Is a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet Right for You?

Tip Content Provided By: EXOS 

More people are seeking information on vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and inquiring if it is a good fit for them and would improve their health. The answer: It depends. Rather than changing your lifestyle to follow a plan or diet type someone else has created, it’s best to make tweaks to your current habits that bring you more energy and vitality. That being said, if you have been interested in trying a more plant based diet, here are some guidelines and things to think about. 

A vegan diet, by definition, eliminates all animal-based products including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and diary. Very strict vegans will also cut out honey and any supplements that contain animal products, such as fish oil. Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, and fish, but do consume dairy and eggs. Another trend is the pescatarian diet, which does not allow meat or poultry, but does include fish. You may also have heard of the term flexitarian, which is a diet plan that usually eats only plant-based food, but does include some meat from time to time. This is likely more similar to the Mediterranean diet, which has been extensively studied for its health benefits. Rather than getting caught up in the terminology, it’s a better idea to examine what is important to you and what you’re hoping to get out of the change. If you are looking to make a lifestyle shift from the perspective of animal rights, then a vegan diet is likely most fitting. If you’re interested in health benefits, than a flexitarian approach may be best while still being a very sustainable approach. 

Non-starchy vegetables should be the staple of the diet regardless of whether you eat vegan, flexitarian or even paleo. Research has clearly shown us that people who eat the most vegetables have the best health and longevity as they reduce the risk for most chronic diseases. After all, life isn’t just about quantity of years, but we want to ensure we have the quality of life we desire as well.  Soups, salads, smoothies and stir frys are great ways to add more vegetables to your diet. Aim to eat at least two to three different types at each meal for maximum benefit. 

The other important component is to make sure quality protein is included in the diet. One common mistake when switching away from meat is to use fake meat substitutes.  These are overly processed with chemicals and additives and should not be a regular part of any lifestyle.  Plant-based proteins are high in many nutrients and include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, sprouts and whole grains. An easy substitute is trying a bean or lentil pasta, available in the health area of many grocers. Rice and beans with vegetables, lentil and vegetable soup or tofu stir fry are some examples of easy plant-based meals you can try. 

If you’re interested in seeing how following a more plant-based diet affects you, try it out. Make sure the changes focus on more vegetables, beans, nuts and lentils. You will still want to limit processed foods and added sugars. A vegan cookie is not healthier than a regular one! Whatever choice you make for yourself, remember to prioritize sustainability. If you do not enjoy it or it is not realistic for you, be honest and find another approach. There may be more danger in stressing yourself out constantly worrying about your diet choices then in indulging in the foods you really want.