Dear Holly: Is it healthy to follow a vegetarian diet? -Rabbit Food
Dear Rabbit Food: Yes – there are many “right” ways to eat, and a well planned vegetarian eating plan can be appropriate for anyone, at any age, including kids and athletes. There are potential health benefits to be gained, and a few potential risks to be discussed.
About 7 millions Americans follow a vegetarian diet and about 1 million of those are vegan. About 23 million Americans consider themselves to be a “flexitarian,” meaning that they sometimes eat plant-based meals and sometimes eat meat.
No sooner that you mention that your plant-based eating plan than friends and strangers inquire as to your protein status and how you’re fulfilling that need. Protein does have many important functions, from the synthesis of muscle tissue, immune system components, helping to form blood clots if you get a cut and buffering against changes in pH. Protein is very important, but if you are meeting your calorie requirements and have a varied diet, protein deficiency should not be a concern.
A typical vegetarian diet tend to be rich in fiber, vitamin C, folate, potassium and magnesium. The high intake of fruits and vegetables helps to lower risk of cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
As a vegetarian, you may live longer and have lower cholesterol. On average, a vegetarian weighs less than a meat eater. A typical vegan weighs even less.
Sometimes I see vegetarians who seem to be following a starch-only eating plan – they order french fries and a soda when eating out, have ramen noodles at home, and have rice at their friend’s house. You can get your protein and fat from plants or animals, but they need to be a part of your usual intake. Any healthy eating plan has balance between protein, fats and carbohydrates.
If you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to ensure adequate iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
It is also important to ensure that a vegetarian diet isn’t being used as a cover-up for disordered eating.
To gain the potential benefits of a well planned vegetarian eating plan, it is not necessary to be vegan 100% of the time, or even vegetarian all of the time. You can achieve these health benefits simply by including some plant-based meals each week. Whether you have bean burritos once a week, of choose to make tempeh instead of turkey, increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your usual diet is a great foundation of health.
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What’s your question for Holly? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and to make an appointment to work on your goals, visit Grass Roots Nutrition, LLC and BrideBod, owned by me, Holly Larson, a Registered Dietitian. Visit me online at hollylarsonrd.com and follow us on Facebook. Have a delicious, healthy day!