There are several positive health effects of eating less meat – or of excluding it completely. Eating a vegetarian diet can improve your health as well as the environment. For example, those who stick to a diet with no meat or dairy have a lower risk of developing a range of different diseases, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and certain forms of cancer. However, it’s debatable what the word “vegetarian” actually means. There are several terms that have one meaning colloquially and a different meaning on paper.
What does the word “vegetarian” mean?
There are several definitions of the word. Most people who call themselves vegetarian mean that they don’t eat meat but consume other animal products, such as milk, eggs, and cheese. However, the word actually refers to a diet that is completely free from all animal products – what many people call vegan. The correct terminology for someone who does not eat meat but does eat eggs and milk products is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. “Lacto” here refers to milk, and “ovo” refers to eggs. It is therefore also possible to be ovo-vegetarian (you eat eggs but no dairy products) or lacto-vegetarian (you eat dairy products but not eggs). The common factor for all of these is that they exclude all forms of meat. A vegetarian diet then excludes, amongst other things: beef, pork, poultry, fish, and seafood. Those who sometimes eat a limited amount of meat are usually called flexitarians.
Vegetarian vs. vegan
So, if a vegetarian eats neither meat nor other animal products, what is the difference between vegetarian and vegan? According to the definition, vegans aren’t only be concerned with diet. They avoid all animal products in other contexts as well. A vegan then doesn’t use products such as leather shoes or down duvets.
Protein-rich vegetarian food
One of the initial concerns for many starting out on a vegetarian diet is that they will not get enough protein. The basic idea here is based on the equivalent of the MyPlate model, where protein usually comes from meat or fish. However, in most cases, this concern is entirely unjustified. Partly because as humans we don’t need large amounts of protein to function, and partly because there is also plenty of protein in vegetables, root vegetables, wholegrains and especially legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, and soya.
There are high amounts of protein in beans, lentils and nuts, but also in vegetables such as broccoli. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source. It can also be good to know that it is necessary to be aware of amino acids. The sources of protein that contain all the necessary amino acids are known as complete proteins. Some examples of plant-based complete proteins are:
People who eat dairy products and eggs can, of course, get complete proteins from these as well.
Nowadays there are also various meat substitutes to choose from. These often contain several key nutrients that would otherwise come from meat. They also often resemble meat in terms of texture, appearance and taste and come in chunks, strips, in ground form, balls, or fillets – just to name a few. These types of products offer a good alternative for people who still want to have the experience of meat.
Supplements for vegetarians and vegans
People who eat a well-rounded vegetarian diet will get everything they need. However, if you are a bit fussy about your food and perhaps prefer a limited diet, it might be a good idea to invest in special supplements. These can be purchased at pharmacies and other places. Many of them are designed specifically for vegetarians. An important vitamin to supplement is B12, which is only present in animal products such as offal, seafood and eggs. It may also be necessary to take supplements for vitamin B6, vitamin D, iodine, iron, and zinc, which are more common in animal products. Illnesses caused by deficiencies from a vegetarian diet are not uncommon, but can take a long time to manifest.