What is a vegetarian diet? A vegetarian diet is a diet that eliminates all meat including fish, and any animal ingredients that may be used in the preparation of meals or products.
A vegetarian diet can be as healthy or as unhealthy as you make it.
If you give up meat but all you eat are French fries and pasta, not only will you end up gaining weight, but you’ll start showing signs of vitamin deficiency.
If you are considering switching to a veggie diet, here is a breakdown of its pros and cons.
Pro: May help lower cholesterol
High LDL cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol) can lead to heart disease and stroke. It can also increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis (which is a disease where your arteries become narrowed and hardened).
Here’s the good news: there are very few sources of cholesterol in the vegetable world, which means eliminating animal products from your diet will result in healthier cholesterol levels.
This has been confirmed by numerous studies, such as the one published by the Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, which shows vegans (those who eat no animal products whatsoever) not only have lower cholesterol but also lower triglycerides. Vegetarians come second, with meat-eaters having the highest blood counts of any group.
Con: You might be missing out on healthy omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 are essential fatty acids found primarily in fish. Well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 fatty acids also help fight depression, improve circulation and protect your heart, reducing the risk of heart disease. They also fight fatigue and poor memory.
Vegetarians will need to supplement their diets with flaxseeds, nuts, pumpkin seeds or soybeans in order to get enough omega-3s. Although supplements are available, most are made using fish oil and are not suitable for vegetarians.
Pro: Your risk of developing cancer goes down
According to experts, a vegetarian diet can reduce your risk of cancer by about 10-12 percent. That’s because vegetarians tend to eat more antioxidant-rich foods (including fruits and vegetables) and more fiber, two essential nutrients in the fight against cancer.
Even among those who have already developed cancer of the breast, pancreas and colon, switching to a vegetarian diet appears to reduce mortality.
Con: You might not get enough vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 can only be found in foods of animal origin, with shellfish, beef liver, mackerel and red meat providing the highest concentration. Anemia, which is caused by a low concentration of iron and vitamin B12 in the body, is a major concern for vegetarians.
The answer? Vegetarians should make a conscious effort to get more B12 into their diet. This can be done by reading labels and buying products such as fortified breakfast or fortified soy beverages. A vitamin supplement might also be necessary.
If you do decide to become a vegetarian, take some time to learn about the nutrients your body needs and how to obtain them without animal sources present. You can be perfectly healthy without eating meat, but it all depends on how balanced your vegetarian diet turns out to be.
Cancer Journal: Fat and Cancer
Cancer Management and Research: Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports
Health-Alicious-Ness News: Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Arquivos Braileiros de Cardiologia: Vegetarian diet and cholesterol and triglycerides levels