Health Tips: Different Types Of Vegetarian Diets

The types of vegetarian diets are as diverse as the reasons to embrace this lifestyle. This overview explains how and why individuals go veggie or vegan and explains the benefits.

Many teens and adults have made the lifestyle choice to become vegetarians. The following overview of the rationale behind these food preferences and the impact such a diet can have on health and longevity will not only assist you in making an informed choice for yourself but also in respecting the alternative dining habits of family members and friends.

The blanket term "vegetarian" actually embraces a variety of approaches to food. Although we normally think of it as the avoidance of anything containing meat, there are a lot of people who use this label simply to declare that they don't eat red meat. Shellfish, chicken, and pork still make regular appearances on their plates and are touted as doing far less damage to arteries and cholesterol levels than a thick New York steak or a hamburger. These people are better named semi-vegetarians since they have not completely eliminated meats from their daily meals.

At the opposite end of the vegetarian spectrum are "vegans," who radically disavow any foods that are not derived from natural plant sources and grains. Vegans even go so far as to boycott dishes that contain broth derived from chicken stock on the argument that it originally came from a chicken.



The grouping in-between is comprised of lacto-vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, and lacto-ovo vegetarians. Lacto-vegetarians are accepting of dairy products in their meals but will not eat any meat or eggs. Ovo-vegetarians do eat eggs, while the lacto-ovo combination will plan their menus around a combination of both dairy and egg products.

The choice to change one's eating habits falls into multiple categories as well.

The first is one based on a desire to lead a healthier life predicated on the consumption of more vegetables, fruit and whole grains. The medical evidence supporting the findings that such foods are low in fat, rich in fiber and less harmful to cardiovascular and colon health also go hand in hand with the desire to reach and maintain one's ideal weight. This dietary change can either be initiated by the individual or upon the recommendation of a family physician.

People also become vegetarians as a consequence of economics. By cutting down on the purchase of meat, the savings reflected in their grocery bills allow them to put the money to other uses that they have deemed to be more important. They may or may not return to their prior purchasing and eating habits after the financial goal is reached, depending on how long this new lifestyle is in effect and how well their bodies have adjusted to the change in intake.

Social causes play a big part in switching to a meatless diet, especially as they relate to one's sensitivity to environmental issues, dwindling resources and perceptions about cruelty to farm-bred animals. This is one of the most common reasons that teens and tweens suddenly declare to the rest of the family that they don't want to eat meat anymore. This is coupled with the peer pressure to do exactly what all of their friends are doing and/or to exert their independence in a defiant and yet relatively harmless manner. While it may just be a phase that will pass as quickly as it came, parents need to make sure that their offspring are getting the right amount of vitamins, nutrients and minerals while their bodies are still growing and developing. There is not only a lot of literature available on the market and the Internet that parents and their kids can read about together but valuable recommendations as well from your family doctor on how to maximize the benefits of the remaining food groups that a child will be choosing from.

Religion beliefs play a part in the vegetarian lifestyle, too, particularly as it relates to cultural mores, respect for all living creatures, and the desire to lead as spiritual an existence as possible. Because these values are generally passed down from generation to generation, the most critical time occurs in the infant and toddler stages where nutritional deficiencies are the most likely to occur. Since the quantity of fruits, grains and vegetables needed to maintain adequate nutrition can be too bulky for tiny stomachs to process, vitamin supplements may be required.

It also goes without saying that anyone contemplating switching to an all vegetarian diet should first consult a physician and be apprised of the proper food sources that will address the human body's need for Vitamin B-12, calcium, Vitamin D, high protein, and minerals such as zinc and iron. Prospective vegetarians will want to pay a visit as well to the cookbook section of their local bookstore where healthy and creative recipes can be found which will make each meal a celebration of life as opposed to a so-so substitute for what everyone else is eating.

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