Vegetarianism has become an increasingly popular dietary lifestyle in the United States. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, approximately 3 to 7% of people in the United States consider themselves vegetarians. The increasing availability of vegetarian foods and entrees in grocery stores and restaurants has made it easier for people who don't eat meat or animal products to create healthy diets and lifestyles.
Studies have shown that people who are vegetarians are at reduced risk of obesity, lung cancer and alcoholism, and may be at lower risk for coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and gallstones.
People who are vegetarians may also be more likely to practice healthy habits such as avoiding smoking, exercising regularly and drinking alcohol in moderation.
Types of Vegetarians
There are many variations of a vegetarian diet. Here are a few common types of vegetarians:
- Vegetarian: a person who excludes all or some meat and animal products from the diet
- Vegan: a person whose diet consists of only plant foods
- Lacto-vegetarian: a person whose diet consists of plant foods and some or all dairy products
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian: a person whose diet consists of plant foods, milk, dairy products and eggs
- Semi or partial vegetarian: a person who doesn't eat red meat, but may eat chicken or fish with plant foods, dairy products and eggs
Special Dietary Needs
According to the National Library of Medicine, vegetarian diets that include dairy products and eggs are nutritionally sound, but vegans and other vegetarians that restrict food groups may need supplementation.
The Food and Drug Administration suggests the following substitutes for those nutrients most likely to be lacking from vegetarian diets:
- Vitamin B12: fortified soy beverages and cereals
- Vitamin D: fortified soy beverages and sunshine
- Calcium: tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, seeds, nuts, kale, bok choy, legumes (peas and beans), greens, lime-processed tortillas, and calcium-enriched soy beverages, grain products and orange juice
- Iron: legumes, tofu, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, whole grains and iron-fortified cereals and breads, especially whole wheat. Iron absorption is improved by vitamin C, found in citrus fruits/juices, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables and potatoes with skins
- Zinc: whole grains (especially the germ and bran), whole wheat bread, legumes, nuts and tofu
- Protein: tofu and other soy-based products, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains and vegetables
Making Vegetarianism Easier
The American Dietetic Association says it's a common myth about vegetarian eating that the diet makes it hard to get certain nutrients, such as protein. They offer these tips for vegetarianism made easy:
- Explore new foods at your grocery store. Pick out a different meat-free product - you'll find everything from vegetarian or vegan burritos to burgers - from the variety located in the freezer section to try at home each week.
- Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Reach for a piece of fruit or cut up fresh veggies when the urge to munch calls you.
- Buy a new cookbook or look for meatless recipes in the newspaper or food magazines. Try one new recipe each week. In just a few months, you will have tried at least a dozen new recipes.
- Be adventurous and try a vegetarian entrée at a restaurant. You may be pleasantly surprised at the number of meat-free dishes there are and at their delicious tastes, too.