The health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets are the number 1 reason that most people choose to adopt the lifestyle. Research has shown that people who consume a vegetarian diet are at a substantially lower risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, gallstones and hypertension.
The reason vegetarians and vegans have these health benefits is due to the lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, and the increased intake of certain minerals , dietary fiber and phytochemicals. FYI did you know that cholesterol is only found in animal food products – so living a vegan lifestyle will free you from the harmful effects of cholesterol.
|Type of Vegetarian Diet||Foods You Can Eat||Foods You Don’t Eat|
|Vegan||Only plant based foods||
What are some of the potential health problems from following a Vegetarian or Vegan diet?
While some people believe that you’re unable to consume all of the necessary vitamins and nutrients without meat in your diet, it can be done. With planning and research, vegetarian diets can be nutritionally balanced.
The type of vitamins and nutrients that you’re at risk of deficiency depends entirely on the type of vegetarian diet that you’re following.
Some of the more common nutrient deficiencies are:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most commonly found in fish (particularly fatty fish), omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to slow down the development of atherosclerosis, act as an anti-inflammatory agent, help with depression and possibly to help thin the blood.
Good vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Flaxseeds (milled or crushed)
- Flaxseed oil, canola oil
Vitamin B12 is a protein commonly found in animal foods such as seafood, eggs, meat and dairy products. As well, many foods are now fortified with vitamin B12 (such as cereals) allowing vegetarians to still get their daily required intake. Vitamin B12 is attributed to having a central role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, as well as producing and maintaining new red blood cells.
Although there are no plant-based foods that can provide an adequate amount of vitamin B12, vegetarians can consume fortified food or take a supplement to ensure they’re getting enough to remain healthy.
Calcium is mainly found in dairy products. Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth, help blood vessels and muscles contract, secrete hormones and enzymes, and send messages through the nervous system.
For vegans, some plant-based calcium sources include:
- Fortified soy milk
- Dark green leafy vegetables (ie kale, broccoli. Collards, bok choy, okra, Chinese cabbage)
- Fortified tofu
- Fortified orange juice
- Soybeans and soynuts
- Blackstrap molasses
Iron is a mineral that is most commonly found in animal products including liver, beef, chicken, oysters and tuna. It’s essential for transporting oxygen through the blood and general wellbeing and an iron deficiency will cause fatigue, impaired immune function and hair loss, plus much more.
Some vegetarian options for getting your daily iron intake include:
- Fortified cereals and oatmeal
As a failsafe, most vegetarians and vegans take a good quality multi-vitamin every day to make up for any vitamins or minerals they may be lacking. In fact, some doctors and nutritionists recommend everyone taking a multi-vitamin daily, as our daily lives have become so busy that most of us have a hard time following a healthy diet.
Erin blogs about living and eating healthy in Vancouver, BC.