Is it healthier to be a vegetarian?
Cutting out meat has become more appealing for a lot of reasons, whether financial, environmental or personal. But is it healthier? Registered dietitian nutritionist Tara Ross explained the health advantages of a vegetarian diet and what you should keep in mind if you choose to go mostly or entirely plant-based.
So, is it healthier to be a vegetarian?
The answer? It depends.
“Yes, a vegetarian diet can be very healthy,” said Ross. “But it depends on what you’re eating. You could eat nothing but Doritos and Oreos and technically still be a vegetarian. Oreos are even technically vegan, as they contain no animal by-products.”
For patients who are wanting to eat healthier, Ross said she usually recommends a “plant powered” diet, meaning you’re adding more plant foods into your diet. Eating a plant-based diet that is heavy on vegetables, fruit and high-fiber grains has been shown to improve heart health and even reduce your cancer risk.
What’s the difference between a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet?
A vegetarian diet omits meat, poultry and fish, but it can include some animal by-product foods like eggs and dairy. A vegan diet eliminates those sources as well, which can make it more difficult for some people to adhere to.
“I think both of those diets, when done well, can be very good,” said Ross. “It just depends on if you’re planning your meals appropriately and if you’re making sure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs.”
What to remember if you’re going vegetarian
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you choose a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Make sure you’re getting sufficient vitamins and minerals. Some key nutrients to look out for are vitamin B12, iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
“If you’re on a vegan diet, you would want to make sure you’re getting some fortified foods or using something like nutritional yeast,” said Ross. “Make sure you’re getting those good sources of fats such as flax seeds, olive oil, avocado and nuts.”
Protein is usually not a big deal for vegetarians, but it can sometimes be a little bit more challenging for vegans without the use of plant-based meat substitutes.
Watch out for highly processed foods. Some meat and egg substitutes are high in sodium and preservatives. If you have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease, you want to keep this type of food to a minimum.
Talk to an expert. Before you take the plunge, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to find the right nutritional plan for you.
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