Being a vegetarian has both health and environmental advantages. You may shun meat for animal welfare or religious reasons, too. You need not be 100 percent vegetarian, though—eating a few meatless meals a week or just reducing the amount of meat on your plate is enough to reap some benefits.
There are many ways to be a vegetarian: Strict vegetarians, or vegans, avoid all animal products, including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy and eggs, as well as anything derived from animals (such as gelatin, which comes from pigs or other animals, and often honey). Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs along with plant foods. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy foods. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy. Pesco-vegetarians eat fish. Pollo-vegetarians eat poultry. Semi-vegetarians or flexitarians rely mainly on plant foods but eat meat on occasion.
Here’s how to go vegetarian in a safe and nutritious way.
What are some health benefits of being vegetarian?
Plant-based diets—with lots of vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), fruits, whole grains, nut, and seeds—are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some cancers, notably colorectal cancer. Vegetarians tend to weigh less and have lower cholesterol levels and fewer digestive problems, such as constipation. Vegetarian diets are high in fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—and low in saturated fat and cholesterol—all of which may contribute to the health benefits. Vegetarians also benefit, no doubt, from the fact that they tend to lead healthier lives in general.
Isn’t it hard to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet?
No. Vegetarians typically consume less protein than meat eaters but can still easily meet their needs. Legumes are top sources of protein, but grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables all provide some. Meat substitutes, such as veggie burgers and soy crumbles, provide about as much protein, ounce for ounce, as meat. If you choose a variety of foods—especially if you eat some dairy and eggs—you should get all the protein you need.
Do you have to combine certain foods at every meal to get “complete” protein?