A vegetarian diet is based on the almost complete elimination of food derived from animals.
The term vegetarian is not equivalent to vegan. The latter eliminates all products of animal origin, including eggs and dairy products, and in the most extreme cases even bee honey.
Although the vegan diet is complicated to follow due to restrictions, the vegetarian variant is much more open.
Today there are multiple resources and products of alternative origin to the animal that allow the safe and simple establishment of such a feeding plan.
According to statistics, 3.3% of the U.S. population follows a vegetarian diet, and about half of this percentage follows a vegan diet.
Socially it has been reported that there is a higher percentage of vegetarians in regions where there is access to information on the subject and where customers have the ability to purchase the products.
In addition, we will discuss an easy-to-follow meal plan and precautions to consider as a vegetarian beginner.
Finally, we will expose the position of science before this food plan.
Vegetarian, where to start?
People choose this form of diet for all kinds of reasons. Health benefits are one of the primary reasons people opt for a vegetarian diet. As plants are not a source of fat, this diet is considered healthier and present less risk of cardiovascular conditions.
Other people do not eat meat due to their religious beliefs, their sense of animal welfare, and fear of harmful effects caused by the hormones used in breeding animals.
For whatever reason you choose to become a vegetarian, this decision is not the final step in changing your lifestyle. You have to know what combination of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc., you should include in your diet to fulfill all of the nutritional needs of your body.
Also, sticking to your decision is something that requires more than just your willpower to cut meat from your diet. Here are a few tips for people who have decided to become a vegetarian on how they can successfully shift from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian diet.
Do Your Research
When starting a vegetarian diet, do proper research. Read books, magazines on the topic, watch documentaries focusing on the vegan diet.
Get yourself familiarized with what being a vegetarian means? That will not only help you in your journey of becoming a vegetarian, but it will also give you reasons to stick to your new meal plan.
Don’t Start all at Once
Some people might choose to opt for a vegetarian diet all at once and cut the meat right off their menu, while others might like to take it slow.
Although both of these ways can work for you, we recommend you to remove the meat from your diet gradually. This way would help the body to slowly adapt to the new dieting habits of yours, which in turn will increase the chances of your compliance to the new vegan diet.
But still, if you are a strong-willed person, and confident enough that you can go all-in from the very beginning without being tempted, you can go for it.
Replace Meat with Vegetables
Along with cutting meat gradually, you should start adding vegetables with the required nutrients in your diet plan. The nutrients which are supplied by animal products need to be replaced by appropriate substitutes to keep the body functioning without facing any nutritional deficiencies.
Here are some of the vegetarian items that you can swap for the meat products:
- Beef: Spinach is a rich source of iron when it is cooked and is a good substitute for the meat, that too, with less fat component.
- Chicken and Fish: We can swap beans with the chicken and fish, as an alternative source of proteins that they contain.
- Beef and Pork: We can use food options like tofu and avocado as an alternative source of fat that you were getting from beef and pork.
- Milk: You can replace milk with coconut milk, soy milk, and almond milk.
- Cheese: Also, we can replace cheese with nutritional yeast, cashew, and soy.
Add Variety to Your Vegetarian Diet
Looking up for different vegetarian recipes, and trying those recipes every week can add diversity to your meatless diet. The Internet is an excellent source for the purpose if you do not want to spend extra bucks on buying new cookbooks.
Experimenting with these vegetarian recipes can add a little fun to your new eating habits. You can stick to the recipes that you like and discard the ones that are not good enough for your taste buds. That is a great way to make a list of your favorite meat-free recipes.
You can also look for restaurants that have a special menu for vegetarians. Even though there is not a very high probability of finding a suitable restaurant for this purpose, but it is still worth a try.
Frozen Vegetarian Food Products
There is a variety of vegetarian convenience food that you can find at a supermarket (mainly frozen section).
The problem with these ready to use food products is that they not only cost more than homemade food, but they might not be as good in quality, which kills the whole purpose of the vegetarian diet.
That requires some time and effort on your part not to make a compromise on the quality.
Make Sure to Read the Labels
That is something that you should learn and make a habit of in the very beginning to follow your vegan diet with all of its benefits.
Some ready-made vegan food products available in the market have clear labels classifying them as meat-free, but you still should remember to read the ingredients before bringing that home.
It can be a bit frustrating to choose the right products from a long list. Here are some of the additives that you should especially avoid before buying any vegetarian food product:
- L. Cysteine
- Royal jelly
Historical perspective: Vegetarian where does it come from?
From the time of the Romans and Greeks – who lived more than two millennia ago – the implementation of a vegetarian diet was promoted, for reasons mostly related to health and ethics.
The philosophy of the ancient Greeks extended to India, where it was taken with respect and formality.
The tendency to exclude animal products from the menu spread to various regions of the world.
Moving forward in our timeline, the brightest minds of the Renaissance penalized the consumption of animals – among them Leonardo da Vinci.
In the 18th century, Wesley and Voltaire stand out for presenting a vegetarian diet.
The animal-free lifestyle came to settle in the United States and regions of Europe in the mid-1800s, while the fully vegan diet became popular from 1900 onwards.
