Not all Vegetarians are

the same:

Lacto-vegetarians do not eat any animal flesh, but do eat dairy products.

Ovo-vegetarians do not eat flesh or milk products, but do eat eggs.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians do not eat meats, but do eat eggs and dairy.

Semi-vegetarians do not eat beef, veal, pork, or similar meats, but do eat eggs, dairy, fish, and maybe chicken.

Vegans do not eat animal products at all, but rely only on plant-based foods.

There are many positive and some negative aspects about becoming vegetarian. As there are various types of vegetarians, people become vegetarians for different reasons. Some eliminate or reduce their intake of animal foods and products for moral, ethical, or environmental reasons. Others feel they will become healthier or lose weight. The healthfulness of any eating plan depends on the foods that are consumed. If groups of foods are omitted, it is important to understand how to replace the vital nutrients that go with them.

Nature offers an array of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Plant foods are abundant in nutrients – they have some or all of the following: vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate, fat, and water. They also contain phytochemicals – plant chemicals that are not essential, but may help protect against disease – such as beta-carotene. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can help ensure that the benefits nature provides are reaped because many of these phytochemicals are not available in a pill.

In addition, most of the time, vegetarians, especially vegans, require a greater quantity of food than omnivores (those who eat all foods) because plant foods offer less complete protein, less fat, and usually fewer calories per serving than animal foods.

A well-calculated vegetarian eating plan can provide all of the nutrients needed. Particular attention has to be paid to protein, especially for vegans. Everyone requires protein, which is comprised of amino acids, to maintain and repair muscle tissue, and make blood cells, antibodies, hormones, enzymes, and all types of body structures. Nine amino acids are “essential” because they must be obtained from food (our bodies do not make enough of them or make them at all).

If a food doesn’t have all of these essential amino acids, it is considered an “incomplete” protein food. All plant foods are incomplete, except for soy. The good news is that the amino acids missing in certain vegetable foods are found in others, these are known as complimentary proteins. Rice and beans are an example-when eaten together, they supply all of the essential amino acids. As long as they are eaten in the same day, the body can form proteins from them.

Protein has been getting a lot of attention in the nutritional press lately. High-protein, low-fat diets have been touted as being the key to maintaining a healthy weight and high energy level. While this may not necessarily be the case and research has been conflicting, many people do seem to feel better when they are consuming a moderate to high level of protein (30-65 grams a day for young adults). This can pose a problem for new vegetarians, who often begin to dread tofu, but becoming familiar with the wide variety of soy protein products available can make a vegetarian diet much more interesting. There are also dozens of great cookbooks out there on vegetarian, vegan, and whole foods cooking, and making a dietary change is an opportunity to take a more hands-on approach to the foods you consume.

The negative aspects of vegetarianism are the possible deficiencies that may develop if a balanced diet is not consumed. If dairy, meat, fish, and poultry are excluded, one may become deficient in vitamin B12, calcium, iron, or zinc, just to name a few. Choose generously from different whole grains, fruits, and veggies; moderately from the legume, nut, seed, and meat alternative group; and sparingly from the vegetable fats, oils, and sweets group. Make sure you get enough calories to meet your energy needs and that they are from healthy sources. It is imperative to not consume a lot of refined carbohydrates, which are stripped of fiber, protein, and essential nutrients. The most commonly found refined carbohydrates (which constitute the majority of pre-made American packaged foods) are white flour and refined (white) sugar. Try and avoid them as much as possible, as it is easy to become quickly deficient in several nutrients when eating a diet based on highly processed foods.

As a vegetarian, and especially as a vegan, you are eating in a way that supports a healthier planet and does not endorse the factory farming industry. By consuming a diet high in vegetables and unprocessed foods, you are also putting yourself on a path to increased resistance to disease and lifelong health.

Here are some great cookbooks for vegetarians and vegans, and those interested in cooking healthier foods. The first two are standards that have been revised to include more nutritional information for vegetarians and vegan modifications on old recipes:


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