In honor of World Vegetarian Day, we’re focusing on a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet for those who want to give vegetarianism a try, but aren’t sure where to start. Vegetarianism differs from veganism in that vegetarians still consume dairy products, including eggs, and neither vegetarians or vegans eat meat, poultry or fish.
Because vegetarians still eat some animal products, like eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt, there’s less concern that vegetarians aren’t getting enough protein, the way vegans need to be cognizant of their protein intake. However, unlike common perception, protein isn’t necessarily the main thing vegetarians need to be concerned about. In addition to dairy and egg products, vegetarians get protein from plants, legumes, grains like quinoa and soy-based products like tofu, miso and tempeh. So what do vegetarians really need to watch out for?
According to Dr. Chip on JustAnswer the two main risks for a vegetarian diet are B12 and essential fatty acid deficiencies.
Getting enough B12
We get nearly all our B12 from animal products. It plays a major role in red blood cell production and keeps our nerves healthy. A B12 deficiency can lead to tiredness, weakness, depression, weight loss and constipation. On the even scarier side, there’s evidence that the deficiency can contribute to heart disease, neurological disorders, infertility, among other big health issues. Basically, don’t go vegetarian without paying attention to getting enough B12.
As a vegetarian, you will get B12 from eating eggs and cheese, but it’s not enough. It’s also a myth that you will get sufficient B12 from things like seaweed and spirulina. Therefore it’s highly recommended that vegetarians include a quality B12 supplement in their diet.
Adding in essential fatty acids
The Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is similar to the B12, in that it occurs in animal products, and we need to find sufficient sources when not consuming meats. Omega-3 fatty acids impact heart health the most. Again, you’re going to get Omega-3s if you eat eggs, but the kind of Omega-3s in plants don’t convert in our bodies the same way the kind of Omega-3s we get from animal products do. Focusing on Omega-3s from just flaxseed, oils, nuts like walnuts and soy products isn’t going to be enough. Look for products like milk, that are fortified with Omega-3s, and again the recommendation here is to take an Omega-3 supplement.
Your new vegetarian diet should still look like an omnivore diet (minus the meat), in that it should be a balanced, whole food diet. Taking animal protein out of your diet can leave you feeling a little hungrier, and sometimes the temptation is to fill this void with carbs and sugars. Be careful and stay focused on plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), nuts, eggs, cheese, yogurt, whole grains, and some soy-based products (there’s evidence that too soy much isn’t good for you either). You don’t have to cold turkey. Start by making a few yummy vegetarian recipes a week, until you get the hang of vegetarian cooking altogether. And don’t forget the supplements.
Doctors are here for your health. Ask for their assistance as you navigate your new vegetarian lifestyle.