The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics maintains that an appropriately planned meatless diet is nutritionally sufficient, meaning that you can go sans meat without concern. In fact, the approximately 5 percent of adults in the United States who follow a vegetarian diet might do it for ethical or environmental reasons, but they also get a bevy of health benefits, too.
Types of Meatless Diets
There are three major types of vegetarianism -- lacto-ovo vegetarians, lacto vegetarians and vegans -- but the one thing they have in common is that they don't eat animal flesh. Beyond that, a lacto-ovo vegetarian eats dairy and eggs, but not meat, poultry or fish. According to Brown University, this is the most common type of vegetarian in the United States. Lacto vegetarians don't eat eggs, meat, poultry or fish, but do include dairy products in their diet. Vegans eschew all animal products, including dairy and eggs, as well as animal byproducts such as honey.
Like any other diet, the nutritional benefits you receive from a meatless diet depend on which foods you choose to eat. Generally speaking, though, vegetarian diets are higher in fiber, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, says Brown University. This type of eating plan is also lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein.
Risk of Disease
In its 2003 position paper on vegetarian diets, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated that vegetarians reportedly have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians. This, according a study published in 2009 in Diabetes Care, indicates vegetarianism has the potential to protect against obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Nonmeat eaters also experience a lower rate of death from ischemic heart disease, fewer instances of hypertension, and less prostate and colon cancer. They also have lower blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
The key to reaping the health benefits of a meatless diet is choosing the right foods. Vegans are at risk of not consuming enough vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, zinc and riboflavin, says Brown University. A vegetarian needs to consume healthy forms of vegetarian protein, such as whole grains, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds, as well as calcium in the form of dairy products; dark, leafy greens; broccoli; and beans. Vitamin B-12 is found in dairy products and eggs, but vegans need to take a supplement or consume fortified soy milk to get enough of this nutrient.
- Brown University Health Promotion: Being a Vegetarian
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian Diets
- Diabetes Care: Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes
- Gallup: In U.S., 5% Consider Themselves Vegetarians
- Photo Credit Stitchik/iStock/Getty Images
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