In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is a vegetarian diet healthier?” and will discuss what is meant by a healthy diet?
Is a vegetarian diet healthier?
Yes, a vegetarian diet is healthier. We know that plant food is packed with nutrients that safeguard our health, therefore this may be one of the healthiest diets we can follow.
A vegetarian diet usually provides a low intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and a high intake of dietary fiber and many health-promoting phytochemicals, because of an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes, nuts, and various soy products. As a result, when nutrient requirements are provided in the diet, vegetarians have lower risk of suffering from diseases (1).
Vegetarian diets are connected with a decreased risk of mortality from ischemic heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In general, vegetarians tend to have lower levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters. People who eat a plant-based diet are less likely to be obese or to get cancer, as well as less likely to suffer from chronic illness.
A recent meta-analysis conducted by our group confirmed a protective effect of the vegetarian diet versus cardiovascular diseases in a population of over 65,000 vegetarians. A significant 25% reduced risk of ischemic heart disease was obtained, most probably determined by the reduction of main traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including BMI, lipid variables, and glucose levels (4).
What constitutes a healthy diet?
Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds to ensure a well-balanced diet. Avoid foods that are heavily processed. Foods rich in fiber and low in processed oils and added sugar are also part of a healthy diet. As well as animal-based items such as meat, dairy, and eggs
Your eating habits should be reviewed carefully if you decide to go to a vegetarian, vegetarian, or plant-based diet to ensure that you’re obtaining enough nutrients. There are several ways a licensed dietitian can assist you to achieve your dietary requirements and objectives.
Studies showed that not all vegetarian diets are equally healthy and, although vegetarian diets are related to lower risks of suffering from diseases such as cancer and diabetes type II, poor vegetarian diets have the opposite effect. A healthy vegetarian diet includes high-quality plant foods associated with health benefits (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, tea, and coffee). A low-quality vegetarian diet includes low-quality plant foods associated with higher chronic disease risk (fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sweets/desserts) (2).
A plant-based diet is what?
Vegetarians and vegetarians are sometimes referred to as “plant-based” diets, however, this does not always indicate that they do not eat meat or dairy products.
The term “plant-based diet” encompasses a wide variety of dietary patterns which contain lower amounts of animal source foods, such as dairy and meat and higher amounts of plant-source foods (2).
Which dietitian Elena Fricke recommends, as a general rule of thumb. “To lower the risk of chronic illness, most individuals should aim to limit their intake of animal products. Not everyone has to be vegetarian or vegetarian to participate.”
Is it time to give up meat?
Vegetarians and vegetarians have been demonstrated to have decreased incidences of chronic illness over time. Vegetarian and vegetarian diets do not inherently lead to better health, however, according to Fricke.
Fricke points out that “many meat replacements are highly processed meals.” It’s not always healthy to consume animal replacements, even if they claim to be plant-based, vegetarian, or vegetarian. “
“Sweeteners made from sugar cane are derived from plants. Many people see “plant-based” and assume it’s better, but this isn’t always true. Changing your diet to a plant-based diet is not enough to enhance your health.”
In studies, a healthy vegetarian diet (3 servings of animal foods and 13 servings of healthy plants per day) was more strongly associated with decreased coronary heart disease risk. However, the unhealthy vegetarian diet (5–6 servings of animal foods and 7 servings of healthy plant foods per day) was associated with an increased coronary heart disease risk. Additional studies using these indices found similar associations with type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which are both implicated in cardiovascular diseases risk (2).
Eating healthy on a vegetarian diet
The nutrients of concern in the diet of vegetarians include vitamin B12, vitamin D, ω-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc. Intake of vitamin D by vegetarians that do not include fortified products, such as cow milk, in their diets tends to be substantially below that of lacto-ovo-vegetarians and nonvegetarians. Because of inadequate consumption, the vitamin B12 status of some vegetarians is less than adequate. Compared with nonvegetarians, vegetarians tend to have lower blood levels of the long-chain ω-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Calcium intake is also inadequate among vegetarians who don’t include dairy in their diets (1).
Following a balanced diet when following a vegetarian or vegetarian diet is essential. Supplementing adequately is also necessary. To satisfy your protein requirements on a plant-based diet, “you simply have to make sure you’re consuming enough of the protein-rich foods, such as beans, nuts, and soy, at each meal,” Fricke adds.
