Bacon or broccoli?
There are 375 million vegetarians worldwide, and soon there will be even more. Vegetarian diets are on the rise, with more Americans making the switch from meats to veggies every day.
While it used to be an oddity to not eat meat, it’s now becoming a new normal. Restaurants, supermarkets, and even fast food locations, now offer meatless alternatives.
Plant-based burgers, chicken nuggets, and more are all available for those looking to start a meat-free diet. Yet, are vegetarians healthier than meat eaters? Not necessarily.
Vegetarians have to work even harder than meat-eaters to make sure they’re getting the nutrients they need. Still, it’s hard to deny the amazing health benefits that vegetarianism can bring.
Are you on the fence about whether or not to try ditching meat? Read on to learn the truth about being a vegetarian.
Are Vegetarians Healthier Than Meat Eaters?
To determine what lifestyle is healthier, vegetarians or meat-eaters, you’ll first need to define what a vegetarian is. Here are the two common types of vegetarians:
It’s common for people to confuse Lacto-Ovo vegetarians with vegans. While there are some similarities between the two diets, vegan diets are much more restricting than vegetarian ones.
Vegetarians who are following vegan diets, won’t allow themselves to eat any animal byproducts. Foods like eggs, milk, and cheese, are completely off-limits. Instead, vegans fuel their bodies using non-animal products like fruits, veggies, grains, soy, nuts, and legumes.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diets
When you hear someone use the word “vegetarian”, they’re almost always referring to Lacto-Ovo vegetarians. Unlike the vegans, Lacto-Ovo vegetarians are completely fine with consuming animal byproducts. Honey, milk, eggs, and more foods containing animal by-products are commonly used by Lacto-Ovo vegetarians.
Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Whether you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian, or plan on being a meat eater for life, you can still benefit from a plant-based diet. Instead of eating sodium-filled foods from a can, plant-based diets use fresh, whole ingredients.
Here are some of the benefits of a plant-based diet:
Processed foods and refined sugars can make it hard to maintain a healthy weight, especially when they’re so easy to find.
New research has found that over 69% of Americans adults are currently either overweight or obese. Following a plant-based diet, is a long term solution to help those that want to lose weight, and keep it off.
Eating fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts, can lower your risk of ever developing heart disease. Yet, keep in mind that the good you do eating healthy food can be undone by piling on the sugar. Drinking sugary juices, and refined grains, can work in reverse of the plant-based diet and raise your risk of developing heart disease.
Lower Cancer Risks
If you want to reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancer, you should consider being a pescatarian or Lacto-Ovo vegetarian. Pescatarians are vegetarians who eat fish. While Lacto-Ovo individuals are vegetarians that eat animal byproducts like eggs.
In a study of over 69,000 people, researchers found that vegetarians had a lower risk of getting gastrointestinal cancer. The risk was especially low if they were following a Lacto-Ovo diet. The research went on to show that pescatarians reduced their chances of getting colorectal cancer by 43% or more.
A common mistake many new vegetarians make is to eliminate meat, and never replace it with a healthy alternative. While cutting out meat can be beneficial, if you don’t replace it with the right food groups, you’ll be doing more harm then good.
Replacing Meat with Junk Food
If the food your eating comes in a can or a bag, it’s probably processed food. Highly processed foods don’t have the vitamins and minerals your body needs to survive and in some cases, they can zap you of the energy you already have.
Buying Fake Health Foods
Many vegetarians get caught in the trap of buying foods that appear healthy but aren’t. Protein bars, fruit snacks, and instant oatmeal might sound like healthy choices, yet they rarely are. Instead, many snack foods are either highly processed or contain large amounts of sugar.
To determine how healthy a food is, you should start by reading the ingredients. The simpler the ingredients are to read, the less processed the food will be. We also suggest that you try finding as much local food as possible. Local foods contain fewer preservatives because they don’t need a long shelf life, like nonlocal foods.
