Vegetarians and Vegans lifestyles are growing faster than they have ever been. Many consumers have been adapting these lifestyles with realizations of food sustainability, health consciousness, and treatment of animals. Studies have shown that following a plant focused diet can decrease the risk of cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.
According to a study led by Sarah Hoffman in 2013, more than half of Vegetarians chose to live this lifestyle for moral reasons. This is even more relevant in 2019 because of the social media boom. With social media being so popular, people have access to physically see where their food is coming from. I never really considered or thought about becoming a vegetarian until one of my close friends did. She was telling me about the documentary Food Inc. that completely changed her perspective of morals on her diet. Media is now showing and informing people of information that they might have not even cared about in the past. Social media is a revolution for many things, including nutrition and diets. This could be one of the explanations of why we are seeing so many people convert.
Whenever I think “Vegetarian” I automatically refer to the “no meat diet”, but there are so
many different types of Vegetarians. Vegans consume anything but meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, while Lacto-vegetarians follow the same lifestyle, but allow the dairy products. A more common diet is the Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet in which the consumer excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but does not eat eggs or dairy products. Pescatarians are also more common in which they exclude meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, but will consume fish. All of these diets apply to different people’s lives whether that be for moral or health reasons.
With all of these restrictions to these diets, controversy has spark on nutritional aspects. Many argue that without the consumption of meat, Vegetarians have no other option than to be iron and protein deficient. People also feel scared that without eating dairy, their calcium deficiency will become an issue with aging. While these are valid concerns, there are ways to get all essential nutrients while still being a Vegetarian.
While starting on a Vegetarian diet, some people resort to more processed foods as they might feel unsatisfied not eating meat. Take into consideration that the caloric deficit will need to be filled with fruits and vegetables. Protein is necessary for many bodily functions, including strengthening muscles, organ function, and healthy bones. Proteins can come from plant sources such as nuts, legumes, seeds, and whole grains. One of my favorite protein-rich snacks is whole grain toast with peanut butter and some chia seeds sprinkled on top. This snack would be considered a complete protein. Complete proteins are important because they provide all nine amino acids that your body cannot produce, so you must consume them. A lot of times vegetarians and vegans have a difficult time consuming all nine essential amino acids, so paying attention to these complete proteins and adding them in your diet is very important. Ensuring that vegetarians consume all nine amino acids means that they do not have to take multivitamins. Some find it useful to take supplements to ensure that they are not nutrient deficient.
The largest concern with Veganism is the lack of B-12 because almost any source of this vitamin comes from animal products. Nutritional yeast, fortified plant based milk, and some fortified cereals have a notable amount of B-12. Many people resort to a folate vitamin, especially if a person has risk of anemia. Anemia can cause issues with the nervous system because B-12 protects neurons from damage by helping create myelin sheath. It is very important to ensure that B-12 levels are not deficient as the human body needs red blood cells to thrive. Lacto-ovo vegetarians have an easier time receiving these nutrients because eggs are rich in B-12. The only difference in in obtaining these nutrients from plants versus animal based is that it is more difficult to find B-12 in abundance in plant based diets. All it takes in a little more attention and effort.
Even though it's easier said than done, eat your greens! It is so easy to forget to eat vegetables in your everyday diet. Essentially, you should have at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day. Dark green vegetables solve the calcium and vitamin D concerns for Vegetarians as kale and broccoli are two great sources of it. It is so easy to toss some of these vegetables in a nice salad, or even in a smoothie with some lighter greens and fruit. Your bone health depends on the decisions to keep these nutrients in your diet.
Becoming Vegetarian can be very scary for many people, as it also intimidates me. Without expanding my education, I never would have known about some foods that contain nutrients you would never even think of. As I learn more about Vegetarianism, it truly fascinated me as I try my best to adopt it into my own lifestyle. The common question that many consumers ask is Is meat bad for you? While any consumer product is not going to be detrimental to your health in modification, most studies say that less consumption of animal products have promoted longevity. The best thing you can do if you are interested in becoming a vegetarian is educating yourself on foods rich in nutrients and vitamins. One of my favorite dishes is a Buddha Bowl. This is a combination of quinoa, sweet potatoes, avocados, kale, edamame, or any ancient grain and vegetable! This meal leaves me satisfied and feeling energized every time I eat it. It also has shown me that becoming Vegetarian might not be as hard as we thought after all.