Thinking of starting on a plant-based diet?
As the trend to move away from animal products increases, I wanted to take a look at what different types of vegetarian diet there are and also if there’s any vital nutrients you are missing out on when abstaining from eating meat/fish and animal products.
So, to start with, let’s look at the different types of plant-based diet.
Eliminates meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, as well as other animal-derived products, such as honey.
Eliminates meat and poultry but allows fish and sometimes eggs and dairy products.
A mostly vegetarian diet that incorporates occasional meat, fish or poultry.
Eliminates meat, fish and poultry but allows eggs and dairy products.
Eliminates meat, fish, poultry and eggs but allows dairy products.
Eliminates meat, fish, poultry and dairy products but allows eggs.
You may be wondering which of the above is right for you and that very much depends on your reasons for choosing to reduce or remove meat and/or animal products from your diet.
Usually you would expect a vegetarian diet to be more healthy.
I mean the majority of the stuff you consume is going to be vegetables, fruit, whole grains, pulses etc and perhaps some eggs and dairy, right?
Well actually that isn’t always the case. With so many new plant-based convenience products out there you are sometimes consuming more sugar and ‘fillers’ than if you just cooked something from scratch. And that’s no different to those on a more carnivorous diet.
So as always, it’s about making good quality choices with your food.
Now here are some of the benefits that we often see associated with a vegetarian diet.
MAY HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS
However, although numerous studies have shown a vegetarian diet to be beneficial in weight loss, unfortunately I dont necessarily agree that it’s better than a diet which contains an element of animal protein. Here’s why.
When studies are conducted surrounding weight loss you have 2 groups (or more) groups. One will be on their usual diet which contains meat and the other group(s) will be on some form of vegetarian diet, including vegan.
Yet the headline says vegetarian diet causes significant weight loss or something to that effect. But when you look closely, the vegetarian diet is often a vegan one. This will have less fats due to no cheese, eggs, meat or fish. So of course they will be losing weight!
They also don’t elaborate on exactly what the participants are eating. Yes they can say this group only ate xyz but that then leaves it open to eating convenience foods. This is more of an issue for those on the ‘normal’ carnivorous diet as they may be eating of all sorts of ‘diet’ foods whereas those on the vegetarian diets are more likely to be eating a higher volume of vegetables.
So the moral of the story here is if you want to lose weight, you don’t need to become a vegetarian or vegan to do that.
MAY STABILISE BLOOD SUGAR
Vegetarian diets may also prevent diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels in the long term.
According to one study in 2,918 people, switching from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian diet was associated with a 53% reduced risk of diabetes over an average of five years (Chiu, T., Pan, W. H., Lin, M. N., & Lin, C. L. (2018). Vegetarian diet, change in dietary patterns, and diabetes risk: a prospective study.)
Again, I would like to note that not eating animal products in itself isn’t going to stabilise your blood sugar. Eating regularly throughout the day and concentrating on sourcing your carbohydrates from fibrous vegetables (such as sweet potato, root vegetables, celeriac and more leafy greens) is going to be the best way along with some nuts.
NOTE: Filling your face with pasta, rice and chocolate cake on a regular basis isnt going to keep your blood sugar down.
MAY PROMOTE HEART HEALTH
Vegetarian diets reduce several heart disease risk factors to help keep your heart healthy and strong.
One study in 76 people tied vegetarian diets to lower levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol — all of which are risk factors for heart disease when elevated (De Biase SG, Fernandes SF, Gianini RJ, Duarte JL. Vegetarian diet and cholesterol and triglycerides levels. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2007;88(1):35-39.)
Similarly, another recent study in 118 people found that a low-calorie vegetarian diet was more effective at reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol than a Mediterranean diet (Sofi F, Dinu M, Pagliai G, et al. Low-Calorie Vegetarian Versus Mediterranean Diets for Reducing Body Weight and Improving Cardiovascular Risk Profile: CARDIVEG Study (Cardiovascular Prevention With Vegetarian Diet). Circulation. 2018;137(11):1103-1113.)
Now we aren’t a fan of statins at Ojay Health, which is what doctors – in the UK anyway – seem to prescribe like sweets to anyone which has high cholesterol. There have been a few occasions where a client has been advised by a doctor they have high cholesterol and after a few months of working with us, their cholesterol has reduced as a result of diet changes.
And no, they didnt avoid eggs and red meat like the plague either….
I think we can all agree that any diet should include a diverse mix of fruits, vegetables, grains, healthy fats and proteins. And a well-rounded vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious. However, it may also increase your risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Meat, poultry and fish supply a good amount of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as micronutrients like zinc, selenium, iron and vitamin B12.
Other animal products like dairy and eggs also contain calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins. When cutting meat or other animal products from your diet, it’s important to ensure you’re getting these essential nutrients from other sources. And even when good quality supplements are taken, it’s not always possible to mirror what you would get from an animal source.
Vegetarians attend to be at a higher risk of protein, calcium, iron, iodine and vitamin B12 deficiencies.
To replace the protein provided by meat/fish, include a variety of protein-rich plant foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, tempeh, tofu and seitan. Although I would try not to consume too much soya as this can affect your oestrogen levels if large amounts are consumed. If you follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, eggs and dairy can also boost your protein intake.
Eating nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains will supply a range of important vitamins and minerals to fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet. Bread in particular in the Western world is not particularly nutrient dense and due to the fast-acting yeast that’s used these days, can often affect your digestion so reducing your intake of this will also provide some benefits to your health.
A few healthy foods to eat on a vegetarian diet are:
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and stone fruit in moderation as these have high sugar content. Berries are the best choice as these taste sweet but actually have low natural sugar content.
- Vegetables: Leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, root vegetables.
- Grains: Quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice, oats
- Legumes: Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, chestnuts, macademias
- Seeds: Flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds
- Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, eggs
- Proteins: Tempeh, tofu, seitan, natto, nutritional yeast, spirulina, eggs, some dairy products
A balanced vegetarian diet with nutritious foods like produce, grains, healthy fats and plant-based protein may offer several benefits, but it may increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies if poorly planned.
Be sure to pay close attention to a few key nutrients and balance out any ‘shortfalls’ in your diet with a variety of healthy whole foods. And by this I mean foods which havent been messed about with before they get to the supermarket/market stall. That way, you’ll enjoy the benefits of vegetarianism while minimizing the side effects.
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