Q: Is there a risk to going vegetarian after 28 years of not? What about going vegan?
A: No doubt about it, going vegetarian is a smart move, as vegetarians have a reduced risk of chronic disease and are at much less risk for obesity. It’s never too late to switch over to a plant-based diet and begin to reap the phenomenal health benefits associated with this pattern of eating. According to the American Dietetic Association, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” The key here is to note the words “appropriately planned,” for eating the vegetarian way does take some homework.
Let’s begin by defining what a vegetarian is. There are actually many different types of vegetarians. The general definition of a vegetarian is a person who does not include meat, fish or fowl in their diet. A lactovegetarian includes dairy, a lactoovovegetarian includes dairy and eggs, and a vegan abstains from eating or using all animal products and is the strictest kind of vegetarian. Newer versions of vegetarianism have evolved including flexitarians, loosely defined as individuals who eat a mostly plant-based diet but may occasionally eat small amounts of meat, fish or chicken. Then there are pesco-vegetarians (such as myself) who eat a mostly plant-based diet and choose to include a small amount of fish in their diet.
Keep in mind that since vegan diets are the most restrictive, if you choose to follow that diet, you must plan your diet carefully to include adequate amounts of protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12 and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. As with all types of diets, eating a large variety of whole foods, grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds is the best strategy for obtaining all the nutrients required for good health. For more sound nutrition information on eating the vegetarian way, go to the Vegetarian Resource Group (a nutrition practice group of the American Dietetic Association).