and processed foods.
Just like this one here did.
A large scale study found that mortality from ischaemic hart disease was 30% lower among vegetarian men and 20% lower among vegetarian women when compared to non vegetarians. (2)
A “non vegetarian” is mainstream population, so this is not a fair comparison to say, a person with a healthy diet containing animal sources (not a typical UK diet if you like).
And neither is this one a fair comparison. This study reported that a vegetarian diet will lead to lower blood pressure and less problems with heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. (3)
The research will always come out in favour of the vegetarian diet in this situation.
However, the research which challenges the basic premise of vegetarianism – that you can get everything you need (nutritionally) from a vegetarian or vegan diet – is vast, and in my opinion a stronger body of research.
It seems logical that a vegetarian’s diet would miss out on things by cutting out a whole food group.
Here’s what a Dutch researcher named P C Dagnelie had to say about the risks of a vegan and vegetarian diet
“ A vegan diet. . . leads to strongly increased risk of deficiencies of vitamin B12, vitamin B2 and several minerals, such as calcium, iron and zinc. . . even a lacto-vegetarian diet produces an increased risk of deficiencies of vitamin B12 and possibly certain minerals such as iron.” (4)
It was also said these deficiencies can adversely affect not only physical growth but also neurological development.
Thus following a vegan diet while pregnant is potentially a recipe for disaster.
Being a vegetarian or vegan is healthier if you get it right, a bit like salt really. Here is that article on salt if you missed it.
Logically, if you have lived a typical western lifestyle and start eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and grains and pulses (becoming a veggie), it can make you feel great.
You would like to think that something which makes you feel so good will have long lasting effects, however it’s been found that the benefits of vegetarian diet, especially vegan diet can diminish over time.
The reasons the benefits diminish are mainly because of nutritional deficiencies.
The vegetarian diet is lacking in quality protein, certain vitamins (mostly B12), minerals, and essential fatty acids.
Lack of cholesterol, vitamin D and vitamin B12 is a recipe for mood swings and depression.
The body needs cholesterol, vitamin A, vitamin D and other animal nutrients for hormone production. A vegetarian diet devoid of these nutrients is also a recipe for hormonal problems, menopausal problems, fatigue and diminished sex drive.
B12 deficency is very common amongst vegans and vegetarians who do not eat eggs.
A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause anemia, fatigue, and neurological disorders. The vitamin is essential for cell division, energy, and the formation of red blood cells.
B12 is found in eggs and organ meats so an ovo-vegetarian will in theory be OK.
A funny quote from a hormone expert I have met, Dr Eric Serrano, he said “Vegetarians don’t like sex”.
You all know that I am a big fan of a natural diet containing many organic fresh fruit and vegetables, but I also like to include meat in my diet.
I often get asked “What is the best type of diet?” I always say, one which works, but really it’s – a balanced one, which works for you.
I read this term which was about right for me personally “Non-Vegetarian & Health Conscious”, basically I’m a healthy eater (in the main part), nothing complicated.
To Be or Not To Be A Vegetarian
It all depends on how you approach it – it can work.
If you do it right then yes it can be great, but if you do it wrong you could be in a worse position than when you started.
Potentially if you go veggie you will cut out unhealthy foods such as, burgers, sausages, kebabs, some – fried food, curries, Chinese dishes and pizzas.
So the important thing is what you replace these foods with, clearly no one is going to cut these out and not replace them with more food.
What you need to be careful is you don’t cut out meat and replace it with tonnes of bread, fake meat, processed veggie meals and pasta (like a grainatarian does). As I have said, this will lead to weight gain rather than weight loss.
One of the big reasons why I eat meat is the taste, there are so many different kinds and so many different things you can do with meat that it is a must on my plate!
So I have weighed up some of the main pros and cons of vegetarianism and cast my opinion over it.
For me I am pro meat and think I always will be. As well as good quality protein being healthy for us the taste and enjoyment from eating meat stands up there as one of my top reasons for eating meat, just make sure it is quality meat.
So if you have read this article and you are a vegetarian or you are considering make the step firstly make sure you are doing it right and for the right reasons.
In this article by Sally Fallon Morell on westernprice.org there was an interesting statement
“Vegetarians and vegans wishing to make a political statement should strive for consistency. Cows are slaughtered not only to put steak on the table, but to obtain components used in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, plastics, pharmaceuticals, waxes (as in candles and crayons), modern building materials and hydraulic brake fluid for airplanes. The membrane that vibrates in your telephone contains beef gelatin. So to avoid hypocrisy, vegetarians need to also refrain from using anything made of plastic, talking on the telephone, flying in airplanes, letting their kids use crayons, and living or working in modern buildings.”
My approach to vegetarianism – eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, try to include fish and eggs and some dairy (if your conscience will allow), eat lots of nuts and good fats such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and normal butter.
My advice – do not become a full out vegan, it’s hard work and you will struggle in the long run, hear what this woman had to say “im not vegan anymore”. And this one “my vegan diet caused health problems”.
It is absolutely essential that you get the important nutrients (proteins, vitamins, minerals and fats) you would normally get from meat from other food sources.
Common nutritional deficiencies for vegan and vegetarians include(i have also put a food/source next to each one) – calcium (greens or dairy), iodine (milk, seaweed, salt), iron (greens), omega 3 fatty acids (eggs), protein (eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy) vitamin B12 (eggs), vitamin D (supplement) and zinc (grains, legumes, nuts). So either eat the foods containing them or take a supplement.
?Did You Know? Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. Mayoclinic.com.
It’s more difficult the closer towards being a vegan you are, in my opinion.
You can live an equally healthy lifestyle as a vegetarian or a meat eater as long as you do it right.
I want to know what you think below.
2. Key et al. Mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70 (3): 516S.
3. Rizzo NS, Sabaté J, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fraser GE. Vegetarian dietary patterns are associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome: The Adventist Health Study-2.Diabetes Care. 2011 May;34(5):1225-7
4. Dagnelie PC. Nutrition and health—potential health benefits and risks of vegetarianism and limited consumption of meat in the Netherlands. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2003 Jul 5;147(27):1308-13.