Fitness Chef Blog – Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
People become vegetarians for a multitude of reasons including health, religious beliefs, and concerns about animal welfare. Believe it or not, yes, it’s possible to be both a vegetarian AND an athlete. Runner Bart Yasso, ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, and football running back Ricky Williams all follow a vegetarian diet.
It should be noted that a vegetarian diet isn’t “one size fits all.” There are actually several different types of vegetarian/meatless diets:
- Lacto-ovo Vegetarians – Eating plant foods, eggs, and dairy products
- Lacto-Vegetarians – Eating plant foods plus some or all dairy products
- Semi or Partial Vegetarians – May eat some chicken or fish along with plant foods, eggs, and dairy products. No red meat.
Often, it is believed that a meatless diet cannot provide you with the necessary nutrients the body needs. Contrary to this popular belief, a vegetarian diet can actually be healthy for you. When planning well, a meatless diet can help you:
- Reduce your chance of obesity. Following a plant-based diet usually means you’ll take in fewer calories.
- Reduce your risk of heart disease. Without meat, your diet will be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.
- Lower your blood pressure and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
As meats, poultry, and seafood contain essential proteins, vitamins and minerals, it’s important to make sure you’re eating other foods that contain these benefits. There is protein in all plant foods, just in lower qualities. Eating a well-rounded diet with these products can help you get the nutrients you need:
- Soy protein like tofu, soy nuts and cheese
- Legumes and beans
- Nuts, nut butters, and peanut butter
- Seeds and whole grains
- Eggs and dairy products
If you’re looking to switch to a vegetarian diet, it is better to start with a gradual change instead of all at once. This way, it will more likely become a long-term lifestyle. Making sudden dietary changes, like increased intake of beans and vegetables, could lead to temporary digestive problems. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests:
- Eat whole grain products, such as whole wheat bread and brown rice, to receive B vitamins
- Keep variety in your diet
- Ask a healthcare professional about taking supplements
- Always check the labels of “healthy” vegetarians snacks to make sure there is not a high amount of sugar, salt, or other additives