Two Truths and a Lie about Vegetarian Eating
Vegetarian diets have been around as long as there have been humans eating food, and there are so many reasons why someone would choose to follow a vegetarian eating pattern. As with anything, some of those reasons are valid and make sense and other reasons are more based in diet culture. It is important to consider the underlying reason you are making a dietary choice, particularly if that choice limits the availability of many important nutrients. Individuals may choose a vegetarian (or vegan) lifestyle due to religious beliefs, a desire to live more sustainably, beliefs regarding the ethical treatment of animals, or in an effort to achieve specific health outcomes. For a little fun, let’s play a game of True or False to think through some realities and myths around vegetarian diets!
It is possible to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and remain well-nourished.
This is completely true. Depending on whether some meat may occasionally be eaten (often called flexitarian), fish is consumed (pescatarian), dairy and/or eggs are included (lacto- and ovo-vegetarian), or no animal products at all are consumed (vegan), extra considerations need to be taken in order to remain well-nourished. For those eating no animal products at all, supplementation of certain micro-nutrients is needed.
People who are vegetarians need to eat certain combinations of foods to make “complete proteins.”
This is false. It used to be believed that since most non-animal foods are missing one or more amino acids that make them complete sources of protein it was necessary to eat certain combinations of those foods in the same meal in order to get all of the amino acids. More recent research has shown this to be untrue. Our bodies are so smart that, as long as all amino acids are being consumed each day, they can combine them and we can still remain well-nourished.
Following a vegetarian diet is going to make you healthier.
This one is tricky and less straightforward than the first two. As I said before, a vegetarian diet can be nourishing, but it isn’t necessarily better than an omnivorous diet. Meat and animal products can be an easy way for people to get in many key nutrients. For someone who likes meat, not eating it will feel like restriction and can lead to cravings or over-consumption of other foods. Because meat is generally so high in protein, it can help you feel full and satisfied for longer periods of time. If you don’t carefully plan non-animal protein sources you may find yourself feeling pretty hungry soon after eating a meal. The research is mixed as to whether or not a vegetarian or vegan diet may contribute positively to improvements in heart health, decreases in cholesterol, or improvements in other health markers. We do know, for sure, that there are other ways to address those health concerns so if a vegetarian diet isn’t your thing, you certainly don’t need to eat that way if you don’t want to!
It can be tricky to navigate a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are so many claims about meat or dairy alternatives being “healthier” choices, as well as “dangers” associated with consuming animal products. These claims can be rooted in diet culture and can create a lot of confusion. If you are considering a vegetarian or vegan diet and aren’t sure where to start or if it might be the right fit for you, we can help! Click here for more information about the dietitians in our practice or click here if you are ready to make an appointment today!