If you are looking to switch to a meat-free lifestyle and adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet plan, listen up.
A recent poll commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society shows that 33 per cent of Canadians, or almost 12 million, are either already vegetarian or eating less meat. That figure includes eight per cent who identify as vegetarian or mostly vegetarian, as well as 25 per cent who state that they are trying to eat less meat.
According to the study, another five per cent claim they are “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian diet somewhere in their future, while 10 per cent state they follow a diet which is largely inclined towards vegetarianism.
So, should you hop on the bandwagon and go veg? More and more Canadians are embracing a plant-based lifestyle, but it may not necessarily be the one-size-fits-all health cure. Here, we outline some vegetarianism pros (with a few caveats, of course), so you can make a well-informed decision regarding your diet and well-being.
You Might Be Healthier Overall…
According to the American Dietetic Association, a vegetarian diet is “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of diseases,” including heart disease, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
An evidence-based review from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease. Plus, vegetarians have lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than meat eaters. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index, lower overall cancer rates and lower risk of chronic disease.
Not bad, right? Well, not so fast.
…But Not Necessarily As A Result Of Cutting Out Meat
While it’s true that many vegetarians are leaner and healthier than their carnivorous counterparts, this is partially because cutting out meat eliminates a lot of our daily fat and calories, especially when replaced with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Eating a vegetarian diet also often means cooking more at home and being more aware of what we are putting in our bodies — essential tools for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even for carnivores.
Simply put, avoiding animal products alone isn’t enough to guarantee maximum health. To become “healthier” on a vegetarian diet, you must maintain your protein intake, as well as consume enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from plant-based foods and avoid sugars and veggie junk food traps.
The vegetarian who eats a veggie burger and fries every day for lunch isn’t necessarily going to be healthier than the non-vegetarian who orders grilled salmon with veggies.
Not everyone approaches a vegetarian diet in the correct way. Going vegetarian or vegan requires time, preparation and a bit of hard work in order to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet.
You’ll Have Lower Cholesterol…
Vegetarians benefit from consuming a diet which tends to be high in dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals and complex carbohydrates, a result of eating lots of fruits and vegetables. However, the bigger vegetarianism pro here is that they seriously cut back on their saturated fat and cholesterol. Cholesterol is a component only found in animal food, making plant foods completely cholesterol free. For those who are battling high cholesterol levels, a diet laden with fresh vegetables and free of animal fats is ideal.
…But You May Lack Protein And Other Essential Minerals (If You’re Not Careful)
One of the biggest downsides about going vegetarian (and especially going vegan) is that a plant-based diet can possibly lead to protein and other deficiencies if you’re not careful.
Not following a well-balanced diet — whether you are vegetarian or not —can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. However, vegetarians and vegans in particular must take greater care when it comes to vitamin B12 (found only in animal products and fortified foods), Omega 3 fatty acids, and minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium, to name a few. Supplements may come in handy here, but becoming aware of the right foods and their nutritional values can also ensure that you’re getting everything you need from your vegetarian or vegan diet.
Getting enough protein can be a struggle for new vegetarians, especially for vegans or for those who are very active. Protein is essential for the maintenance and repair of cells and tissues, and for the production of blood cells, enzyme and hormones. Proteins found in meat and it is highly likely that an individual following a vegetarian diet may fall short on adequate protein levels the body needs.
However, there are plenty of non-meat protein options available too. For vegetarians who still eat animal products, eggs, Greek yogurt and other dairy sources are excellent sources of protein. Some vegan-friendly options are:
- Tempeh and tofu
- Soy milk (and soy products)
- Nut butters
- Enriched breads and cereals
So if you are a vegetarian then be sure to consume an adequate amount of these foods to fulfill protein requirements of the body.
You’ll Be Helping The Planet…
Vegetarianism goes beyond an individual’s health, and many eco-conscious consumers are turning to the vegetarian lifestyle for ethical reasons. According to the United Nations Foods and Agricultural Organization, livestock production is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
One-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated by livestock production, with cows being the worst culprits. Livestock also relies on large quantities of increasingly scarce resources, such as water, oil and land.
Moreover, most of these animals are raised under questionable, if not horrific conditions, adding to the unethical aspect of animal breeding and production.
… But It Might Not Be Easy
Depending on where you live, vegetarianism (and especially veganism) be a difficult lifestyle to wholeheartedly embrace. City slickers may find it much easier to explore different food options and find vegan-friendly foods at their local health food store, or even veggie-specific restaurants, than their small-town counterparts.
However, the trend towards a plant-based diet doesn’t seem to be slowing down, which means that going veg will only continue to become more accessible, accepted and widespread. That doesn’t mean you have to cut meat out of your diet entirely, but you may find that benefits of a plant-based diet are worth the sacrifices.