Finally, some vegetarians become victims of dehydration. This is usually the case for vegetarians who choose to eat a lot of salty processed foods.
Consuming processed foods instantly dehydrates your body. The more sodium you eat, the more water your body will try to retain. When that happens your kidneys can’t filter properly and your body loses hydration.
Vegetarians and Bone Health
Now that we’ve laid out some of the risks involved with being a vegetarian, let’s look at more of the benefits. On top of helping with cancer, obesity, and heart disease, plant-based diets also help strengthen bones.
There’s a common misconception that women who enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. While it’s true that vegan diets eliminate certain calcium packed dairy products, vegetables are more than able to make up for the loss.
Here’s a list of vegetables that are jam-packed with calcium:
- Chinese cabbage
- Bok choy
You’ll notice that we didn’t include spinach on the list. While spinach is a calcium packed food, it also contains oxalates, which make it difficult for your body to absorb the calcium.
The same holds for Swiss chard. Vegetarians should still include spinach and Swiss chard in their diet, yet they shouldn’t rely on them as a calcium source.
Plant-based diets might be rich in calcium, yet they’re severely lacking in other vitamin categories. Let’s look at some of the vitamins vegetarians could be missing out on.
The main job of vitamin D is to help your body absorb calcium. When an individual has a vitamin D deficiency that can experience a wide variety of health issues. Here’s a list of common symptoms that accompany a vitamin D deficiency:
- Bone pain
- Muscle pain
- Impaired healing
- Hair loss
- Weakened immune system
Every single cell in your body has a receptor for vitamin D. The two primary sources you can receive vitamin D from are animal products and natural sunlight.
Strict vegans, who aren’t spending enough time in the sun, are at a high risk of having vitamin d deficiencies. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians, on the other hand, have fewer issues with vitamin D since they still eat animal byproducts.
Yet, keep in mind that simply eating animal byproducts isn’t enough to avoid getting a vitamin d deficiency. Certain people are more prone to being vitamin d deficient, even when their diet involves meat. Dark-skinned, elderly, or obese people, are all more likely to have a vitamin d deficiency.
Another issue every type of vegetarian faces is low B12 levels. B12 is a powerful vitamin, and your body only needs a little bit of it to get great results. This vitamin exists in animal products and is responsible for taking care of your body’s central nervous system and blood cells.
B12 also helps prevent the presence of a particularly destructive type of anemia. Megaloblastic anemia is commonly associated with low B12 levels. This type of anemia is infamous for making people fatigued and weak, even after a full night’s rest.
Vegetarians and Stroke Risks
Being a vegetarian may lower your risk of heart disease, yet new research is showing it could also increase your chances of having a stroke. Studies show that both Lacto-Ovo vegetarians and vegans have a 20% higher risk of stroke when compared to meat-eaters.
Researchers are still puzzled as to why vegetarians are more prone to stroke. However, they are beginning to suspect that the reason has to do with nutrient intake. Specifically, the amount of good cholesterol vegetarians are eating.
Since many vegetarians fail to eat nutrient-rich foods, they often also fail to eat foods with the right amount of cholesterol. Over time, having a diet that’s absent of good cholesterol, and other nutrients can raise the risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke.
Choosing What Works for You
Are vegetarians healthier than meat eaters? The answer completely depends upon the individual and their fitness choices. To lead a truly healthy lifestyle, you have to determine what works for you, and then start taking action.
Are you a meat lover? Instead of worrying about cutting meat out of your diet, focus on the healthy foods you can start including with your meals.
Are you a passionate vegetarian, yet you’ve been craving meat? You’re probably eating too many processed foods and your cravings are your body’s way of letting you know. Rather than jumping back into eating meat, try cutting down on the amount of sodium in your diet.
Finally, whether you’re a vegetarian, meat eater, or somewhere in between, you’ll want to create an exercise routine. Daily exercises are a great way to improve both your physical health and mental health.
Want to know more ways to keep your mind sharp? Go ahead and check out our mental health facts section today!