Despite all the myths and prejudices about vegetarians and the vegetarian diet, science has shown time and time again that a meat-free diet can be perfectly healthy. In fact, a well-planned vegetarian diet can be even healthier than one centered on meat, as all those calories formerly devoted to meat—many types of which can be quite unhealthy—are now devoted to things like vegetables and whole grains. All in all, making the switch to vegetarianism can be a great decision, if you do it right.
There are many approaches to vegetarianism. Some people are very serious about it, educating themselves about all the health concerns raised by the meat-free diet and how best to get all one’s nutritional needs. Others, meanwhile, may quit eating meat for personal or ethical reasons but are less serious about ensuring that they are as healthy as possible on their new diet. These people are sometimes jokingly referred to as “junk-food vegetarians”—but there are not very many of them, as most vegetarians tend to take what they eat seriously.
Varieties of vegetarian
The most basic type of vegetarian is one who does not eat meat but does not necessarily avoid other animal products. So, for example, foods like eggs, milk, and cheese are not off the table. These people are sometimes referred to as ovo-lacto vegetarians. The ovo stands for eggs, and the lacto stands for milk.
There are also ovo-vegetarians, who shun all animal products except for eggs, and lacto-vegetarians, who shun all animal products except for milk and milk byproducts such as cheese. Other people who quit most meat continue to eat fish and perhaps other types of seafood. Though these people are not technically vegetarians, many do refer to themselves by that term.
Of course, when becoming a vegetarian, one does not have to fit neatly into one of these terms, and plenty of people create their own vegetarianish diet plans. For example, some people avoid all meat except that which has been raised on farms that treat their animals ethically. Others are primarily vegetarian, but allow themselves to have a little meat from time to time. If it works for you and is healthy, there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules that strict vegetarians follow.
Many nonvegetarians understandably lump vegetarians and vegans—that is, people who consume no animal products—into a single group, but there are actually some very significant differences between the two diet plans. For one thing, while vegetarians do not have to be too careful of what they eat because meat is easily avoided, vegans have to carefully read the ingredients of every product they consume, or else they might inadvertently consume an animal product.
Another difficult thing about going vegan is that you doom yourself to lots of awkward exchanges whenever people cook for you. These days, most people are comfortable cooking for vegetarians and do not mind making meat-free versions of meals or vegetarian side dishes, but cooking vegan is much more demanding. For this reason, many vegans typically avoid dinner parties and other food-based gatherings and are careful to provide their own meals when visiting relatives.
Vegans also must be extra careful when it comes to health, as they are forgoing the health benefits of both meat and dairy products. A diet can be perfectly healthy without these elements, but it requires research and planning. That is why in order to be a vegan you need to be very serious about what you eat. And if done well, it can be even healthier than other types of diets.
By Marc Courtiol