There are different types of vegetarian diets. Pescatarians eat fish, eggs and dairy products, but not meat. Another group that includes dairy products and eggs is the lacto-ovo-vegetarian. This is considered the standard vegetarian diet and is also one of the healthiest of them all. Finally you have the vegan diet which means you refrain from any kind of animal product. There are various other (sub) categories that are not listed here as this article puts emphasis on the standard vegetarians.
Why would or would you not choose to go vegetarian? A standard answer on the question why someone would want to go vegetarian is because of the health benefits it provides. A well-balanced vegetarian diet includes all the nutrients you need.
Being a vegetarian definitely has some downsides. Some would argue that plant-based diets are more expensive to follow than a diet that does not exclude meat or fish. Fresh fruits and vegetables as well as many sorts of nuts cost quite some money. Lean dairy products, eggs and the bulk products (rice, beans, potatoes, whole grains) generally are rather cheap.
Another problem is the fact that vegetarian diets do have a greater risk of creating a shortage of certain nutrients. If you plan your meals carefully the chance that this happens can be reduced to a minimum. One of the nutrients that some vegetarians could lack is iron. Iron from plant based products cannot easily be used by the body. You can try to eat foods that are high in vitamin C together with your meals. This vitamin increases the absorption of iron, whether it is a plant-based or animal-based product.
Those who exclude dairy and eggs will get a shortage of vitamin B12. This product can only be found in animal sources; hence a vegan will not get a sufficient amount of this nutrient in their system. This calls for supplementation.
As mentioned, vegans will need to supplement vitamin B12. It is highly recommended to discuss this with a medical professional and a dietician. Other than that, most nutrients can be found in various amounts of plant sources. Some may need extra iron, but this has to be discussed with a doctor as well. It is dangerous to self-supplement on minerals like iron!
Creatine is a substance that is needed by the body to enable physical activities. It is good for you to know that creatine can improve your performance in sports and exercise. The problem for vegetarians is that most of this substance is found in animal foods. This can be solved by supplementing on creatine monohydrate. This is the safest, most researched and most effective supplement on the market and it is very cheap.
The quality of protein from plants is usually a lot lower than that of animal products. To solve this problem there are 3 things a vegetarian can do. Firstly, one could think about using whey protein powder. This is a high quality source of protein that is made from milk (it is a by-product of cheese). You could also eat plenty of eggs and dairy products (which I recommend every vegetarian to do). The last thing you can do is, choose from a wide variety of plant products. Proteins are built out of amino acids. Most plant products lack at least one or more of the necessary amino acids, hence they make for a low quality protein (even soy can be considered of lower quality). When you choose two different plant sources (e.g. legumes with whole grain rice) you can make 'complete proteins'. It does not matter if you eat the two products at the same meal or not. As long as the two are eaten at the same day you will be fine.
Make sure to include the following foods in your nutrition plan:
1. Grains: brown rice, wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, quinoa (high quality protein for a plant source), amaranth, oats, oatmeal.
2. Vegetables: All sorts of vegetables. Get in a variety of vegetables each day.
3. Fruits: All sorts of fruits. Get in a variety of fruits each day and eat 3 to 5 pieces of fruit a day (200 á 350 grams).
4. Beans and legumes: All sorts. They contain a lot of protein (soy beans in particular), fibers and other important nutrients.
5. Nuts and seeds: All sorts. For healthy, unsaturated fats, fibers, protein, vitamins, minerals. Almonds, walnuts and flex seeds are highly recommended. Do not eat too much of it as it is also a high calorie food!
6. Vegetarian animal products: eggs (the yolks contain most protein and nutrients), lean or non-fat yoghurt, milk, cottage cheese, curd and cheese, whey protein
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