Vegetarians are people who opt to follow a diet that completely excludes meat and fish. Vegetarians eat fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy products but do not eat anything that contains ingredients made from animal carcasses. This means that a number of foods are excluded from their diet – including a lot of sweets and jellies because they contain gelatine, which is an animal product. They must also avoid certain food colourings which come from the shells of insects.
Vegetarians are not to be confused with vegans (who do not eat any dairy products, or honey, because honey is made by bees). They must also not be confused with pescetarians, who do not eat animal products, but do eat fish.
Why Do People Go Vegetarian?
People choose to go vegetarian for a variety of reasons. For some, the choice is one of ethics – they do not feel comfortable with the way that animals are treated in captivity, or the process of slaughtering them. For others, it is a financial choice since grains and vegetables are less expensive than meat. There are also some who follow a vegetarian diet for health reasons because vegetarians who eat whole foods and lots of vegetables are usually more likely to follow a healthful diet than a meat eater who is not educated in good nutrition.
Can the Vegetarian Diet Help You Lose Weight?
Following a vegetarian diet will most likely help you to lose weight, although this is not always true. It is possible to be vegetarian and live on a diet of junk food, and if you do this you will end up gaining weight – or at the very least losing muscle tone and gaining body fat.
However, if you follow a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables you will lose weight. It is incredibly hard to over-eat if your diet consists primarily of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is because these foods are rich in fiber and they are also full of water, so they are not calorie dense. Where a portion of something that is full of starchy carbohydrates or saturated fats could run into the hundreds of calories, vegetables tend to contain just tens of calories instead.
That’s not to say that fats are the enemy – even vegetarians need to consume some fats to remain healthy. There are some vitamins that are fat soluble, and if you do not eat fats then you will miss out on these. In addition, fats are essential for the production of certain hormones. Again, avoiding fats could lead to long-lasting negative health effects.
Vegetarians must take care to consume a varied diet to ensure that they take in both enough fat and enough protein. There is a common misconception that vegetarian diets tend to be deficient in protein. While it is true that vegetables don’t contain protein in the quantities that meat does, vegetarians can get all of the protein and amino acids that they need from pulses, nuts, grains and vegetables – assuming they eat a varied diet. The challenge is getting all of the different amino acids that are needed for health – there are very few vegetarian-friendly foods that are complete protein sources.
The vegetarian diet is a good way to force yourself to think about health and nutrition and to improve your lifestyle. You should lose weight while following a vegetarian diet and you will look younger, feel fitter and hopefully improve your general health too. Being vegetarian does not have to be time consuming, expensive or boring. There are great tasting, vegetarian friendly versions of almost every food.
Life as a Vegetarian
While it is true that it may take a while for you to learn what you can and cannot eat (and you may be surprised at the number of things that contain animal products, especially things that you otherwise would never expect to be non-vegetarian), you will eventually get the hang of it and learn which foods are good choices and which to avoid.
Going vegetarian is a lot easier than going vegan, and it offers most of the same benefits. If you are trying to change your diet for ethical reasons, then vegetarianism is a good first step and it will allow you to work towards other diets at a later date. On the other hand, if you are simply interested in affordable, low quality, healthy-by-default food options, then vegetarianism is a good end point too.
If going full vegetarian seems like too much for you today, try going meat free for one day a week. As you learn what sort of options are available to you, and get more confidence in your ability to make great tasting vegetarian meals, you may decide to eat meat less and less often.