Ocnutrition’s Blog

Vegetarian Diets: Is it Healthy to Cut Meat out of Your Diet?
June 5, 2012, 5:42 pm
Filed under: General Nutrition

Vegetarian diets have become increasingly popular over the past few years as more and more studies have shown positive health benefits to following a mostly plant based diet. But some of you are probably wondering, is consuming a vegetarian diet really healthy for you like everyone says?

 What exactly is a vegetarian?

 A vegetarian is one who doesn’t include meat, poultry, seafood, or any products containing these foods in their diet.

  • A lacto-ovo-vegetarian is one who includes eggs and dairy products in their diet.
  • A lacto-vegetarian is one who includes dairy products but excludes eggs from their diet.
  • On the more extreme side, a vegan is one who only eats plant products and doesn’t include any animal products in their diet.

 Is this type of diet healthy for your body?

Yes, it can be! According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” They also state that well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for people of all ages, including those who are pregnant or lactating, children, adolescents, and athletes.

So what does an “appropriately planned” vegetarian/vegan diet mean? Following a vegetarian diet can be tricky if you’re not aware of certain nutrients that you may become deficient in, especially if you’re following a vegan diet. Here are the nutrients you want to make sure you’re getting enough of:

  • Protein: Since most protein is found in meat and dairy products, if you’re eliminating these from your diet it may be hard getting enough protein. Here are some great non-meat, non-dairy sources of protein: quinoa, legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, and soy products such as tofu and soy milk. You can also try meat substitutes and protein supplements.
  • Vitamin B12: Lacto-ovo-vegetarians can get adequate amounts of vitamin B12 in their diet from a combination of eggs, dairy foods, fortified foods, and supplements, if consumed regularly. For vegans, it is a little trickier. Sources of B12 for vegans will mainly have to come from regular use of vitamin B12 fortified foods, such as fortified soy and rice beverages, some breakfast cereals and meat substitutes. Most of the time, vegans will need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D:These are mainly a concern for those who eliminate dairy products from their diet.
    • Some non-dairy sources of calcium are: soy beans, tempeh, broccoli, leafy greens such as kale, okra, turnip greens, collard greens, and bok choy, blackstrap molasses, and calcium fortified cereal, orange juice, and soy and rice beverages.
    • Great non-dairy sources of vitamin D are: fortified tofu or tofu products, fortified soy milk or soy products, fortified cereals, fortified orange juice, and mushrooms.
    • Did you know the sun is a great source of vitamin D too? Researchers suggest that 5-30 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) to the face, extremities or back, between 10am-3pm at least twice a week, can usually lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis. For individuals with limited sun exposure, a vitamin D supplement may be needed.
    • Iron: The iron in plant foods is called nonheme iron. Nonheme iron is not as well absorbed as the iron found in meat, which is why the recommended iron intake is 1.8 times higher for vegetarians. Some great iron sources for vegetarians can be found in: beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, and leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and turnip greens.

Research has shown that those who follow a vegetarian diet usually have higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, and fiber and lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol. Because of the higher intake of dietary fiber and nutrients such as antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, folate, carotenoids and other phytochemicals, vegetarian diets are often associated with many health benefits, such as improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels and a lower risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. With all of these great benefits, it’s no wonder the number of vegetarians in the U.S. is expected to increase within the next decade! But following a vegetarian diet isn’t for everyone. If you still love your meat but would like to try and include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your diet, try choosing one day out of the week to have a vegetarian meal! You might be surprised at how delicious it tastes and how great you feel after eating it.

This information was brought to you by OC Nutrition, Your Trusted Source for Health & Nutrition Advice, and Megan Ting, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Dietetic Intern. OC Nutrition offers nutrition counseling services over the phone or in person in Newport Beach, Irvine, Orange, Anaheim Hills, Chino Hills and Long Beach. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact:

Kristy L. Richardson, MS, MPH, RD, CSSD, CHES
Registered Dietitian & Exercise Physiologist
(949) 933-6788

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