For many years, we have heard how insufficient a vegetarian diet can be in terms of filling your needs for protein, vitamins, and minerals. But in recent years, the vegetarian diet has gained lots of popularity. Many studies now confirm that being vegetarian may have more health benefits than relying heavily on animal foods.
According to the American Dietetic Association, “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.”
Types of Vegetarian Diet
Before we dive deep into the benefits of a vegetarian diet, we should first define what a vegetarian diet is and the different types of vegetarians.
Simply put, the vegetarian diet involves not eating meat, poultry, fish, and animal by-products such as gelatin. However, vegetarian diets vary in what foods they eat and don’t eat. Here are the three major vegetarian types.
- Lacto vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, and fish but include dairy products such as cheese, milk, yogurt, and butter.
- Ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, and dairy but include only eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, and fish but include dairy products and eggs. This is the most common diet type that vegetarians prefer.
Benefits of Being Vegetarian
There are numerous benefits of a plant-based diet, and here are what we think are the most amazing ones!
Good For Heart Health
As vegetarians consume less animal fat and dietary cholesterol, a vegetarian diet is naturally a healthier alternative for people with heart disease. Studies agree that adopting a more plant-based diet decreases deaths related to heart disease.
Following a vegetarian diet helps to decrease the risk factors associated with heart disease. These factors are triglyceride levels, total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.
One study found that participants following a vegetarian diet had a significant decrease in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels compared to omnivores.
Another review associated vegetarian diet with lower blood pressure levels. This is mostly because plant food sources are lower in fat, sodium, and cholesterol than animal food sources. In addition to that, consuming more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables helps to lower blood pressure as well.
Takeaway: Adopting a vegetarian diet may help lower blood pressure, triglyceride, total and LDL cholesterol levels, which are important factors for heart disease.
Vegetarian Diet for Weight Loss
Switching to a well-balanced vegetarian diet may help in weight loss. A review of studies concluded that vegetarians showed a better profile in weight reduction compared to non-vegetarians.
Moreover, a large study found that vegetarians tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index) than their meat-eating counterparts.
Takeaway: A balanced vegetarian diet may help ease weight loss.
Regulate Blood Glucose Levels
A healthy balanced vegetarian diet may help prevent and treat type-2 diabetes. A review of six studies confirmed that following a vegetarian diet is associated with improved glycemic control in type-2 diabetes.
Moreover, consuming low-glycemic and high fiber foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and nuts helps type-2 diabetes treatment by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Takeaway: Vegetarian diet may improve blood glucose levels, which is an important factor for type-2 diabetes.
Provide Healthy Skin and Reverse Skin Aging
In addition to the clinical health benefits, following a well-planned vegetarian diet high in vegetables and fruits benefit skin health because these foods have high antioxidant levels.
A review focusing on dietary factors in skin aging concluded that a whole food plant-based diet maximizes the antioxidant potential within cells by providing essential vitamins such as vitamins A, C, and E. This helps prevent and reverse skin aging.
Moreover, if you suffer from acne problems, you may benefit from adopting a plant-based diet. One study concluded, “plant-based foods and supplements, especially those rich in fiber and polyphenols, could provide a natural, low-risk intervention for acne vulgaris”.
But remember that if you rely too much on high fat foods such as dairy or fried foods (even fried vegetables), it won’t help with acne. So it’s better to keep the fat content low and include more plant-based foods to your diet in order to not suffer from acne problems.
Takeaway: Vegetarian diet that is high in antioxidants and vitamins may benefit your skin.
In addition to the health benefits of vegetarianism, there are other reasons to be vegetarian as well.
First of all, a plant-based diet is more sustainable than a meat-based diet since it causes less harm to the environment by reducing the resources (water, energy, and natural) consumed and pollution produced.
Moreover, livestock production increases greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to climate change. Many vegetarians also choose to follow a vegetarian diet for ethical reasons, such as animal rights.
Takeaway: Besides its numerous health benefits, plant-based diets provide lots of environmental benefits as well.
Can a Vegetarian Diet Be Unhealthy?
You can turn a vegetarian diet into an unhealthy diet by eating too many processed foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, and fat. After all, there’s no meat in cookies, cakes, potato chips, bread, sugar-sweetened beverages, and so on.
Of course, you can still fit these foods into your overall healthy vegetarian diet. But if you rely too much on them, you may end up gaining weight and having other health problems.
You can also miss out on certain key nutrients if you don’t plan your vegetarian diet properly. These nutrients are vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and zinc.
Deficiency in these nutrients may lead to symptoms like muscle loss, nerve damage, anemia, fatigue, weakness, thyroid problems, and more.
Although mostly found in animal products, the good news is many plant food sources include these key nutrients. To find out more about vegetarian protein sources that are high in vitamins and minerals mentioned above, check out our article.
Conclusion: Is Being Vegetarian Healthy?
We can all agree that a vegetarian diet offers many health benefits. But don’t forget that you can turn any type of diet into an unhealthy one if you don’t balance it properly. As with any meal plan, you should always balance out what you eat to stay healthy.
It’s important to plan a vegetarian diet that meets your nutritional needs. If you want to benefit from the advantages of vegetarianism, you should build your diet around a well-balanced mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and plant protein sources.