October is National Vegetarian Month! In celebration of all the non-meat eaters out there, let’s learn a little bit more about what being a vegetarian really means so that we can avoid many of the classic stereotypes that often befall vegetarians. Being a vegetarian is someone who follows a plant-based diet, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and may or may not eat dairy products and eggs. Vegetarians do not eat meat of any kind, including chicken and fish.
There are three general types of vegetarian diets:
- Lacto-Vegetarian – Eats dairy products but not eggs
- Ovo-Vegetarian – Eats eggs but not dairy products
- Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian – Eats both eggs and dairy products
There are many reasons to choose to eat vegetarian. Some people follow a vegetarian diet because they support animal rights or the environment. Others choose vegetarian lifestyles to stay healthy. More and more research has shown that reducing red-meat consumption can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Choosing a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian lifestyle is an easy way to watch cholesterol levels and avoid eating red meat. The number of people who are becoming semi-vegetarians, or flexitarians, is growing. A flexitarian is someone who typically avoids meat and fish, but on occasion will eat meat, fish and dairy products. Becoming a flexitarian has become a much easier way to focus on eating healthy and reducing red meat consumption without totally giving up some of your favorite foods.
Following a vegetarian diet has been shown to be perfectly healthy. In fact, the American Dietitic Association has stated that a properly planned vegetarian diet is “healthful, nutritionally adequate and provides health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” Eating a vegetarian diet typically means consuming less saturated fat, animal cholesterol, resulting in decreased odds of suffering from cardiovascular disease. One study showed that vegetarian women were 20% less likely to die from heart disease than meat-eating women.
All-in-all, choosing to eat vegetarian has many health benefits while still getting all the nutrients your body needs. The biggest question many people have about vegetarians is how do they get enough protein. The answer is that most people have no problem getting their daily intake of protein if they eat a varied and balanced diet. Some great protein options for vegetarians are tofu, eggs, cottage cheese, lentils and beans. As long as vegetarians eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, getting enough protein is not an issue.
So if you’re looking to get healthy, one viable option may be to try vegetarianism or maybe flexitarianism. Use the month of October as a test run to decide whether you could adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.