Perhaps Vegetarianism has been on the rise or maybe we are just more aware of the benefits of consuming more natural, wholesome plant based foods?? Regardless, there are still many of us stumped by vegetarianism and what it means.
People choose vegetarianism for a number of reasons. Reasons may include cultural, ethical, perceived health benefits, taste preferences, environmental or even economical concerns – there is no right or wrong, it simply comes down to preference.
Vegetarians don’t all fall under the one umbrella. There are different types that have different inclusions/exclusions in their food consumption:
- Demi- or semi vegetarian
Excludes red meat, but usually includes fish and/or poultry
Eats fish, but excludes red meat and poultry
Eats dairy and eggs (possibly only free-range). Exclude all flesh meat and derived products (e.g. rennet, gelatine).
Excludes all animal flesh, products and derived ingredients
Vegan diet consisting of mostly raw fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, pulses and grains
There are many benefits to a vegetarian lifestyle. Vegetable intake is usually increased, fat intake (particularly saturated fat) tends to be lower and dietary fiber requirements are generally met which means that those regular bowl movements will be happening just the way they are supposed to (sorry I had to go there 😊). Vitamins and Minerals like folate, magnesium, vitamin C and E and potassium will reach optimum levels and of course you’ll be digesting a ton of phytochemicals (plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties).
If you do choose to become vegetarian there are a few nutrients that you will need to monitor to ensure that you remain in optimal health. Iron, Vitamin B12, Zinc and Vitamin D will all need to remain on your radar. Here’s a quick summary on why:
Animal based protein sources usually come complete which means that they can be effectively broken down into amino acids within the body and used as required to build cells. Plant based protein sources are incomplete which means that they lack or are missing an amino acid. Consuming a combination of different plant sources of protein provides adequate amounts and types of amino acids
- Vitamin B12
Almost all Vitamin B12 is absorbed from animal products. This means that vegetarians run a risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency. Please note that a high intake of folate can mask a Vitamin B12 deficiency so this needs to be monitored regularly by a qualified physician, particularly during pregnancy. There are many fortified foods and supplements available now it’s just a matter of self education.
Vegetarians have a lower Zinc intake. This is because Phytate (phytic acid) which is common in plant foods and can inhibit zinc absorption by attaching to zinc in the digestive system and preventing the absorption from occurring. Recommended intake for Zinc in vegetarians is 150% compared with that of the general population
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D is found naturally in only a few foods like fatty fish (for example, cod liver oil) and egg yolks. Depending on your exposure to the sun along with the type of vegetarianism that you choose, this may mean that supplementation may be required if you haven’t managed to consume the Vitamin D from other sources.
All in all, vegetarianism simply comes down to personal preference and although the exact dietary strategy for health and longevity has still not officially been document, the emphasis today is on increasing intake of foods of plant origin. If you increase your consumption of vegetables, fruits and wholefoods an overall increase in health will almost certainly result.