The variety of diet fads makes it typical for individuals to be unsure about what constitutes a “healthy” diet. Even if single research contradicts the vast bulk of scientific data, Fricke advises, “We should always be cautious about changing our behaviors based on conclusions of one study.”
How Safe Is a Vegetarian Diet for Kids?
According to nutritionists, a rigid diet may lead to malnutrition and other major health issues in children. A tale of an Italian couple who lost custody of their 14-month-old kid was featured in The Washington Post in July 2016.
The youngster was taken to the hospital with the weight of a 3-month-old infant. His low calcium levels exacerbated a congenital cardiac problem that necessitated immediate surgery. Is this malnourishment a result of a lack of calcium?
To compensate for the nutrients, he was losing out on as a result of his parents’ strict vegetarian diet, the boy had never received any nutritional supplements. The Post claims that this was not an isolated incident. It was the third time in Italy that a youngster was admitted to the hospital as a consequence of a vegetarian diet.
Similar incidents have been reported all around the globe since 2004. The parents of an infant who died from malnutrition in the United States were sentenced to life in prison.
In general, studies on vegetarian and vegan adults showed multiple health benefits, such as a lower risk for obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. However, due to the restricted food selection, vegetarians need to pay special attention to potential critical nutrients, i.e., protein, iron, calcium vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, and n-3 fatty acids. Since energy and nutrient requirements are higher in relation to body weight during growth, infants, children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable and they are at a higher risk for nutrient inadequacies than adults (3).
A group of experts has raised concerns about vegetarian diet
It was at this month’s European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) annual conference that scientists spoke out about the hazards a vegetarian diet for children might pose.
In a news release, Dr. Mary Fewtrell, head of ESPGHAN’s nutrition committee, stated, “It is difficult to maintain a good and balanced vegetarian diet in newborn babies, and parents should recognize the significant repercussions of failing to follow the advice for supplementing the diet.” In the worst-case scenario, “the consequences may include irreparable cognitive impairment and death.”
Professor Myriam Van Winckel, a researcher at Ghent University in Belgium, has something similar to say about this.
In a statement to the press, Van Winckel noted that vegetarian youngsters are at the most risk of nutritional deficiencies because of their very limited diets. “However, there’s still a chance of disaster. Additionally, vegetarian women who breastfeed should be aware that their infants may develop vitamin B-12 insufficiency between the ages 2 and 12 months due to the mother’s body’s lack of reserves at delivery.”
Not just ESPGHAN officials are raising the alarm. Data collated from many studies of strict vegetarian preschoolers and school-age children were presented in a 2010 publication by the Canadian Pediatric Society.
There were concerns about the amount of protein and fiber, as well as the number of important amino acids; iron; zinc; calcium; fatty acids; vitamins B-12, D, A, and R; and riboflavin. Researchers also noted that “calorie-rich meals” may be needed to ensure “adequate development.” Children who follow a vegetarian diet should be regularly watched to ensure proper nutrition, growth, and energy levels are met.
In the most recent Belgium study, 38 lacto-ovo-vegetarian children and adolescents aged 6–17 years were examined. Data of 2837 omnivorous children from a study on physical education were used as references. Vegetarians´ total energy intake was below the references (up to 2648 kJ lower) at all ages. In general, physical and sexual development was within the normal range, but vegetarians´ skinfold thicknesses (triceps and subscapular) were lower and body weight of 10–17-year-old vegetarians was lower (−11 kg) than in omnivores. Vegetarians performed worse than omnivores on the standing long jump and the sit-up-test, and their heart recovery rate was also inferior (3).
Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.
In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is a vegetarian diet healthier?” and discussed what is meant by a healthy diet?
- Craig, Winston John. Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Nutr Clin Pract, 2010, 25, 613-620.
- Hemler, E.C., Hu, F.B. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: All Plant Foods Are Not Created Equal. Curr Atheroscler Rep, 2019, 21, 18.
- Schürmann, S., Kersting, M. & Alexy, U. Vegetarian diets in children: a systematic review. Eur J Nutr, 2017, 56, 1797–1817.
- Dinu, M., Pagliai, G. & Sofi, F. A Heart-Healthy Diet: Recent Insights and Practical Recommendations. Curr Cardiol Rep, 2017, 19, 95.