What are some of the pitfalls, if any, of becoming vegetarian or vegan?
If done right, a well planned veg'n (vegetarian and/or vegan) diet is extremely healthy. Plant foods are naturally low in fat, free of cholesterol, and high in fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. In fact, the American Dietetic Association has reported that vegan and vegetarian diets can significantly reduce one's risk of contracting heart disease, colon and lung cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, and a number of other debilitating conditions.
But there are many vegans and vegetarians out there who are not being healthy about their diets. Even without consuming animal products, many veg'ns could still be consuming too many refined foods, fatty, high sugar foods, and not enough fruits and vegetables. So, as you can see, just being veg'n doesn't necessarily mean you're healthy.
The biggest problem I see veg'ns run into is removing foods (like meat, dairy, eggs, etc.) but not replacing these foods with plant-based alternatives that are similar in nutritional value. For every food group a veg'n removes from his or her diet, something has to be added back in. That means:
Replacing meat with other high-quality protein sources, such as edamame, tofu, beans, lentils, legumes, eggs or egg whites (for ovo-vegetarians) and meat analogs (like veggie burgers)
Replacing dairy products with other calcium-rich foods, such as calcium-enriched soymilks, soy yogurts, non-dairy milks that are enriched with calcium (like almond milk, rice milk, etc.) and possibly even a calcium supplement
Also, there are several nutrients that vegetarians and vegans need to make sure they're getting. Vitamin B-12, for example, is hard to come by in plant foods. Vegetarians and vegans need to be conscious about this nutrient (available in vegetarian supplements and fortified in nutritional yeast and some other foods), along with adequate calcium intake (found in dark leafy greens, almonds, broccoli, and fortified juice and soy products). Still some other vegetarians might want to monitor their intake of other nutrients like iron.
When done right, a vegetarian or vegan diet can be very healthy. But it's important to include plenty of highly nutritious foods into your diet at the same time.
For additional resources and support, check out the SparkTeam Calling All Vegetarians & Vegans!, which is full of experienced and new veg'ns who are happy to offer advice.
Written by Nicole Nichols, vegetarian and SparkPeople expert
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