Vegetarians come in all shapes and sizes. The most strict vegetarian diet is a vegan diet which restricts you from eating any animal product. There are those lacto-vegetarians who will also eat dairy products and lacto-ovo-vegetarians who will eat dairy and eggs. And then there are the people who are mostly vegetarian but will eat chicken or a burger every once in a while. Because there are so many varieties of vegetarians, it is hard to classify how many there are in the United States but polls place the number somewhere between 5-13%.
What are the benefits of having a vegetarian diet? Many include being more lean, having lower levels of serum cholesterol, having lower blood pressure and decreasing risk of colon cancer. Other benefits include having a diet lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. You also reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What concerns are there with being a vegetarian? Because vegetarians are cutting out meat and other animal products, they may be at risk for iron deficiency, insufficient calcium, Vitamin D deficiency, and Vitamin B-12 deficiency.
To get iron eat: Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
To get calcium eat: dark green vegetables like broccoli, kale and collard greens. Also eat foods fortified with calcium such as juice, cereal and soy milk.
To get Vitamin D eat: Vitamin D fortified foods such as milk, orange juice and cereal, and get a sufficient amount of sun exposure. You may need a supplement if you cannot get enough in your diet.
To get Vitamin B-12 eat: a Vitamin B-12 supplement. This vitamin is found exclusively in animal products.
Getting Started For some, going cold turkey when it comes to making a switch in their diet can be hard. One way to make it easier is to each week increase the number of meatless meals you eat. Search on the internet for simple substitutions for ingredients or look up vegetarian cookbooks. There are many sources out there!
If vegetarianism is something you’ve been interested in trying out, make sure to do your research first so you can be sure to get all the nutrients your body needs.
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Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012, July 11). Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/vegetarian-diet/HQ01596/METHOD=print
Vorvick, L. (2013, October 31). Vegetarian diet. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002465.htm
Wikipedia Authors. (2013, November 4). Vegetarianism by country. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism_by_country