Why delete the meatSome six to eight million U.S. adults eat no meat, fish, or poultry, according to a poll commissioned by the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group. Several million more have eliminated red meat, but still eat chicken or fish. And about two million have become vegans, eliminating not only animal flesh, but also all animal-derived products such as milk, cheese, eggs, and gelatin. The reasons for maintaining a vegetarian diet come in all shapes and sizes:
- It's healthier, reducing the risk of many chronic diseases
- It's my religion
- It doesn't harm animals
- It reduces the likelihood of exposure to the hormones and antibiotics found in factory-raised meat
- It uses up fewer environmental resources
- It's less expensive than a meat-based diet
Top trendIf you've considered going vegetarian in one way or another, but hesitate, it might help to know how many people have made the change before you, and how many more are projected do the same. A giant international delivery service company called Just Eat has named veganism as a top consumer trend in 2018, due to users striving for “healthy lifestyles.” By giant, we mean 20 million customers across the globe. Just Eat expects veganism to be the “biggest food trend of the coming year.” Keep in mind that veganism, as I mentioned, is the most limited, "hardest-core" non-animal-based diet option. Just Eat reported a 94 percent increase—nearly double—in the overall “healthy food ordered” category this year over 2016, according to one source. Another source reported a
Health benefits of a vegetarian/plant-based dietCan becoming a vegetarian protect you against major diseases? It sure looks that way. In broad strokes, vegetarians, compared with meat eaters, consume:
- Less saturated fat and cholesterol
- More vitamins C and E
- More dietary fiber and folic acid
- More potassium
- More magnesium
- More antioxidant phytochemicals such as carotenoids and flavonoids
- More vitamin D
- Lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower body mass index (BMI)
Are there risks associated with a vegetarian diet?There are issues, but calling them risks is a stretch. There's far greater risk in the standard American diet of overly salted, sugared, preserved, and otherwise polluted and processed food. But being vegetarian doesn’t mean non-stop pasta, pizza and bread. "The key issue associated with a plant-based diet can come from not shopping wisely and not compensating for nutrients formerly provided by animal products," says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “If you do not have a plan in place for getting the nutrients found in animal sources through vegetarian sources, you can come up short on:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
What are best practices for vegetarians?Here are some ground rules to get the most from a vegetarian diet. Nonvegetarians would do themselves a big favor following the same guidelines.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars from processed foods, as you will already be eating sufficient carbs overall.
- Although green leafy vegetables contain some vitamin K, vegans may also need to rely on fortified foods, including some types of soy milk, rice milk, organic orange juice, and breakfast cereals. And they should almost certainly take a vitamin D supplement.
- As a safety net, take a multivitamin that contains 100 percent of the daily value (DV) for B12 and at least 70 percent of the DV for zinc.
- Be sure to consume plenty of plant-based forms of omega-3 fats, such as whole soy foods, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, canola oil, dark leafy greens, wheat germ, walnuts and other nuts. Maybe take an algae-based DHA supplement.
- To get all the protein you need, include beans, whole soy foods, quinoa, nuts, whole grains, and seeds in your regular diet.
- If managing a chronic disease, always check with your health care provider before taking any supplements.
- Eat large quantities of fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, especially non-starchy veggies, to take advantage of their appetite-controlling fiber.
- Replace saturated and trans fats with good fats from nuts, olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil.
- If losing weight is a goal, remember that if you eat too many calories, even from nutritious, low-fat, plant-based foods, you'll gain weight.
Take a meat-free test driveIf you're still unsure whether you want to go, you can get many of the health benefits of being vegetarian without going in all the way. The Mediterranean diet, for example, is associated with longer life and a reduced risk of several chronic illnesses. It's built on plenty of plant-based foods, with limited meat. You can get a taste of life with less meat by aiming for the Mediterranean model, and replacing meat with plant-based protein—beans or tofu, for example— two or three times a week. If you've decided which direction you want to take, make sure your doctor is involved in the process. You don't want an allergic reaction to a new herb, or spice, or other unfamiliar ingredient. Your overall health should also be a factor. Your doctor's assessment will help you choose your changes. Happy, healthy eating—and thriving!
- "Becoming a Vegetarian" Harvard Health. Updated December 4, 2017. Last accessed August 23, 2018.
- "The Potential Health Risks of a Vegetarian Diet" Everyday Health. Updated September 13, 2012. Last accessed August 23, 2018.
- Hancox, Dan. "The unstoppable rise of veganism: how a fringe movement went mainstream" The Guardian. Published April 1, 2018. Last accessed August 23, 2018.
- Webber, Jemima "Demand for Vegan and Vegetarian Food Increased by 987 percent in 2017" Live Kindly. Published December 29, 2017. Last accessed August 23, 2018.