A vegetarian diet involves abstaining from eating meats, poultry and seafood. Many people adopt the vegetarian diet for different reasons. Some people do it out of an ethical feeling towards animals. For others, it’s all about the health benefits such as reducing their risk of heart diseases, diabetes and some cancers. While we typically think that a vegetarian diet totally excludes meat, seafood and poultry, many vegetarians have different compositions in their diets.
Lacto-Vegetarian: A lacto-vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish, poultry and eggs and all foods containing them. However, this diet includes dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghourt and butter.
Ovo-Vegetarian: An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but it includes eggs.
Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish and poultry but it includes dairy products and egg.
Pescatarian: A pescatarian diet excludes meat, poultry, dairy and eggs but allows fish.
Pollotarian: A pollotarian diet will exclude meat, dairy and fish, but it allows poultry products.
Flaxitarian: A flaxitarian diet is a semi-vegetarian diet. It is an all plant diet but includes meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish on special occasions or in small quantities.
Vegan: A vegan diet excludes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and all food that contains these products.
The vegetarian diet comes with quite a number of benefits. Some of which include:
Low Cholesterol: A study in Diabetes Voice in 2007 showed that people with TYPE 2 Diabetes, who adopted a vegan diet reduced their low density lipoprotein (LPL) cholesterol by 21%, as opposed to the 9% recorded by another group on the American Diabetes Association diet.
Low Blood Pressure: According to a 2009 position paper of the American Dietetic Association, people who adopt the vegetarian diet have a decreased risk of dying from Ischemic heart disease. The report also concluded that people who eat a vegetarian diet tend to have lower LDL levels and less incidence of hypertension, when compared to non-vegetarians.
Increased Antioxidant Intake: Vegan eating usually increases intake of wholesome foods, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes and whole grains. This is a great opportunity to get a lot of antioxidants, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Greater Level of Self-Control: Michael Applebaum, a physician and president of Fitness Med Inc. says that the self-control needed to maintain a vegan diet can be extended to other aspects of life that require self-control, commitment and dedication. He also affirms that vegan eating can help slow down the eating process, making us more aware about what we put in our mouths. This can help us to curb impulsive eating behaviour.
While being a vegetarian has quite a number of advantages, there are certain challenges that a vegetarian should watch out for. Some of these challenges include:
Not getting enough protein: One of the challenges that vegetarians might face is the fear of not getting enough protein. Fortunately, this challenge is not such a big deal as people make it, and is really more of perception than reality. Most vegetarians start out by simply cutting out meat from their diet. However, to have truly balanced nutritional meals, you need to move beyond that phase and explore other options like more fruits, more vegetables and whole grains to your diet. Educate yourself on how to get the nutrients you need from the foods you can eat. As you slowly transition and become a savvier vegetarian, you will find it easy to get a balanced diet.
Eating out can be challenging: As a vegetarian, eating out can be a tough one. Most restaurants have menus that are more inclined to the “meat-eating” population. Due to this reason, if you eat out frequently it can be difficult to get the proper nutrition that you need. One good way to manage this will be by getting the menu of the restaurant online before you go there. You can peruse and see if they have meals that are suitable for you as a vegetarian. You can also explore the food court option, meet your friends at a food court and bring your own meal along.
Dinner engagements will require some explanations: While dining in restaurants can be tough, having dinner engagements in other people’s home can be tougher. You need to let them know ahead of time about your diet preference. It can be awkward to remind your host that you are a vegetarian, but it can become necessary during the meal. You could politely ask your host ahead of time what they plan to prepare and suggest a vegetarian option that could be prepared for you. If it’s too much of a bother for them, you can always offer to prepare it yourself and bring it along.
Be prepared for the questions: This is very important. A lot of people will not understand why you don’t want to eat ‘perfectly good meat’ or chicken, especially in Nigeria where we like to riddle our meals with beef and all sorts. So, you have to be ready to take their queries good-naturedly and give a polite explanation, when asked why you are suddenly on vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian’s meal choices can seem limited: New vegetarians can be fearful that they won’t get enough options from meals and they don’t know where to start. The best way to cope with this is to give you time to transition. Move out of your comfort zone and look at being a vegetarian as a way to change the way you eat and become a better you. Adding one new food or recipe a week can help to increase your food encyclopaedia in a way that leaves you feeling overwhelmed as you transit.
Vegetarians have to learn how to cook: To really take advantage of the health benefits of being a vegetarian, you will have to get to the kitchen, crack open a vegetarian cookbook and get creative with eating a variety of foods. Here in Nigeria, we have quite a good number of vegetables and fruits, and there are a good number of vegetarian sites that you can visit for lovely vegetarian recipes.
As experts have always said, you can’t live a healthy life just by going on a strict diet; remember that exercise and good lifestyle choices will always play a role too.