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The Pros and Cons of a Vegetarian Diet

February 20, 2020

vegetarian-diet-pros-consVegetarian diet pros and cons are becoming a little clearer. That’s because the world is becoming more health-conscious, and an increasing number of people are adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. A vegetarian diet usually comprises whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and it does not contain any meat. It is considered a healthy diet because it has been proven to be effective in improving overall health and preventing a number of diseases. 

Recent studies found that about 4% of Americans are full-time vegetarians. A recent poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group found that 46% of respondents say they always or sometimes eat vegetarian meals when dining out. The top reason? Health. And a study by the Plant-Based Food Association found sales of plant-based foods increased 20% in the United States last year alone.   

However, plant-based foods may not contain certain nutrients that are essential for the proper functioning of the body. Let’s take a look at the list of vegetarian diet pros and cons.

Pros

Because they are lower in or free of animal products, vegetarian diets are low in total and saturated fat and cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians are less likely to get certain diseases such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Vegetarian diets have also been shown to reduce asthma and promote bone health. 

A few additional good reasons to adopt eat a vegetarian diet include:

  • Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, folate, and carotenoids.
  • As a vegetarian, you will have a significantly reduced risk of obesity because the foods you eat are low in saturated fats.
  • Studies show that vegetarians, particularly vegans, have lower blood pressure than their meat-eating counterparts.
  • If you follow a well-rounded vegetarian diet that consists of a wide variety of foods, you will meet all of your nutritional requirements.

In fact, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics affirms that a vegetarian diet can meet all known nutrient needs.

Cons

The biggest, most basic contradicting argument against vegetarianism usually centers around a lack of nutritional support. But arguments against may also include:

  • A vegetarian diet doesn’t mean you have to stop counting calories. Depending on your food choices, you may still consume large amounts of high-fat calories. Empty calories can creep into any type of diet, meat-free or not.
  • A vegetarian diet does not contain vitamin B12, a nutrient that is usually found in meat. This nutrient serves the important function of maintaining a healthy brain and nervous system.  The good news is that the recommended intake of vitamin B12 for adults is very low, but this is an essential nutrient, so vegetarians should be aware of good sources. Fortified foods, such as some brands of cereal, nutritional yeast, soymilk or veggie "meats" are good non-animal sources.
  • Iron deficiency is sometimes associated with vegetarian diets.  But there are a number of good sources of iron, including dried beans, tofu, tempeh, spinach, chard, baked potatoes, cashews, dried fruits, bulgur, and iron-fortified foods (such as cereals, instant oatmeal and veggie "meats").

There are still some people who think they will suffer a protein deficiency if they switch to a vegetarian diet. But vegetarians easily meet their protein needs by eating a varied diet, as long as they consume enough calories to maintain their weight. A mixture of proteins throughout the day will provide enough essential amino acids. The list of protein-packed, plant-based foods includes:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Tempeh
  • Chickpeas
  • Peas

Many common foods, such as whole-grain bread, greens, potatoes and corn can also add to your protein intake.

Remember, You can technically be a vegetarian eating a diet made up entirely of snack cakes, pasta, french fries and milkshakes, which have little nutritional value, but as a result, many health benefits may not apply.

If you wish to find out whether a vegetarian diet is an appropriate dietary choice for you, you can ask one of our physicians for advice or you can start by checking out our guide on healthy eating.

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