Considering vegetarian diet pros and cons is the first step towards improving your health. Whether you lean towards the benefits of vegan diets instead of a strict vegetarian diet, a key component is to ensure that you avoid any possible nutrient deficiencies. By taking a more nuanced approach with a healthy vegetarian diet that includes more variety, you can enjoy a range of plant-based foods on which to build a healthy lifestyle.
Vegetarian Diet Pros & Cons Compared
|Nutrient deficiencies are common
|Meet the daily recommended vegetable intake
|Can be low in proteins and fats
|Reduced food costs by buying local produce
|Not always healthy
|Improved weight control through calorie restriction
|An increase in food variety
|Fewer food choices in supermarkets
|More environmentally friendly
|Less convenient if meals are not properly planned
|Contributes to the ethical treatment of animals
|Can boost longevity
|Reduced cardiovascular disease risk
|Higher than average intake of fiber
Expert Views On Vegetarian Diet Pros & Cons
Pro 1 – Prevents Lifestyle Diseases of the Western World
In the words of Dr. Michael Greger, one of the founding members and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “an appropriately planned, plant-based diet is healthy, nutritionally sufficient, and provides health benefits for the prevention and treatment of virtually all common lifestyle diseases in the western world.”
As has become clear to many, it is not a requirement that you consume meat in your diet to provide all the essential nutrients needed for good health. Plant-based diets are considered healthy and sufficient for pregnant and lactating women and children during infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. Adults and even high-performance athletes thrive on diets based entirely on plants, helping them avoid health problems such as heart disease.
Pro 2 – Manages the Symptoms of Type-2 Diabetes
Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has stated that “eating plant-based food can drastically reduce the chances of developing certain diseases such as diabetes.
Numerous studies point out that eating whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and primarily vegan foods dramatically reduces the risk of developing diabetes. It is also possible for diabetics to effectively manage their symptoms. Some patients even drastically reduce their medication. However, it is not only the physical health benefits from eating more plant-based food that is notable. Plant-based diets reduce or ease depression, anxiety, and many other mental health problems commonly experienced by patients with type-2 diabetes.
Pro 3 – Great for Weight Loss
Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D from the Mayo Clinic confirms that “adults and children following vegetarian diets are generally leaner than those who do not…”.
You will inherently eat a lower-calorie diet when consuming natural, plant-based foods. As a result, the meal volume is higher than with processed foods, leading to a feeling of fullness. However, the Mayo Clinic warns against the consumption of overly processed foods where calories in a meal are increased through the excessive use of seed oils and sugar or sugar substitutes.
Con 1 – Nutrient Deficiencies Are Common
Dr. Shawn Baker MD, a proponent of the carnivore diet, holds the view that “on a vegan diet, you’re also missing many nutrients that we need or thrive off of, such as creatine, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, etc. which you get when you eat meat”.
Vegetarian diets can increase the risk of nutrient deficiency if not carefully planned. By avoiding some of the major food groups, you increase the need to find alternative sources of various vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B12, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Iodine, Vitamin D, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and protein can be in short supply if not explicitly included in sufficient quantity in your diet. This may be the most critical health disadvantage of being vegetarian.
Con 2 – Associated with High Blood Pressure
Dr. Meena Shah from the University of Texas conducted a meta-analysis that concluded, “carbohydrate-rich diets have been associated with higher blood pressure than diets high in monounsaturated fats.”
Hyperinsulinemia has been identified as the possible cause of increases in blood pressure in people who consume high carbohydrates in their diets. Vegetarians are prone to elevated insulin levels due to topping up their calories through the addition of starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Hyperinsulinemia is thought to cause an increased heart rate, higher cardiac output, and sodium retention, raising blood pressure.
Vegetarian Diet Examples
An essential vegetarian diet includes:
- Healthy animal and plant fats
- Proteins from both plant and non-plant sources.
The following vegetarian diets demonstrate the wide variety of food that is consumed depending on personal preference:
- Flexitarian – The core diet is plant-based, meaning you will mainly eat plant foods, but it also allows for the incorporation of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. It is great for someone interested in moving to a vegetarian lifestyle without having to cut out meat entirely.
- Pescatarian – Pescatarian diets consist of basic plant-based foods with the addition of seafood as well as dairy and eggs. Of concern, is the level of mercury-heavy fish such as swordfish or tuna that may be consumed.
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian – A Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian consumes a basic plant-based diet while avoiding animal products except for dairy and eggs. This is one of the most popular forms of vegetarianism.
- Ovo Vegetarian – Ovo Vegetarians enjoy eggs together with their basic vegetarian diet.
- Pollo Vegetarian – Pollo (Spanish for “chicken”) vegetarians incorporate white meats like poultry, turkey, and duck into their plant-based diet and may include seafood, eggs, or dairy products, depending on their preferences.
- Vegan – The vegan diet is most restrictive and is entirely plant-based. Both the wearing and consumption of all animal products are prohibited. For good health, the inclusion of some supplements may be required.
The health benefits of vegetarian diets are well documented and can lead to greater enjoyment of life. Although transitioning to a diet that includes more fruits and vegetables is considered safe and healthy, significant changes in your diet should be discussed with a doctor or dietitian first to ensure that you meet all of the nutritional needs of both you and your family.