The decade of the 50s and 60s stands out in the world of vegetarianism due to the publication of multiple scientific articles in prestigious magazines informing the community about the advantages of a vegetarian diet, which is able to meet the energy and nutritional requirements of the average person.
In the mid-1970s vegetarianism was adapted to modern society not only as a food plan but as a lifestyle whose pillars are health, human welfare, and rejection of animal abuse.
What kind of vegetarian are there?
Although we define the vegetarian diet as the almost total exclusion of products of animal origin, there is an infinite number of variants and they depend very much on the person and the objectives of this eating plan.
We will begin the explanation of each type of vegetarian, starting with the most extreme to the most flexible.
Veganism (derived from the Anglo-Saxon term veganism) is the total elimination of animal products from the diet.
These restrictions include honey from bees, beeswax, gelatin, among others.
It is common for people who have decided to follow a vegan diet, for ethical reasons, to eliminate from their lives other animal derivatives that are not included in the diet, such as silk, leather, and wool.
A variant of veganism known as beegan allows the consumption of honey.
Another modality is that of raw vegan, which is based on the consumption of food of vegetable origin without being previously cooked, presumably to avoid the loss of nutrients during the cooking process.
Can vegetarians eat milk, cheese, and eggs? When we read or hear the term “vegetarian” the source is probably referring to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, a person who does not consume red meat or white meat but continues with the consumption of dairy products and eggs.
This facilitates meal preparations and allows for adequate protein intake, as both sources are rich in this vital macromolecule.
Two additional variants can be derived from this type: Ovo-vegetarians and lactovegetarians.
In the first case, only eggs are allowed to be consumed, while in the second case only dairy products are allowed.
Pescatarians and Pollatarians
Can vegetarians eat fish? Can vegetarians eat chicken? This type of vegetarianism “pescatarians” includes the plan of feeding different types of fish and seafood.
Although technically not a vegetarian, it is a flexible diet and is very common today.
The restriction is only related to red meat and poultry.
Like the previous case, the Pollotarian diet is also not vegetarian – seen from an official position.
It eliminates red meat but allows the consumption of poultry.
Generally, people who follow this diet do not do so for ethical reasons (since you are consuming a living being), but for reasons of health and weight loss.
As its name suggests, it is a flexible variant whose followers may include sporadic vegetable-based foods.
Fish and Pollotarian modalities could be included as very specific forms of flexitarians.
That is, the types of vegetarianism are not mutually exclusive, and more than defined categories form a continuum of meal plans.
Vegan or vegetarian until 6 pm
One way to begin the transition from a diet rich in meat and animal products to a vegetarian diet is to do so in small steps and progressively.
To avoid disappointment, we recommend that the transition be gradual. Leaving any animal product overnight is a huge challenge.
Therefore, one of the least restrictive modalities is the implementation of vegetarianism within an assigned timeframe.
For example, you can avoid consuming animal products during the day until a certain time (6 p.m. in this case), or consider totally vegetarian days and others not.
You could try meat-free Mondays and Tuesdays.
Vegetarian vs vegan diet, what is the best?
Of the spectrum of dietary modalities mentioned, the most popular are vegetarianism and veganism.
In this article, we will focus on the advantages of the vegetarian diet.
Both diets are optimal for humans, and proof of this are the millions of vegans and vegetarians around the world – including sports-related people and professional athletes.
The problem arises when the diet is poorly designed or poor in some vital nutrients.
In addition, a vegetarian diet is not always synonymous with health or weight loss, as the addition of processed vegetarian and vegan products can have a negative impact on health.
While many vegetables, grains, and meat substitutes are rich in protein, this macromolecule is often the limiting factor in vegetarians and vegans.
However, vegetarians can easily incorporate protein in the form of eggs and dairy products, which are very nutritious and easy to cook.
Finally, when we go out to eat at a restaurant that does not specialize in this type of diet (with our friends or in a business meeting where not everyone is vegetarian), it is much easier to find a dish that fits a vegetarian diet than a vegan one, since most of the most popular menus contain eggs or some dairy product (desserts, pasta, sauces, among others).
Remember, the fewer restrictions there are on a meal plan, the more likely you are to keep it going for a while.
Why a vegetarian diet is good?
There are countless cases of people who start a diet free of animal products but fail to incorporate vegetarianism as a lifestyle.
The crucial point is to find the right motivation. We have compiled a compilation of the most common and powerful reasons for maintaining this eating plan for an extended period of time.
Health & Wellness
“We are what we eat.” Vegetarian diets have been characterized by bringing health and vitality to the people who follow them.
Studies reveal that vegetarians have a much lower risk of suffering from the following medical conditions: obesity, diseases affecting the heart and circulatory system in general, decrease hypertension, cholesterol levels, type II diabetes, different types of cancer, etc..
However, we must pay attention to certain nutrients and make sure that we are consuming them properly, namely: protein, omega 3, iron, and vitamin B12.
In case of deficiency in any of these, it is necessary to contact a nutritionist to be able to remedy the lack of supplements or with the incorporation of a specific food.
