Is a Vegetarian Diet For You?

Many people turn to vegetarian diets as a way to lose a few pounds, some look at it as a lifestyle choice for long term health, and others make the choice due to allergies. But is it for you? Can you commit to the restrictions that a vegetarian diet calls for? Read these tips to help make your decision:

1. There are 2 types of vegetarian diets–The lacto-ovo vegetarian cuts meat, fish and poultry from the diet but still eats milk and eggs while the vegan eats only foods from plant sources. A 2006 poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the Vegetarian Resource Group found that 7% of adults never eat meat, and that 2.3% never eat meat, fish or fowl. Meat eaters have the highest BMI levels while vegans have the lowest BMI levels of all groups and with an appropriate plan to replace any missing protein, a vegan or vegetarian eating plan can be a great way to reduce unwanted body weight.

2. Contrary to what you may have heard, vegans are able to obtain all of their protein needs from plant sources alone. Animal sources contain all of the amino acids and are called complete proteins. The protein that is found in grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables are usually lacking at least one essential amino acid and are called incomplete or complementary proteins. But when you eat a variety of plant foods (with sufficient calorie intake), the incomplete proteins combine to form complete proteins that can be consumed throughout the day. Some example combinations of foods providing complementary proteins are a peanut butter sandwich and vegetables, a salad with almonds and sunflower seeds or pasta and vegetables.

3. If you decide to eliminate animal products from your diet, be sure that you are getting an appropriate amount of vitamin B-12 since it is found predominantly in animal foods. Vitamin B-12 provides an important role in the normal functioning of the nervous system, of the brain, and also aids in the formation of blood. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can get adequate B-12 from dairy foods and eggs, while vegans can obtain B-12 from soy milk, and/or breakfast cereals. However, the human body stores several years’ worth of vitamin B12, so nutritional deficiency of this vitamin is rare; elderly people are the most at risk. Vitamin D and calcium are also a concern amongst vegetarian and vegans; as a vegan, you must be sure to consume foods containing the essential vitamin D and calcium through foods such as soy milk, cereals, breads and some juices.

If you decide to pursue a lifestyle as lacto-ovo vegetarian or a vegan, plan carefully in order not to deprive your body of any essential nutrient. Protein needs are less of a concern than many people assume since complementary protein sources may be combined to provide complete proteins.

Kim Farmer is a Personal Trainer, Clinical Exercise Specialist and Group Exercise Instructor. Visit her website at http://www.milehighfitness.com where you can sign up for her bi-weekly health and fitness newsletters. View or post on her blog at http://www.milehighfitness.com/fitnessmatters

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