You may be considering turning vegetarian for a number of reasons – perhaps the moral and ethical concerns of eating meat trouble you, or you have been convinced that vegetarianism is what you can do to mitigate climate change. It may even be the first step towards veganism for you. No matter what the reason, turning vegetarian can involves a significant change in the way you eat and live, and thus, it is important for you to make an informed decision.
Vegetarianism involves eating only plant and plant-based products, though derivatives from animals, such as milk, butter, etc. may also be consumed. Many consider even eggs as a vegetarian product today. For a long time, vegetarian meals were seen as the product of culture or poverty, as it was believed that a truly balanced and nutritional diet needs to have a meat component in it. However, many studies in recent decades have shown that not only is vegetarianism just as healthy, but may, in fact, provide benefits that a non-vegetarian diet does not. Compared to their non-veg counterparts, vegetarians tend to consume more vitamins and minerals, less cholesterol and fat. Lower body weight, healthier cholesterol levels, and even lower risk of developing cancer are some prime benefits that have been associated with a vegetarian diet. Reduced risk for hypertension, stronger hearts, and long life expectancy have been some other major benefits. Economic benefits have also been noted – compared to high-quality meats, good quality vegetarian options tend to be cheaper and more easily accessible.
All of this, combined with the ethical and economic incentives, makes vegetarianism a tempting lifestyle choice. But any change has to be undertaken with caution – vegetarians may face lower levels of critical elements such as iron and calcium, usually obtained from meat and milk, which can increase their vulnerability to various health conditions.
However, such risks do not necessarily outweigh the benefits, and can easily be mitigated through proper planning. For this, the first thing one needs to recognize is the fact that the shift to vegetarianism cannot happen overnight. Such a drastic change can negatively impact our digestive system. A planned, gradual shift is thus required, one which slowly replaces meat items with comparable vegetarian items. Comparable here means those which provide the same type and amount of nutrients your previous diet did (or adds to it) so that you do not face any nutritional deficiencies.
It may also be best to talk to your doctor about such a change beforehand, especially if you have some preexisting medical condition which may be affected by changes in your diet. Expert (dietitian) help can also help you ensure that you do make a shift to a balanced, more nutritious and healthy diet.
Like all major lifestyle changes, switching your dietary habits can be a major challenge. However, when shifting to vegetarianism, this change can bring new health benefits and moral comfort. The key lies with making the change gradually, and smartly, so as to ensure that this shift actually provides you with benefits.