Ethics and rejection of animal abuse
One of the most powerful reasons to join the vegetarian diet is the ethical issue linked to animal abuse.
People who leave the meat for ethical reasons do so in protest at the abuse animals experience in meat factories.
There are countless videos documenting the atrocious treatment of the majority of livestock and birds in the factories.
In order to respect life in general, without discriminating between species, it is necessary to implement a meat-free plan that rejects and does not contribute monetarily to the industries that mistreat.
One of the consequences of implementing a meat-free eating plan is weight loss, as the number of calories eaten per day is often reduced.
However, this can be a “double-edged sword”, as poor diet planning results in a feeling of transient or short-lived satiety.
In other words, we are more likely to feel hungry throughout the day because we are eliminating an element that keeps us full for long periods of time: meat.
We must be aware of this and keep out of snacking between meals, since to avoid feeling hungry we resort to the consumption of sweets or elements of high-calorie content, hindering weight loss.
In conclusion, the vegetarian diet can lead to significant weight loss as long as we do not incur unhealthy food intake.
Environmental awareness and biodiversity conservation
Nutrient cycling and energy transfer on the planet occurs through trophic chains: animals consuming other animals.
However, humans have sought to monopolize and hinder this pattern.
One of the biggest problems facing humanity today is climate change associated with anthropogenic factors, including greenhouse gas emissions.
Although it is true that there is a natural emission of methane gas by different biological entities, human activities are the cause of more than half of this emission.
One element that significantly increases methane contamination is the enteric fermentation that occurs inside livestock – called cows, sheep, goats, among others that humans raise for consumption.
Similarly, nitrous oxide (N2O) is produced by natural sources, but humans have disproportionately increased emissions into the atmosphere, mainly through agricultural activities and the use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers that are used for livestock feed production.
Finally, the water losses caused by the livestock industry are massive.
People who include meat in their menus are encouraging the emission of these gases associated with the production of meat elements.
One way to validate the rejection of pollution and industry is to avoid the consumption of their products.
According to studies carried out in the United States, the vegetarian diet is capable of reducing the emission of gases into the atmosphere by almost 30%. This value may change depending on the country.
Our last reason is related to the various religious nuances that include within their modality of thought some dietary restriction.
Some of these currents – such as Hinduism and Buddhism – have promoted the implementation of vegetarianism and have penalized the timely incorporation of certain meat elements into the menu.
Therefore, if you want to nourish not only your body but also your spiritual life you can add these elements to your life, accompanied by an ethical and healthy menu.
What does science tell us about vegetarianism?
There is commonly a dilemma about diet-supporting nutritionists and their opponents.
Each party seeks to support its position using the scientific method. We will now mention the most relevant evidence.
Evolution and meat consumption: did consume animals make us human?
Many current diets seek to “imitate” the ancestral eating plan that, according to the evidence, was predominant in our ancestors.
Contrary to the position that during the evolution of the human lineage the predominant diet was herbivorous, archaeological, and anthropological evidence points to a totally different reality.
Features that are taken into account include:
- Features of the skull and teeth that point to the consumption of food of animal origin.
- Comparative physiology with other mammals, both carnivorous and herbivorous.
- Studies of energy requirements.
- Study and dating of the fossil record.
It is worth highlighting the short digestive tract, a pattern that fits a carnivorous diet. In addition, the significant increase in brain size has been linked to the consumption of animal feeds.
It is estimated that some 4 million years ago the African pastures where our ancestors lived had little availability of plants.
In addition to the scarcity of the resource, there is evidence of the development of hunting some 2 million years ago.
This food modality is associated with a series of changes in ancestral metabolism.
For this reason, the evidence suggests a food plan rich in foods of animal origin, rich in energy.
This modality reaches its maximum expression in the Homo sapiens of the Palaeolithic, which has been found to be a high-level carnivore.
On the other hand, our closest “cousin” is the chimpanzee, which supplements its diet based on vegetable items with food of animal origin.
In conclusion, we are a carnivorous species, it depends on each person to continue with these ancestral characteristics or modify it.
Vegetarian diet, is it healthy?
The central controversy surrounding the world of vegetarianism is whether the exclusion of meat from the human diet is healthy.
This topic has been debated countless times and, as expected, there is abundant and robust evidence supporting both positions.
There are currently several prestigious groups recognized as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Canadian Diabetes Association.
If you want to know more about healthy and effective diets, I recommend you read these articles about the Ketogenic Diet and the Dukan Diet.
Conclusion with Some Pros and Cons
If we look on the bright side, the vegetarian diet has been proven to help in losing weight better than the regular menu. It is also suggested to be associated with a lower risk of cancer and improving your cardiac health by reducing many risk factors for heart conditions.
The major con of the vegetarian diet is the potential nutritional deficiency that it can cause due to discarded meat consumption. That is something that we can overcome by putting extra thought into devising a healthy meal plan with all essential nutrients.
People who follow a well-thought vegetarian diet plan show better health levels.
Keep in mind “balanced diet” is a keyword here, and don’t forget to explore and experiment with new vegan recipes to keep your vegetarian diet exciting and fun.