Healthy living as a vegetarian
More and more people are opting for a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians don’t eat meat and fish — and in some cases, they avoid other animal products as well. Many vegetarians want to make their diet healthy and balanced. The issue of animal welfare also often plays a role in the move from eating meat to becoming vegetarian. Vegetarians mainly eat plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains, giving them an excellent basis for supporting their own health.1 A healthy vegetarian diet can also support the supply of nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc and protein, which we otherwise absorb via meat.
What types of vegetarian diets are there?
A diet without meat can be interpreted in many different ways. In addition to the classic vegetarian, there are lacto- and ovo-lacto-vegetarians, pescetarians, vegans and flexitarians. They all, more or less avoid meat, and instead fill their cupboards with a variety of other foods. Eating vegetarian food does not necessarily mean going without, but rather embracing flexibility and diversity. The right choice for healthy food is ultimately up to you. Try different adjustments to your diet until you find the diet that makes you feel good.
Lacto and ovo-lacto vegetarianism
These two types of vegetarian diet are closely related. While lacto-vegetarians supplement plant-based food with honey, milk and other dairy products including cheese, ovo-lacto vegetarians can eat all of the above plus eggs. Lacto and ovo-lacto-vegetarianism are intermediate stages of vegan and vegetarian nutrition. As neither fish nor meat are on the menu, these two forms of nutrition should likewise be rounded off with a balanced diet.
For pescatarians, going without meat does not mean going without fish. Like flexitarians, pescetarians appreciate the flexibility in their diet, which may consist of fish and seafood as well as plant-based nutrition. By eating vegetarian food that is supplemented by fish, pescatarians can also ensure they give their bodies enough protein.2 If you want to be vegetarian and have a balanced diet, pescatarianism can therefore be a good choice.
The vegan diet is characterised by a complete avoidance of all animal products. Alongside stopping all consumption of meat, this also means no more dairy products, eggs or fish. Other food ingredients, such as animal fats, are also removed from the vegan diet.
The strictest form of veganism is called fruitarianism. A fruitarian lives off berries, nuts, seeds and fruits which can be harvested without killing the mother plant.
If you eat a vegan diet, you should consider that a nutrient deficiency may occur, as certain meat sources are omitted — for example, protein sources. In order to supply the body with proteins, vegans can use nuts, pulses, cereals and other nutritious foods.2 Supplements can also enhance a vegan diet.
Flexitarians—also known as flexible vegetarians or semi-vegetarians—eat more vegetarian food, but do not completely dispense with animal products such as meat, fish or dairy products. Being flexible in the choice of food is the focus of this diet. From reduced meat consumption to the abandonment of certain animal products such as milk or cheese, every flexitarian can find an individualised solution for their own healthy diet.
The benefits of vegetarian nutrition
People who eat vegetarian food can benefit from their diet and support their body and their own health. Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet3 can have an effect on blood pressure and minimise the risk of becoming overweight or developing diabetes4. Vegetarians also suffer from heart disease less often than people who do not eat vegetarian food.4
Due to their predominantly plant-based diet, vegetarians also increasingly absorb secondary plant metabolites which are involved in a variety of metabolic processes in the body.5 Secondary plant metabolites are also said to have neurological, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.5
Which foods belong to a healthy vegetarian diet?
We know how to adequately meet our nutrient needs with a meat-free diet. Those who want to eat healthy vegetarian food and benefit from their diet should listen to their own body. In this way, a possible nutrient deficiency and associated deficiency symptoms can be quickly counteracted. In view of important nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc and protein, vegetarian food should always be balanced.6
Intake of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is present in a form available to humans almost exclusively in animal food sources. However, vegetarians should also take vitamin B12, which contributes to a normal energy metabolism, normal functioning of the nervous system and normal functioning of the immune system, found amongst other things:
• Eggs and dairy products are suppliers of vitamin B12 and perfectly compliment a vegetarian diet.7
• Pescetarians can also eat fish and seafood.7
Iron contributes to normal cognitive function, normal energy metabolism and normal oxygen transport in the body. Accordingly, iron should be an integral part of a balanced vegetarian diet.
There are plenty of vegetarian foods that contain iron, for example8:
• Whole wheat bread, cereals, pasta, quinoa and oatmeal
• Cooked spinach and boiled mushrooms
• Legumes, such as soybeans and lentils
Foods containing zinc
Zinc contributes to a normal fatty acid metabolism, a normal macronutrient metabolism, and to the maintenance of normal bones, hair, nails and skin. In order to be able to benefit from the health-promoting effects of zinc as a vegetarian, various vegetarian foods are suitable9:
• Plant-based zinc sources: nuts such as cashews and pecan nuts, wheat or rye sprouts
• Animal-based zinc sources: cheese, milk and eggs
Compensating for a lack of protein
Proteins help increase and maintain muscle mass and normal bones. As animal protein sources are eliminated, it is all the more important to obtain proteins specifically from vegetarian foods.
The following are considered to be particularly high vegetarian protein sources:
• Dairy products and eggs
• Legumes: soya, lentils and peas
• Cereal products: bread
Things we would like to share as you embark upon a vegetarian diet
Vegetarian, flexitarian or pescetarian? — If you decide to live a vegetarian life, you should make sure that your diet is always healthy and balanced and that you consume all the nutrients your body needs. Why not try out different recipes with nutritious vegetarian foods and discover the best approach for you and your family.