Thinking about going vegetarian – or vegan? It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it’s much more difficult to stay healthy on a plant-based diet than on a balanced meat-eating one.
There are so many misconceptions about the vegetarian diet that it’s getting harder to define exactly what a vegetarian is! So let’s clear that up first: Being a vegetarian means that you do not eat any animals — this includes pigs, chickens, cows, sea animals, and every other animal. If you are a vegan, this means that you eat no percent animal-protein products: That translates into no eggs, no dairy, and no meat or food processed using animal products. Vegans also avoid using products that have been tested on animals or made from animal skins. That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there are many other names for vegetarians who eat (or don’t eat) fish, poultry, eggs, and/or dairy (lacto, ovo, lacto-ovo, etc.). You can see where all this starts to get confusing, right? There’s nothing wrong with being a vegetarian, and I also wholeheartedly agree that being vegan is the best thing for the planet — though I don’t believe it’s necessarily the best thing for your body for several reasons.
Humans are omnivores by nature, meaning we are able to consume plants and meats. Whenever I say this, someone will come back at me and say, “Well, how come some of the biggest and most powerful animals — like cattle and giraffes — only eat grass?” Those animals are ruminants – meaning they have an organ in their body (that humans don’t) that converts grass into protein. As human beings, we consume the animal and get the protein. We are not ruminants and it is very difficult for us to get the proper amounts of iron, vitamin B and protein from a strict vegetarian diet (and it’s even harder as a vegan).
Being a vegetarian is a full-time job. As I just stated, on a vegetarian diet, it is hard to get enough iron, vitamin B and protein, but making sure you get a good balance of all the other important vitamins and minerals can also be a challenge. Often times, people don’t have the financial means, time, access, or knowledge to prepare well-balanced, healthy meals as a vegetarian or vegan. If you want to become a vegetarian, you’ll need to educate yourself about how to supplement responsibly to make up for those deficiencies by making sure that you’re eating the right types of foods. It is even tougher to be vegan in today’s world, unless you’re preparing all of your meals at home. Most restaurants use milk or butter in many ingredients, so it’s really hard to avoid these animal products. And while more and more new vegan products are flooding the store shelves, you’ll pay steep prices for most of them.
Being any kind of vegetarian can lend itself to eating more calories. A lot of vegans turn to unhealthy, processed carbs (ironically!) because they don’t have the money for organic whole grains, or they eat a tremendous amount of soy — which I hate! Soy is a 90 percent genetically modified crop, covered in pesticides that are linked to cancer, infertility, and more health issues. (Read up on soy, then decide for yourself — but I advise you to avoid it). The best sources of protein for vegans are beans, nuts, and hemp. Watch your portion sizes when choosing them, though, because many of these protein-rich foods are high in calories.
The Bottom Line: Even if you prefer a plant-based diet most days, my advice is to eat some high-quality meat in moderation. If you’re eating beef and chicken only once a week, you can probably afford to buy the organic versions that are produced in ethical ways. Try to eatorganic dairy and eggs when you can. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, do the work to make sure you’re supplementing your diet in a healthy way.