I am sure that some of you guys are considering vegetarianism as a means to lose weight. And it is not surprising since, in addition to weight loss, studies have shown that the diet is also good for your heart and may help to prevent certain types of cancers.
Before starting any endeavor though, it pays to have some facts. Although I am not a vegetarian, here are some things that I learned through my research.
There are several types of vegetarians. First there is the vegetarian who adheres to a strict plant-based diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grain. A vegan, whom I consider the hard-core vegetarian, is a vegetarian who doesn't eat meat or seafood or use products tested on or derived from animals, such as honey, eggs or any type of dairy products.
A lacto-vegetarianism diet, however, allows for dairy products but does not include eggs, while the ovo-vegetarianism diet is just the opposite. Their diet allows for eggs, but not milk. If you decide to keep eggs and milk in your diet, than you would be considered a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
You can also become a semi-vegetarian. This type of diet allows for fish and some poultry. However, many vegetarians do not consider this a type of vegetarianism.
If you plan on becoming the type of vegetarian who gives up all forms of meat and do not plan your diet well, you run the risk of having some nutritional deficiencies. Although plant-based diets are more natural, they do not supply all of your nutritional needs. To avoid deficiencies, the following are a list of nutritional sources that you need to pay close attention to.
Protein intake is typically lower for vegetarians. This is not a problem for lacto and ovo vegetarians, but for strict vegetarians or vegans, the essential amino acids may be lacking in their diet. Food sources such as soy, hempseed, and buckwheat provide a complete serving of the eight essential amino acids. However, by combining foods such as brown rice and beans, the amino acids your body needs can also be obtained.
Iron in your diet typically comes from meat sources. Vegetarian diets usually have enough, but the bioavailability is lower, which means it absorption may not be as great. That being said, there are a wide variety of plant-based foods that are rich in iron including: oatmeal, raisins, soybean, black beans, cashews, chickpeas and whole-wheat bread.
When it comes to having enough Vitamin B12, lacto-ovo vegetarians can obtain theirs from dairy products and eggs. For the strictly plant based vegetarians, dietary supplements will be necessary unless you choose to consume fortified foods. This may not be a big concern for many though. An article in Vegetarian Nutrition reports that the body can preserve stores of the vitamin for up to 30 years without needing for its supplies to be replenished.
Fatty acids play a critical role in brain function and other body functions. An excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids are fish. Instead of fish, many vegetarians prefer to supplement with sources such as flaxseed, pumpkin seed and/or canola oil. These supply the alpha-linolenic acid, but lack the necessary eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. However, some companies have been marketing seaweed extracts that contain these acids. Whole seedweed is not suggested because of their high iodine levels.
Calcium deficiency, though not common, can occur if you do not consume enough green leafy vegetables.
The lack of Vitamin D is mentioned because the general population as a whole does not get enough of it. Your Vitamin D needs can be met easily with soy milk or regular milk, and it also can be met with sensible exposure to the sun.
So after reading this and you still think vegetarianism is right for you, then I suggest you make the conversion gradually. Weening yourself off of meat may not me easy. But if you take incremental steps towards your goal, your conversion to a plant-base diet will become more easily achieved.
And one last point. Do not think that by just becoming a vegetarian that you'll automatically start losing weight. I know of several people who are vegetarians and they are all overweight. Take this as a reminder that this diet does not give you a license to eat all you want. This is because with any weight loss diet you choose, the bottom line has to do with the amount of calories you consume. Period.