Is it bad to be vegetarian?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is it bad to be vegetarian?” and will discuss some risks of being a vegetarian.

Is it bad to be vegetarian?

Not really, it is more about your beliefs than it is about good and bad. The health benefits of vegetarianism are undeniable. A plant-based diet has regularly been shown to be healthier and thinner than a meat-based diet, according to studies. If that’s not enough, they also have a decreased chance of heart disease and some malignancies, as well as type 2 diabetes.

Some vegetarians, or vegans, may not be in good health, though. In the end, it’s what you put on your plate that matters. Generally speaking, plant-based diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, although this isn’t always true. As an alternative to meat, you may eat a large portion of pasta or bread.

Therefore, when a vegetarian diet is appropriately planned and includes fortified foods, it can be nutritionally adequate for adults and children and can promote health and lower the risk of major chronic diseases. 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 (1).

Vegetarians should avoid highly processed meals, such as refined carbohydrates, which may wreak havoc on the health advantages of being meat-free if consumed daily. Eating a vegan diet might put you at a greater risk of disease than a well-balanced diet that includes meat and dairy.

Downsides to eating a plant-based diet

Stroke risk

More than 48,000 men and women without a history of heart disease or stroke were studied by British researchers for roughly 18 years. In comparison to meat-eaters, vegetarians had a 13% reduced chance of developing heart disease. In contrast, meat-eaters had a 20% increased risk of stroke. This meant that every 1,000 persons had an additional three strokes during ten years.

The reason for such differences is not certain, but could be partly attributed to lower concentrations of low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C; or non-HDL-C concentrations as a surrogate) associated with meat free diets. Previous meta-analyses of prospective studies showed that lower concentrations of non-HDL-C or LDL-C were associated with lower risks of ischaemic heart disease (2).

Because the research was an observational study, there was no evidence of causation. The study was conducted in the United Kingdom, where vegetarianism is likely to be more prevalent than in other countries. A vegetarian diet may not lessen the risk of stroke for everyone, and more research is needed.

Brain health

Another scientist has warned that a “choline crisis” might result from the rise in vegetarianism. Choline is an essential ingredient for a variety of bodily processes, including the functioning of the brain. A deficiency in the human body means that meat and poultry are the best sources.

Choline is the primary component of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter used primarily by the parasympathetic nervous system and at neuromuscular junctions and preganglionic neurons. Cytosolic choline levels in the brain, whether deficient or in excess, have been linked to depression and anxiety (3). 

Vitamin B12 is also an important vitamin for brain health. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) plays a major role in the normal functioning of the brain and the nervous system. Vitamin B12 deficiency results in severe symptoms of depression, suicidal behaviors, cognitive decline, irritability, mania and psychosis, thus affecting the health and well-being of individuals. Indeed, vitamin B12 deficiency is found in up to one-third of depressed patients and higher vitamin B12 levels are associated with better treatment outcomes. In addition, low vitamin B12 increases the risk of cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and is linked to a five-fold increase in the rate of brain atrophy (3).

Hair loss

So, does becoming meat-free cause hair loss? According to a recent study, a poor diet that lacks protein may be a contributing factor. Iron, vitamin B, and zinc—all of which are necessary for healthy hair growth—can be found in meat. Iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency and is a well-known cause of hair loss. Hair follicle matrix cells are some of the most rapidly dividing cells in the body, and iron deficiency may contribute to hair loss via its role as a cofactor for ribonucleotide reductase, the rate-limiting enzyme for DNA synthesis. Zink is an essential component of numerous metalloenzymes important in protein synthesis and cell division and its deficiency may cause hair loss. Nutritional deficiency may impact both hair structure and hair growth (4).

Besides, the lack of vitamin B7, or biotin, which is found in liver, egg yolks, soy beans, fish, and whole grains, is also a possible cause of hair loss (3).

Mood problems

Vegetarian and vegan diets have been linked to an increased risk of depression. These findings are contradictory. Several studies have concluded that becoming vegetarian enhances one’s mood, whereas others have found the reverse effect. The use of a vegetarian diet was shown to increase the risk of depression in a study and was negatively related to risk of developing postpartum depression in another study. However, one thing could be concluded: the higher intake of oil fish during pregnancy was a key factor by lowering this risk. N-3 fatty acids, specifically Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) , vitamin B12 and folate, iron, zinc, calcium, selenium and tryptophan have been linked with major depressive symptoms in nutrient depleted mothers (5).

Vegans exhibited lower levels of anxiety and stress than meat-eaters in another study, which compared vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores. This can be related to the deficiency in vitamin B, which could influence memory function, cognitive impairment and dementia. In particular, vitamins B1, B3, B6, B9 and B12 are essential for neuronal function and deficiencies have been linked to depression (3).

Other studies have shown that vegetarians are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, although on average, these issues were present before they began eating a vegetarian diet. As a result, the researchers stress that they discovered no relationship between the two conditions.

The best way to guarantee that your vegetarian diet is healthy is to avoid the most frequent errors people make.

Keep it balanced

The key to a healthy diet is moderation. It’s usually a good idea to consume as much fresh, natural food as possible, and to avoid as much processed food as you can.

Don’t forget the protein

It’s not enough to just eliminate meat from your diet to become a vegetarian. A plant-based protein source like tofu, tempeh, or lentils may be substituted for meat-based protein in recipes. There are so many unexpected sources of plant-based protein that it is possible to achieve your daily protein requirements without eating any meat.

Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.

Is it healthy to be vegetarian while pregnant?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is it bad to be vegetarian?” and discussed some risks of being a vegetarian.

References

  1. Tong, Tammy YN, et al. Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. bmj, 2019, 366.
  2. Craig, Winston John. Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Nutr Clin Pract, 2010, 25, 613-620.
  3. Mikkelsen, Kathleen, Lily Stojanovska, and Vasso Apostolopoulos. The effects of vitamin B in depression. Curr med chem, 2016, 23, 4317-4337.
  4. Guo, Emily L., and Rajani Katta. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatol pract concept, 2017, 7, 1.
  5. Hogg-Kollars, Sabine, Denise Mortimore, and Sarah Snow. Nutrition health issues in self-reported postpartum depression. Gastroenterol Hepatol bed bench, 2011, 4, 120.