It’s National Vegetarian Awareness Month, and with that we have a nutrition guest blogger from Chicago to enlighten us on the reasons for and considerations around the Vegetarian diet. Thanks Tracy!
The Popularity of Being a Vegetarian
By: Tracy Williams
Has vegetarianism become a popular lifestyle? Is it really a healthy dietary choice? Ten percent of people consider themselves to be vegetarians, according to a Gallup poll in 2013. Being vegetarian was once a food choice considered to be unusual. Currently, according to a Harris Interactive Survey, 3 percent of U.S. adults also indicate they never eat poultry, fish or seafood. One third of vegetarians consider themselves vegan, which means they do not consume dairy, eggs and honey.
Why do some people choose to be vegetarian? There are many reasons. They may become vegetarians because of health concerns. A vegetarian diet could decrease the risk and symptoms of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Others may feel that large scale meat and poultry production is unsustainable for the health of the environment. People also point to issues of water quality, overuse of antibiotics, and other concerns. People also believe there are ethical reasons to avoid animal products or meat items.
There are many types of vegetarians in society. When you have vegetarian friends over for a meal, it is important to know what vegetarian practices they have decided to follow. Vegans avoid all animal products, eggs, dairy products or even honey. Fruitarians eat only fruits, seeds, nuts and other plant components that can be gathered without harming the plant. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products, but not eggs. A Lacto-ovo vegetarian eats eggs and dairy products. This is the most common group of vegetarians. Pesce vegetarians include fish in their diet. Pollo-vegetarians eat fowl, such as chicken and turkey, but avoid red meat and pork. Flexitarians mainly eat vegetarian diet, but will occasionally make exceptions, especially during holiday or party meals.
There are health management benefits for those who are vegetarians. People who follow the vegetarian dietary plan are typically able to maintain a desirable body weight and have a lower body mass index (BMI). Vegetarians have less cardiovascular disease, cancers, and gastrointestinal disorders. Whole food plant based diets consistently show a lowered risk for many chronic diseases. Vegetarians tend to consume higher amounts of fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and overall cholesterol.
There are possible nutrient deficiencies when restricting animal foods, but these can be avoided by choosing a wide variety of foods. B12 deficiency is one consideration. B12 is necessary for red blood cell maturation, nerve function, and DNA synthesis. B12 deficiency can be avoided if a person consumes adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from dairy products, which is usually sufficient. People who are vegan or follow the macrobiotic diet will need to get vitamin B12 from enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by taking a vitamin supplement. Adequate iron intake is another consideration. Iron is important because it provides oxygen binding in red blood cells to be carried throughout the body. Dietary sources include enriched whole grain products, legumes, nuts and seeds, veggies, molasses and prune juice.
Open communication between the client, their family and their dietitian will help vegetarian clients choose the right foods to support their health.
Tracy Williams is a nutrition consultant in her local suburb of Chicago doing nutrition education and freelance writing on nutrition topics. She has her degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois.