Planning To Become A Vegetarian? Here Is What You Need To Know.

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Have you at some point in your life planned to become a vegetarian?

Many of us practice vegetarianism for a number of different reasons. This may include improving our health, religious reasons or animal welfare.

Some people may even consider eating vegetarian food as non-vegetarian food is quite expensive to purchase.

Recently, a trend has been noted that more and more people are switching over to vegetarian foods.

In India, a majority of people still practice eating vegetarian foods and avoid meat and other non-vegetarian foods.

In fact, studies have now shown that being a vegetarian for 17 years or more can increase your life by an additional 3.6 years compared to those who practice being a vegetarian for only a short period of time.

Up until now, most of the research looking at vegetarianism has focused mostly on how people become deficient in certain nutrients with this diet.

This is fortunately changing.

Nowadays, studies are concentrating on how being a pure vegetarian can actually be good for health.

The American Dietetic Association clearly states that ‘appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases’.

Today, I shall take a brief look at how switching over to vegetarian food may in fact be the best decision you make this year.

Clearing The Mist

Don’t get me wrong, vegetarian food is a great but there are certain aspects of vegetarian food that are not necessarily healthy.

For example, consuming a vegetarian pizza may not be the right way to get your daily dose of veggies.

Also remember that adding unhealthy, low quality oils when cooking and deep frying vegetables prior to making dishes takes away the nutritional value of vegetarian food.

So, if you plan to become a vegetarian, it is important to make the right choices.

The Mediterranean diet is widely considered to be the best diet in the world. This is because it is rich in various kinds of vegetables, low in meat content and includes the use of olive oil for cooking purposes.

become a vegetarian

People who follow the Mediterranean diet have been found to have a lower chance of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and other such chronic illnesses. However, studies have shown that it may not necessarily lower the bad cholesterol levels.

There are many other diets around as well and most of the was concentrate primarily on eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Types Of Vegetarians

These days, the term ‘vegetarian’ is used in quite a broad manner. Here are some common terminologies that you must be aware of if you plan to become vegetarian.

TYPES OF VEGETARIANS

Vegans: Only plant-based products. They avoid meat, fish, poultry and all animal derived products such as dairy products and eggs. Even honey.

Lacto vegetarians: Plant-based products along with dairy products.

Lacto ovo vegetarians: Plant-based foods along with eggs and dairy products.

Ovo vegetarians: Plant-based foods and eggs only. No meat, fish or poultry.

Pesco – vegetarians: Plant based foods and fish only

Pollo – vegetarians: Plant based foods and poultry only.

Fruitarian: Only eat fruits

Liquidarian: Eat vegetables and fruits in a juice form

Sproutarian: Eat sprouts alone

Become A Vegetarian – Advantages

Are there any true advantages to following a vegetarian diet?

Possibly.

Generally, vegetarians tend to eat less quantities of fatty foods that are high in saturated fats.

Furthermore, their intake of vitamins, potassium, flavonoids, dietary fiber and folic acid are greater than what non-vegetarians eat.

Here are some possible advantages of following a fully vegetarian diet.

1. Reduced Chance of Developing Heart Disease

In one particular study, those who followed a vegetarian diet for a long time had a 25% less chance of developing heart disease. Another study conducted in Oxford also found similar results.

In one news report, it was found that if you become a vegetarian, you could lower your chances of your heart becoming weak by 50%!

However, it must be borne in mind that just being vegetarian does not really reduce the risk that much.

Confused? Let me explain.

For example, you could be vegetarian and lead a sedentary lifestyle, smoke, could have high blood pressure or diabetes which can all contribute towards a greater risk of developing heart problems.

vegetarian diet benefits

Among the vegetarian food is available, there are certain food items you should ensure you have as a part of your diet.

It is recommended that high fibre foods such as whole grains and legumes be consumed on a regular basis. Brown rice is much better than white rice in terms of glycaemic index and can keep sugars well controlled. Avoid starchy foods like potato and maida-based foods.

I have already discussed the health benefits of nuts in an article elsewhere on this blog.

