Are you thinking of becoming a vegetarian? Or maybe you have a vegetarian friend? Here's some key health information about being a vegetarian.
Why become a vegetarian?
People choose to be vegetarians for all sorts of reasons. Some common reasons someone may consider a meatless diet:
- animal rights
- environmental concerns
- religious beliefs
- health and well-being
- personal likes and dislikes
Whatever your reason, it's important to keep your health and nutrition in mind when deciding what to eat.
Does becoming a vegetarian mean I can’t eat fish or eggs?
Not necessarily. There are many different ways to be a vegetarian. Here are some different types of vegetarians:
Vegans. They don't eat any type of animal product, including:
- dairy products
Lacto vegetarians. They eat dairy, but they don't eat:
Lacto-ovo vegetarians. They eat dairy and eggs, but they don't eat:
Pesco-vegetarians or pescetarians. They include fish in their diet, but they don't eat:
With so many options, you can pick the diet that works best for you.
Is a vegetarian diet healthier than a meat-eating diet?
Studies show that vegetarians may be at lower risk for some diseases and conditions, including:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- some forms of cancer
Will I need to take a vitamin?
Sometimes, vegetarians do not get essential nutrients found in meat, such as:
- vitamin D
- vitamin B12
Usually, you can get these nutrients from other food besides meat. But sometimes a daily multivitamin can be helpful. Talk to your doctor about the best way to make sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs.
What types of food should I eat?
The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is variety. This means you should try to eat a mix of foods that includes:
- whole grains
These vegetarian foods will help you balance your diet:
- beet greens
- dried fruit
- pumpkin seeds
Foods high in protein:
- eggs (for non-vegans)
- soy products, including tofu
- peanuts and other nuts
- grains and cereals
Foods high in calcium:
- milk and yogurt (if you eat dairy)
- calcium-fortified soy milk
- calcium-fortified orange juice
- green leafy vegetables
Will I lose weight?
Vegetarian diets tend to be low in fat and high in fiber. This can be good for people trying to lose weight. But if you are still growing -- or you are already at a healthy weight -- it can be a problem. Use these tips to maintain a healthy weight:
Make sure you get enough omega-3 fats. Vegetarians (and especially vegans) sometimes don’t get enough omega-3 fats. These fats are good for your heart. They can be found in eggs and fish if you eat them. Otherwise, try soy milk or breakfast bars that are fortified with DHA, an omega-3 acid.
Consider seeing a dietitian. A dietitian can help you find healthy vegetarian foods that work for your age and weight.
Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can keep an eye on your growth and make sure you are getting the right amount of calories.
What should I do when I go out to eat?
Sticking to your vegetarian diet can be tricky when you eat out. Here are some tips that will make going to a restaurant with your friends and family easier:
Avoid fast-food restaurants. Popular chains sometimes have vegetarian options, but you will find healthier and more varied choices elsewhere.
Decide ahead of time how flexible you want to keep your diet. Are you OK eating something that has touched meat while cooking? Would you eat a soup made from a meat stock? Decide on your comfort zone before you go out to eat.
Double-check with the waiter before you order. Some foods that appear to be vegetarian aren’t. To be safe, check that your dish does not contain meat before ordering.
Be creative. A lot of times restaurants can leave out the meat or use a meatless substitute. You can also order salads or combine side dishes to make a vegetarian meal.