Many people are turning to plant-based diets for an alternative source of energy. Whether it has to do with animal rights, heart health, or budget, it is possible to live a healthy lifestyle while only eating plants and/or dairy foods. Now, tons of vegan and vegetarian restaurants are popping up across the United States to cater to our population’s wishes.
Before you make the switch to plant-based eating, you should understand the difference between the types of vegetarian diets.
- Semi- or partial-vegetarians: No red meat
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish, shellfish. Eggs and dairy products are allowed.
- Lacto-vegetarian: No meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Dairy products are allowed.
- Macrobiotic: No meat, poultry, and eggs. Fish are included at times. Grains are a staple food.
- Vegan: Total vegetarian. No meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, and honey.
There are many good aspects of following a vegetarian or vegan diet. These diets tend to be less expensive. Additionally, vegetarian diets contain lots of fiber from plants. Fiber helps maintain our digestive system, and keeps our bodies “regular,” if you catch my drift. Finally, there are lots of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in this diet, which leaves us healthy and strong.
However, certain key nutrients are still lacking in vegetarian diets. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to a certain type of anemia. Vitamin D and calcium are found mainly in dairy products. A diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains may not provide adequate protein. Careful attention must also be paid to zinc, iron, and vitamin B6.
There’s also a large stigma surrounding the intake of soy products. This is because soy contains something called isoflavones. Isoflavones are similar in structure to estrogen. Some studies find that a high soy diet may increase the risk for certain types of estrogen-dependent cancers. The studies still remain controversial, because there is no definitive, right-or-wrong answer. However, the FDA has approved specific health claims for the association of soy protein (25 grams/day) with a reduced risk for coronary heart disease.
Talk to your doctor or dietitian before switching your diet to a plant-based one. You may want to get a physical and a blood test to confirm whether you have any preexisting deficiencies. Also, it’s helpful to have in-depth discussions of the benefits and risks of plant-based diets with these healthcare providers.