Being Vegetarian

Diets, nutrition | November 4, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

Digestion

Being Vegetarian

There is a slow and steady rise in vegetarianism in Australia. Findings from Roy Morgan Research reveal that the number of Australian adults whose diet is all or almost all vegetarian has risen from 1.7 million people to almost 2.1 million between 2012 and 2016, and a similar trend has been noted in New Zealand. The greatest shift occurred in NSW where there has been a 30% growth in this type of diet.

What is a vegetarian?

According to the Australian Vegetarian Society, a vegetarian is a person who eats foods that are free from any ingredients derived from the slaughter of animals (including chicken and fish).

There are different types of vegetarian diets:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese and yoghurt)
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but no eggs
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy products
  • Vegans avoid all animal products, including eggs and dairy products; many vegans also avoid honey.
    'Fruitarians' are vegans who eat fruit, but sometimes include nuts and seeds in their diet.

So, what is the appeal in a vegetarian diet and why are so many people choosing to give up meat?

People become vegetarians for different reasonsPeople become vegetarians for different reasons

  • Health benefits. More and more people are changing their eating habits towards a healthier diet. Many studies have shown that vegetarian diets are associated with weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease, prevention of type 2 diabetes, increased longevity, and a higher diversity and abundance of gut bacteria, which in itself is associated with better health.
  • Environmental impact. Vegetarian diets are environmentally friendly. The production of livestock contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and deforestation.
  • Animal-welfare. An increasing number of people feel that animals should not suffer.
  • Religion. Religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Adventists in the USA choose to practice a vegetarian diet. 

Just because you are vegetarian does not necessarily mean you are healthier

Not all plant foods are created equal. It is important to consume quality plant foods in order to meet your needs and avoid potential nutrient deficiencies. Giving up meat but consuming sweetened beverages, refined grains, French fries, and sweets would be detrimental for your health.

For example, a recent study found that male vegetarians were at greater risk for depression than their meat-eating counterparts, possibly a result of nutritional deficiencies from an inadequate vegetarian diet.

A well-planned vegetarian diet can be nutritionally balanced and healthy. Some nutrients may be more difficult to obtain on a vegetarian diet, but careful planning can ensure that your nutrition needs are met.

Protein for vegetarians

Protein for vegetariansProteins are major functional and structural component of every cell in the body, necessary for the body’s growth, maintenance, and repair, including building and preserving body muscle, bones, skin, cartilage, and blood. A common misconception is that vegetarians will not get enough protein from their diet. However, lacto-ovo-vegetarians can get their protein from eggs and dairy products, such as yoghurt, cheese, and milk. Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and many vegetables supply protein too.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal foods. Deficiency is not usually a problem for most people on a vegetarian diet that includes milk and eggs. Vegans may need a daily supplement.

‚ÄčIron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Because iron from plants is not absorbed as well as that from animal sources, vegetarians have been found to have lower iron stores, and may need to consume more iron than non-vegetarians. Good sources of iron that are suitable for a vegetarian diet include: legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, watercress, and broccoli, dried fruit, and nuts and seeds.

To improve iron absorption - try and add food rich in vitamin C to meals

Calcium

calciumCalcium is important for bone health and strength, as well as in regulating muscle contraction, heart beat, blood clotting and functioning of the nervous system. For lacto-ovo vegetarians, dairy products provide plenty of calcium. Vegans can obtain their calcium from fortified plant milk (rice, soy, almond), fortified soy yoghurt, tofu, tahini, or other plant foods rich in calcium such as kale, rocket, watercress and broccoli.

Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have multiple health benefits, mainly due to their anti-inflammatory actions. However, as oily fish are the major dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids, vegetarians may have lower intake. Plant foods containing omega-3 fats include chia seeds and linseeds (or flaxseed oil), as well as walnuts and soy products.

Did you know?

Rennet, used to make cheese, and gelatine, which is sometimes found in marshmallows, margarines, jelly and yoghurts – are derived from animals and therefore are not suitable for vegetarians.  

The bottom line

Vegetarianism has become a lifestyle choice to many. Like any healthy diet, a vegetarian diet requires you to include a variety of foods, reading labels, careful planning and preparation.

A registered dietitian or a qualified nutritionist can help you create a balanced vegetarian diet that is right for you.

flexitarian dietHowever, the transition towards eating a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean that you have to become a strict vegetarian.

You can aim to increase the amount and variety of plant foods you eat every day and choose to follow a semi-vegetarian diet, also known as a flexitarian diet; eating a healthy and balanced diet and still occasionally including meat or fish.

For example, the Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet that allows small amounts of chicken, dairy products, eggs, and red meat.

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References

Australian Vegetarian Society. Available at: http://www.veg-soc.org.au/

British Nutrition Foundation 2017. Healthy eating for vegans and vegetarians. Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/helpingyoueatwell/veganandvegetarian.html?limit=1

Hibbeln, J.R. et al., 2018. Vegetarian diets and depressive symptoms among men. Journal of Affective Disorders, 225, pp.13–17. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28777971

Harvard Health 2016, Becoming a vegetarian. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/becoming-a-vegetarian

Leitzmann, C., 2014. Vegetarian nutrition: past, present, future. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 100 Suppl 1(Supplement 1), p.496S–502S. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898226

Rosi, A. et al., 2017. Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet. Scientific reports, 7(1), p.6105. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28733610

Roy Morgan Research 2015. Vegetarianism on the rise in New Zealand. Available at: https://www.roymorgan.com/findings/6663-vegetarians-on-the-rise-in-new-zealand-june-2015-201602080028

Roy Morgan Research 2016. The slow but steady rise of vegetarianism in Australia. Available at: https://www.roymorgan.com/findings/vegetarianisms-slow-but-steady-rise-in-australia-201608151105

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