Make sure that you consume at least a handful of walnuts, almonds and peanuts (together) as a snack in your daily diet. Not only do they provide you with an excellent source of fibre but also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These can help you keep your bad cholesterol levels low and can improve your good cholesterol levels.

2. Lower Risk Of Developing Type II Diabetes

There is some evidence to suggest that those individuals who follow a purely vegetarian diet are at a lower risk of developing type II diabetes.

However, it must be borne in mind again that type II diabetes is a genetic problem and being vegetarian does not necessarily mean that you would never get the condition.

Those who have a strong family history of diabetes can still develop it despite being vegetarian.

3. Lower Risk Of Cancer

It is believed that if you become a vegetarian then you may reduce your risk of developing cancer. This however is an aspect of vegetarianism that is currently under study.

Eating red meat regularly could increase the risk of colon cancer. So, by avoiding red meat, you could reduce your chances of developing this problem.

Generally, meat eaters tend to have a higher level of free radicals within the body. Free radicals are harmful as they can damage healthy tissues and reduce overall body immunity.

Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins E and vitamin C which has powerful antioxidant properties and can fight these free radicals effectively.

4. Animal Welfare

It goes without saying that if you become a vegetarian, you will be promoting animal welfare.

Problems With The Vegetarian Diet

While there are plenty of advantages to adopting a vegetarian diet, there also appears to be some problems with it.

For example, those individuals who are purely vegan hardly get any calcium in their diet. Over a period of time this can lead to weakening of the bones and teeth.

Furthermore, those following a vegan diet can also get insufficient vitamin K and vitamin D, both of which are essential for bone health. While certain foods may be fortified with this, some vegetarians avoid eating fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Low Protein Intake

The best protein sources that are currently available in our diet are derived from animals. Those following a vegan diet and avoid dairy products may end up eating lesser protein than the body needs.

While there are plenty of vegetarian protein sources such as beans, chickpeas, nuts, soya products, lentils and whole grains, the quantity of protein and the quality of it as well are variable.

Remember, we need around 1 gm of protein for every kilogram that we weigh. It is essential you bear this in mind if you wish to become a vegetarian.

If you plan to switch to a vegetarian diet, make sure you include at least two or three of these protein sources in your daily meals.

Low Iron Intake

Non-vegetarian food, especially red meat, is loaded with iron. However, vegetarians hardly get any iron in their diet.

Over a period of time, this can lead to low haemoglobin levels and the need for iron supplementation.

Some good vegetarian sources of iron include legumes (lentils, soya bean, tofu), whole grains such as brown rice, oats and quinoa, nuts and seeds and certain vegetables such as green leafy vegetables and tomatoes.

Low Vitamin B-12 Levels

Almost 95% of the patients I see in clinic who are vitamin B-12 deficient are vegetarians. It is very rare for people who consume non-vegetarian food to have low vitamin B-12 levels.

Vitamin B12 is essential to maintain the health of blood cells and also to allow normal electrical conduction down the nerve fibres in our body.

If you are planning to become a vegetarian, make sure you consume fortified foods to which vitamin B12 has been added. Alternatively, you could take an oral supplement.

Closing Remarks

There are plenty of advantages to switching over to a vegetarian diet. However, there are some disadvantages too, most of which can be managed with supplement.

From what I gather, it appears that some medical bodies will now start recommending a vegetarian diet to stay healthy.

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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Dr Vivek Baliga B

Consultant Internal Medicine And Cardiovascular Sciences at Baliga Diagnostics Pvt Ltd
Dr Baliga is a consultant in Internal Medicine and Cardiology with an interest in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He received his training in India and the UK where he completed his post graduate training and his doctorate. He then completed his MBA from University of Phoenix, USA. He has completed the post graduate program in Cardiology from Johns Hopkins University and participated in the Advanced Certificate Course in Diabetes from the Cleveland Clinic, USA. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Lipid Management from Middlesex University, UK. He is the managing partner of Baliga Diagnostics, Bangalore. He is also the founder of HeartSense and is a keen advocate of patient empowerment, having written almost every article on this website and more. In his spare time, he enjoys running and spending time with his son. Find Dr Vivek Baliga on LinkedIn here - http://heartsense.in/linkedin.
Dr Vivek Baliga B
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