Approximately 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians, with an additional 22.8 million identifying as vegetarian-inclined, according to the latest survey provided by Vegetarian Times. And while being vegetarian poses many health and environmental benefits, it also poses some risks.
Not only do vegetarians have lower body weights and cholesterol levels, but they also have a lower risk of developing cancer. There are some risks, however. Nutritional and vitamin deficiencies may be a concern. Let’s take a closer look.
Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
A vegetarian diet provides multiple health benefits, including weight loss and weight maintenance. In addition, vegetarians may benefit from the following:
- Lower risk of heart attack (22% lower)
- Lower cholesterol levels by almost 30%
- Lower risk of developing cancer
- Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
All of these benefits are based on the supposition of a healthy vegetarian diet. Not all vegetarian diets are healthy, of course, as it is possible to consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar on any diet, vegetarian included. But for those choosing a healthy veg diet, these benefits are pretty astonishing.
Risks of a Vegetarian Diet
There are also risks associated with being a vegetarian. However, most of them center around nutritional and vitamin deficiencies — again in the case of an unhealthy vegetarian diet, meaning one based primarily in processed foods and refined carbohydrates. Some of the most common deficiencies seen in vegetarians are those of iron, calcium, protein, vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and Zinc. Of course, deficiencies are possible on all diets, including those relying on meat consumption, and like all diets, deficiencies can be mitigated by consuming a well-balanced diet that focuses on eating the daily recommended amount of nutrients from whole food sources.
While more research needs to be done, there is some preliminary evidence that vegetarians may have more strokes than meat-eaters. So if this is a threat for you, do some research before diving in.
Making the Decision to Go Vegetarian
The decision to become a vegetarian is not one you should take lightly. This is especially true if you’re a picky eater. In order to get the nutrients you need, you should probably eat legumes, nuts, grains, cruciferous veggies, leafy greens and a variety of fruits. Sure, there are supplements, but the majority of our nutrition should come from our diet. And no matter whether meat is included or not, a varied, well-balanced diet rich in vegetables is best.
People choose to be vegetarians for various reasons including health, environmental and philosophical reasons. For many, health concerns are forefront in their minds. For others, however, animal welfare and environmental concerns are what drives them. There are others who simply don’t like the texture or taste of meat. But whatever the reason, the benefits are many and the risks few with a varied, vegetable-rich diet.