HEALTHY VEGETARIAN DIET
Vegetarianism is the practice of eating a diet consisting mainly or entirely of food that comes from plant sources, such as grains, nuts, fruit and vegetables.
A vegetarian is therefore usually, and broadly, described as someone who does not eat meat or any slaughterhouse by-product (such as gelatine).
This dietary choice may stem from any one, or a combination of, moral, religious, political or health reasons. Environmentalism and vegetarianism are also often practised together.
Whatever form of vegetarianism you are considering (or have already adopted), it is perfectly possible to have a healthy diet. In fact, if planned well, a vegetarian diet can be one of the healthiest! For example, vegetarian diets have been associated with lower death rates from heart disease, as well as a decreased risk of obesity.
The key, as is the case for everybody - not just vegetarians - is to achieve balance on a daily basis, ensuring that you access the broad spectrum of nutrients that your body needs to fuel itself. If these nutrients can't be sourced from traditional animal products, quality alternatives must be identified. This will make it far easier to realise a healthy vegetarian diet for the long-term.
Of course, the specific shape that your personal diet will take will ultimately depend on the type of vegetarian you choose to be. There is actually quite a broad spectrum of vegetarian “types”, which can be broken down into sub-classes based on the foods they are or are not willing to eat. Some of these sub-classes are considered briefly below.
Semi-vegetarian diets consist largely of plant foods, but may also include fish or poultry on an infrequent basis.
In this case, the vegetarians in question are likely to define "meat" only as mammalian flesh. A pescetarian diet, for example, is said to include fish, but not meat - so there is clearly believed to be a distinction between the two in their eyes.
However, vegetarian groups such as the Vegetarian Society (an educational charity “working to support, represent and increase the number of vegetarians in the UK”) tend not to view such diets as “vegetarian” in the true sense.
In this case, the vegetarian diet includes eggs, but excludes dairy products (although ovo-vegetarians often prefer free-range eggs, particularly those produced by uncaged hens).
Primarily driven by ethical considerations, some of the more common motivations for excluding dairy products relate to concerns with industrial production practices.
For example, keeping a cow pregnant on an ongoing basis and the slaughter of unwanted male calves. Another common concern relates to the standard practice of separating the mother from her calf and denying the calf its natural source of milk.
In direct contrast to ovo-vegetarians, a lacto-vegetarian (also sometimes referred to as a lactarian) diet includes dairy products, but excludes eggs. They also abstain from cheeses that include animal rennet and yoghurts that contain gelatine.
The concept and practice of lacto-vegetarianism comes from ancient India and was originally based on religious beliefs. Even today, lacto-vegetarian diets are popular with many followers of Eastern religious traditions, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
The core belief behind a lacto-vegetarian diet is the law of ahimsa, a Jainist concept requiring the avoidance of violence against living things. Of course, in the modern world, many of the arguments of ovo-vegetarians relating to dairy production could make the consumption of dairy products inconsistent with this law.
As you may be able to guess from the name, an ovo-lacto vegetarian (or lacto-ovo vegetarian) is a vegetarian who does not eat animal flesh of any kind, but is willing to consume both eggs and dairy products.
This form of vegetarianism, as with the others, is most often motivated by ethical considerations. However, the inclusion of dairy and eggs is permitted on the basis that they do not require the slaughter of animals.
In the Western world, ovo-lacto vegetarians tend to be the most common type of vegetarian. Generally speaking, when one uses the term “vegetarian”, an ovo-lacto vegetarian is assumed.
Veganism is a small, but growing movement. In 2013, the Vegan Society estimated that there were at least 150,000 vegans in the UK.
The term "vegan" was coined in England in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society, to mean "non-dairy vegetarian".
The society also opposed the use of eggs as food and so later extended its definition, in 1951, to mean "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals." In 1960, H. Jay Dinshah started the American Vegan Society, linking veganism to ahimsa.
Veganism can therefore be described as the personal practice of eliminating the use and consumption of animal products. As such, a vegan diet is the strictest form of vegetarianism and excludes all animal products, including eggs, dairy and even honey.
“Use” is mentioned in addition to “consumption” above, because veganism tends to be a lifestyle - not just a dietary choice. For instance, many vegans exclude animal products even where these do not require the death of the animal (such as in the case of wool). By contrast, most vegetarians simply do not wear clothes made of leather, fur, or any type of animal product which necessitated the killing of the animal.
Ethical vegans reject the commodity status of animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, while dietary vegans or strict vegetarians eliminate them from their diet only.
Vegetarian diet and supplementation
If you are already a vegetarian, you will no doubt know how hard it can be to make sure that you get all of the vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that you need on a daily basis – especially where the nutrients in question are traditionally found in animal products.
On the other hand, if you are still considering becoming a vegetarian, or just haven't yet gotten around to proactively devising a balanced vegetarian meal plan, it is worth noting that plant-based diets pose certain health challenges that need to be addressed in the interests of achieving optimal nutrition.
For example, in the absence of careful planning, these diets can be low in protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc and Omega 3 fatty acids. What's more, there are certain nutrients (such as iron and vitamin B12), which are not absorbed as well in their plant form.
So what to do, to ensure a healthy vegetarian diet?
The first step
Inform yourself, take control and actively plan a balanced diet, which reflects both the benefits and the challenges of a vegetarian lifestyle.
If you are finding it too difficult to maintain the required level of calories and/or nutrients (particularly complete protein) for whatever reason, you may want to consider supplementation.
For example, high quality plant-based meal shakes and protein powders offer a great way to boost the nutritional content of a vegetarian diet in a way that is quick, easy and convenient. They can help you to ensure that you are getting all of the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that you need on a daily basis.
The second step
Monitor your weight. A common problem for vegetarians is consuming enough calories and/or protein to maintain their weight at a healthy level.
Again, if your are finding it a challenge to meet these requirements through food alone, dietary supplements can offer a reliable means of boosting your calorie intake in a way that is healthy.
The third step
Exercise regularly. Diet and exercise make up two primary ways to build a healthy lifestyle, which is why many people choose to become a vegetarian in the first place!