Following a vegetarian diet plan for health reasons is a hugely popular decision. People may also choose vegetarianism as an ideology; where concern for animal welfare and/or the environment is paramount, or for religious or cultural reasons. In some cases meat may be removed from the diet due to concerns about production, principally hormone and antibiotic contamination.
Typically involving eating only plant based foods and abstaining from meat including fish and poultry, most however are actually ‘lacto–ovo’, meaning they include eggs and dairy products while remaining meat free. A ‘semi-vegetarian’ diet will include eggs, dairy, white meat (fish & poultry) and usually other types of seafood. Choosing the right one for you will depend upon your lifestyle and personal viewpoints.
Studies have shown that eating a primarily plant based diet can protect against or lower the risk of developing many chronic degenerative diseases including:
· colon cancer
· heart disease
· type 2 diabetes, and
This is believed to be due to the fact that eating plant based foods is traditionally low in cholesterol and saturated fats (with the exception of coconut and palm oil) while being high in dietary fiber, whole grains, cereals and nutrient dense fruits and vegetables.
Proponents of this lifestyle are also typically more inclined to forgo foods high in sugar, salt and processed simple carbohydrates.
Careful consideration needs to be given when designing a nutritionally balanced eating program of this nature. In a traditional omnivorous diet, meat and animal products are your primary source of many essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and Omega-3. Therefore care must be taken to ensure we select plant based foods that can maintain these levels.
Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal-based products and
if excluding eggs and dairy from your diet a supplement is essential
Too little iron in our diet and we risk developing anemia. Iron can be found in soy products, oats, legumes, lentils and leafy greens such as spinach. Absorption can be fortified by consuming a source of vitamin C (fruit or juice) with a meal. Also important to note is that iron absorption will be impaired by the presence of milk.
Protein rich plant based foods include nuts, legumes, soy products and seeds, while calcium traditionally sourced from dairy products may be derived from a number of vegetables, grains and legumes.
The key to successfully balancing a healthy vegetarian diet plan is diversity. Include a wide variety of whole foods, some of which may be unfamiliar to the western diet. Thankfully there are many meat free options available in our supermarkets these days and certainly when dining out. Seek flavorsome recipes and experiment with dishes suited for the whole family.
In some cases it is recommended that supplements be taken to ensure adequate levels of nutrients are maintained. The more restrictive the diet the more important this becomes, and as always consult your doctor or a professional dietitian before commencing any diet change.
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