By: Nadine Aoun
Clinical Dietitian at
Medcare Hospital & Clinics Dubai
What is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is the practice of following a diet that is centered on plant-based foods including: fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, nuts, and seeds, with or without dairy products and eggs. There are 5 types of vegetarians and each group excludes certain foods:
1. Semi or Partial Vegetarian
Excludes red meat only. Diet consists of plant foods and may include chicken or fish, dairy products, and eggs.
Excludes meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Diet consists of plant foods, dairy products, and eggs.
Excludes meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs. Diet consists of plant foods plus some or all dairy products.
4. Vegan (Total Vegetarian):
Excludes meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy product (may exclude honey). Diet consists of only plant-based foods.
Excludes meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, seafood, fish (fish may be included in the diets of some macrobiotic vegetarians). It is a vegan or vegetarian diet with completes avoidance of non-animal food and unprocessed, unrefined, “natural” and “organic” food. This diet is physiologically dangerous and should not be recommended.
Advantages of vegetarian diet
– Due to high intake of fiber, the digestive health is improved.
– Rich in folate, vitamin C, fiber since it mainly includes nuts, cereals, seeds, beans…
– Contains low amounts of fats, cholesterol and saturated fats leading to a reduction in weight gain.
– Lots of fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy body
– Vegetables consist of phytochemicals, which prevent some chronic diseases, as well as dark green leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants.
– Decreases risk of heart disease, hypertension, overall cancer rates
– Lower levels of total fat, cholesterol, obesity, body mass index.
Disadvantages of vegetarian diet
– Low in proteins, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc
– Not recommended for bodybuilders as they require protein-rich diet
– A diet lacking in sufficient carbohydrates and proteins can lead to anemia
– Bowel irregularities can be seen
– If your diet is totally free from fats, then it’s not good, because certain amounts of cholesterol and fat is necessary for the development of the nervous system and normal body functioning.
Why do people follow a Vegetarian diet?
People usually choose vegetarian diet for several reasons some of which are: cultural, religious or ethical reasons. Some people think by following it they will stay healthy and prevent heart problems such as cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, it is medically necessary for some persons, for instance people with certain food allergies.
Vegetarian people must eat a wide variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs. However, vegetarians need to pay attention to many key nutrients such as protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin D,calcium, vitamin B12, Zinc. According to USDA there are 10 tips for a healthy vegetarian diet:
1. Protein: A wide variety of plant based food contain protein such as: beans, peas, nuts, soy products, eggs, dairy products.
2. Calcium: Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium. However for certain types, the dairy product cannot be used, so another alternative could be orange juice, dark-green leafy vegetables, and calcium fortified breakfast cereals.
3. Make simple changes by choosing veggie pizza, lasagne, pasta with pesto sauce, etc…
4. Enjoy a cookout: Veggie or soy burgers, soy hot dogs, tofu, and grilled veggies.
5. Include beans and peas because they are high in nutrient content.
6. Try different veggie versions that are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and that can taste similar to non-vegetarian food such as soy-based sausage patties, etc…
7. Make some small changes at restaurants by asking for vegetarian options instead of using the regular non-vegetarian menu and make changes to it to meet the vegetarian requirement.
8. Nuts make great snacks due to their good fat content; they can also be used in salads and main dishes.
9. Get your vitamin B12 that is mainly found in animal products. Vegetarian should choose fortified foods such as cereals, soy products, or just simply take B12 supplementation.
10. Find a vegetarian pattern for you by checking the USDA food pattern recommendations online.
With careful planning and supplementation of specific nutrients, Vegetarian diet can meet all known nutrient needs. Specific nutrients which may be at lower intake levels are: vitamin B12, vitamin D, riboflavin, iron, Calcium, Zinc, and Folate (Especially in pregnant and lactating women).