There is a seemingly endless debate about what constitutes a "healthy" diet, leading to plenty of confusion. Because you want the best for your family, this can be frustrating. Many people consider giving up meat and becoming vegetarians, so it's certainly worthwhile to ask: Is vegetarianism healthy?
The first benefit of vegetarianism is also the most obvious: If you stop eating meat and eat more fruits and vegetables, it's likely you'll get more nutrients. The increased intake of nutritious greenery also means you will have a relatively low-calorie diet that is high in fiber and low in fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) underlines studies that link vegetarianism with a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and even certain cancers. However, the AHA warns that a vegetarian diet must be carefully planned to carry the right benefits.
One of the major mistakes people make when becoming vegetarians is assuming the eating style is automatically healthy. The truth is that a diet full of soda, candy, and chips is technically vegetarian, but it is hardly a healthy eating pattern. Just as with a more traditional diet, you will still need to make some good decisions when it comes to what you eat.
A vegetarian diet may leave you open to certain nutrient deficiencies, such as:
- Vitamin B12.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
For the most part, vegetarians can get adequate levels of these nutrients from a carefully planned diet. The exception is vitamin B12, which is only found in animal products. Vegetarians who still eat diary products will receive some of the vitamin, but depending on your situation, you may find it necessary to take supplements or add nutritional yeast to your food.
Making the Switch
It should be noted that health is just one of the reasons people choose to become vegetarians. Religious or moral reasons may also factor into the decision. Regardless of your motive, there are some definite benefits to the diet, but it's not a decision you should rush into.
First, you should also consider that there are many types of vegetarianism:
- Vegans, who abstain from absolutely all animal products, including dairy and eggs. Many vegans also do not eat honey, wear wool or silk, or use animal products in other areas of their life.
- Lacto vegetarians, who are willing to eat dairy products but not eggs.
- Ovo-lacto vegetarians, who eat both dairy and eggs.
While they are not traditionally considered vegetarians, some people also practice pescetarianism, which involves fish as the primary protein source but excludes other animal meats. Another option is a reduced-meat diet, in which you eat a primarily vegetarian diet but still eat meat occasionally.
When making this change in your diet, the overarching question should be: "Is vegetarianism healthy for me?" Be sure you consider how you'll get certain essential nutrients while maintaining your new diet and lifestyle. And discuss your thoughts with a doctor before switching. A qualified health professional will be able to make individualized recommendations so that you can enjoy all the benefits of this potentially healthful diet while minimizing the risks.