Vegetarian Lifestyle

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

There are many reasons that people decide vegetarianism is the best lifestyle choice for them. Some people do not eat meat because of religious or spiritual reasons, others choose vegetarianism as a means of supporting the environment and still others adopt vegetarianism for health related concerns. If you are reading this, you probably want to learn more about vegetarianism for its health benefits. Read on!

What Is Vegetarianism
Vegetarians fall into many different categories. Some abstain from all meat, fish and poultry products. Others, called Vegans, abstain from eating any food that comes from animal products. This may include eggs, cheese, yogurt or milk for example. A vegan diet is a bit more challenging to follow than a vegetarian one, and may require extra effort to get the right mix of nutrients to support the body. For purposes of this article we will focus chiefly on traditional vegetarianism.

Here is a break down of the primary types of vegetarian lifestyles you can adopt:

Vegan – Vegans consume no animal products. This means no dairy, eggs or other products gained from animals (like honey).

Lacto Ovo – This type of vegetarian is the most widely adopted lifestyle. Lacto ovo vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products but do not eat meat from animals like beef, poultry or fish. You can further divide this category into ovo vegetarians, who eat eggs but not dairy products, and lacto vegetarians, who eat dairy products but not eggs.

Raw Vegetarianism – Raw vegetarians eat only raw food. This consists mainly of raw vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruit.

There are even some vegetarians that eat only fruit and vegetables that fall from plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers. This rare form of vegetarianism, called fruitarianism, is the most extreme and least common.

If you plan to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, you have to make sure you eat a good combination of healthy foods. These foods include:
  • Vegetables
  • Leafy Greens
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Fruits

Key Nutrition for Vegetarians
There are many benefits to a vegetarian lifestyle. Most vegetarians enjoy a low fat high fiber diet. It is important if you are considering a vegetarian lifestyle however that you consume enough protein and calories. There are multiple protein sources in a vegetarian diet. Many of these come from natural or meat substitute products. Some common protein sources in a vegetarian diet include:
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Dairy products
Other nutrients important to a vegetarian diet include iron and calcium. You can easily consume the iron you need from animal products. Thus if you decide to elect a vegetarian diet you will need to make sure you get enough iron. Acceptable sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, prune juice, certain beans and even blackstrap moles. You can also cook your meals in a cast iron skillet, which will add iron to your diet. Most people associate calcium intake with dairy products. Fortunately there are many other sources of calcium in the diet including broccoli, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables. Some meat alternatives and tofu have added calcium. You can also by soy milk that is fortified, thus contains high levels of calcium.

B12 is another important nutrient often lacking in vegetarian diets. Much of the B12 we eat comes from animal products including eggs. You can however get ample B12 by eating fortified food products. In some cases, especially if you opt for a vegan lifestyle, you might consider supplementation with vitamin B12 or a B complex product.

Many find vegetarianism a rich and rewarding lifestyle. If you want a diet that is high in fiber and nutrient dense that won’t pack on pounds, vegetarianism may be a good choice for you. You might consider experimenting with different types of vegetarianism before you find the lifestyle that suits you best.