A vegetarian diet, when properly followed, can be one of the healthiest diets out there. Benefits of the vegetarian diet include:
Food for Thought
Although tofu and other soy proteins contain some fat, they’re very low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol.
- Decreased obesity. Vegans are rarely obese and, on the average, ovolacto-vegetarians are leaner than those who eat meat. However, being vegetarian doesn’t guarantee a slim figure. If you eat foods that are high in fat, you can consume as many or more calories than meat eaters.
- Less risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Vegetarians tend to have lower blood cholesterol levels and diets with lower overall saturated fat content.
- Lower rates of hypertension. The reason for this is still unknown, but researchers think it might be related to increased potassium, magnesium, polyunsaturated fat, and fiber intake. All the same, more research is still needed to determine whether the diet itself has anything to do with the lower levels.
Vegetarian eating covers broad territory and can run the gamut from people who avoid all animal products to people who simply refrain from eating a few select animal foods. Here’s a look at the assortment of vegetarian-style eaters:
- Vegans. This is the strictest type of vegetarian (sort of the pope of all vegetarians). Vegans abstain from eating or using all animal products, from eating meat, dairy, and eggs, to wearing wool, silk, or leather. If you’re a vegan, you’ll need to be extra careful about getting adequate protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and zinc.
- Lacto-vegetarians. This group eliminates meat and eggs but includes all dairy products.
- Ovolacto-vegetarians. This group eliminates all meat (red meat, poultry, fish, and seafood); however, they do include dairy products and eggs.
- Semi-vegetarians. This group does not eat red meat but eats most chicken, turkey, and fish, along with all dairy and eggs.
- Pseudo-vegetarians. This group will not eat meat on the days they decide they’re vegetarian but will, however, inhale hamburgers and steak sandwiches when they get a craving.
- Raw foodists. This group claims that heating food over 116 degrees Fahrenheit destroys the food’s enzymes, making it harder to digest and preventing nutrients from being absorbed. Raw foodists eat only uncooked, unprocessed vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Grains and grain products, meat, milk, eggs and other animal foods are out, as is alcohol, coffee, tea, and even vitamin supplements.
- Macrobiotics. This is more a philosophy and lifestyle than a simple diet. Meals revolve around certain types of vegetables (no potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, spinach, beets, and zucchini), legumes, sea vegetables, soy foods, soups, spring water (no ice), herbal teas, and small amounts of fish, fruit, and sweeteners.