The Pros And Cons Of Vegetarianism
People go vegetarian and vegan for all kinds of reasons; ethical reasons, environmental reasons, spiritual reasons, health reasons, or even just to save money. Whatever your particular reasoning for being or not being a vegetarian is, I'm not here to argue with you about it, just to give everyone some tips on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, whether with meat or without it!
First of all, vegetarians are not a homogeneous group. Towards the less strict side are the flexitarians, who eat a mostly vegetarian diet but allow themselves meat once or twice a week. Then come the pollo-vegetarians, who cut out red meat but still eat both chicken and fish, the pescatarians, who allow themselves fish but say no to red meat and poultry, and your conventional lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat no meat of any sort but will still allow themselves animal products like dairy and eggs. At the strictest end are the vegans, who allow themselves no animal products at all.
As for which of these many options is the healthiest? It's a little hard to say, because while being vegetarian is clearly a better option than a typical junk-food laden and nutrient-poor Western diet, we don't quite have enough evidence to say whether it is superior to a healthy, plant-heavy diet that also includes a moderate amount of meat.
Studies have indeed found that vegetarians appear to have a lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and lower bad cholesterol levels compared to the meat eaters. Vegetarians were also found to have a lower body mass index, lower overall cancer rates, a lower risk of chronic disease, and a 12 percent lower risk of death from all causes.
However, correlation doesn't equal causation. Some researchers warned that these results could just reflect the fact that the people who choose to go vegetarian are simply more health conscious overall, since the vegetarians studied also smoked less, drank less, and exercised more compared to the meat eaters.
It's also clear that vegetarianism is no magic bullet to weight loss or to health. Plenty of high-calorie and high-fat foods are vegetarian or vegan; bread, ice cream, cheese, butter, pasta, and potato chips, to name just a few. After all, if cutting out meat alone ensured weight loss, we wouldn't have so many vegans and vegetarians eager to try the 123Diet!
On the con side, though it isn't impossible to get adequate nutrition from a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is a little more difficult. Unless you're a pescatarian, it's unlikely you'll be able to get your recommended intake of omega-3 without a supplement. Plus, while vegetarians can get their Vitamin B12 and calcium from animal products like cheese and eggs, vegan diets tend to be low in these critical nutrients.
Additionally, since the body absorbs iron more readily from meat than from plant sources, vegetarian diets can sometimes lead to iron deficiency. This is especially common in women of child-bearing age, who require more of the nutrient to replace the iron they lose during menstruation.
You also might be able to enjoy some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet while avoiding these pitfalls by limiting your meat intake rather than cutting out the food group completely. Even having a weekly "meatless Monday" could be a good start, as could making meat more of a 'special occasion food' than a dietary staple. The American Cancer Institute, for instance, recommends a diet that consists of 2/3 plant-based foods but still allows for moderate meat eating.
While phase 2 of the 123Diet does somewhat limit your vegetarian protein options by strictly regulating dairy consumption, you can still get plenty of protein from eggs, beans, tofu, chickpeas, and lentils. However, the plentiful variety of tasty fruits and vegetables that we recommend is sure to pave the road to a healthier body and lifestyle for vegetarians and carnivores alike!