Vegetarians are nothing new in our modern society. In contrast to the vegan trend, vegetarianism has been around for decades. Often, the focus of vegetarian nutrition is on ethics, ecological aspects and also health. So, it's about animal welfare, CO₂ emissions but also the conviction that it's healthier not to eat fish and meat. But is this really the case? Do people live healthier lives as vegetarians? This blog article takes a closer look at this question.
The definition of vegetarianism
The classic definition of vegetarianism states that in this diet one does not eat products from dead animals: fish, meat but also gelatine and collagen powder (skin, tissue, and bones from dead animals) are therefore taboo in the vegetarian diet. However, eggs and dairy products and honey, which are produced from living animals, are allowed.
Nowadays, there are several types of vegetarianism that deviate somewhat from the classic vegetarian diet: pescetarians, ovo-vegetarians, ovo-lacto-vegetarians and pollo-vegetarians are the best-known special types of vegetarian diet in this country:
- So-called pescetarians eat fish & seafood (and also eggs, dairy products and honey) but no meat.
- Ovo-vegetarians eat like classic vegetarians, but additionally avoid any dairy products, so the only animal products left are eggs and honey.
- A sub-form of the ovo-vegetarian is the ovo-lacto-vegetarian, who avoids all animal products (including honey) with the exception of eggs. The consumption of eggs is also the only difference to a completely vegan diet, which does not include any animal foods.
- The last known special form of vegetarian diet is practised by pollo-vegetarians: In this milder form, only red meat is avoided. Fish, seafood and white meat such as chicken and everything else in the classic vegetarian form is eaten.
How healthy is the vegetarian diet?
First, it should be stressed that nutrition is simply very individual, and it depends on the personal microbiome (composition of microorganisms in the intestine) but also strongly on the genetic origin whether one can live healthily with special diets. Someone with Scandinavian roots, the typical “Viking type” will in most cases have more difficulties with a vegetarian diet than someone from India or countries close to the equator. There, the body has adapted to more vegetables and fibre, whereas the Nordic type does better with fish and meat but not too much fibre. A healthy intestine reacts to things that are not made for its microbiome and genetics: flatulence, malaise, inflammation of the oral mucosa or abdominal pain, but also lack of energy are typical signs that the body needs other nutrients.
For some people, a vegetarian diet can be beneficial to their health, but for others it is not, provided certain points are considered.
Those who want to follow a vegetarian diet in this country should above all be aware that deficiency symptoms can be provoked without animal foods: Iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies but also the lack of sufficient omega 3 fatty acids and essential amino acids can have serious health consequences.
Nutrients Vegetarians — these are the challenges of a vegetarian diet
As mentioned earlier, there are some challenges for people who eat a vegetarian diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in some plant foods, but in lower bioavailability and much smaller amounts. Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency among vegetarians — but vitamin B12 is also an important issue. Essential amino acids are also much less present in plant foods; they are found in greater quantities in meat and fish. However, organic eggs and sheep's and goat's milk products can be a good source for vegetarians. Advocates of vegetarian diets often argue that wheat bran is also high in B12 and iron, but this ignores the fact that it cannot be absorbed in all because grains contain enzyme-inhibiting substances that prevent the absorption of such micronutrients.
Vegetarians should regularly check their blood values with a doctor and keep an eye on the two micronutrients mentioned above. Should a deficiency develop, substitution of the substances is discussed with the doctor.
Vegetarian diet: 4 tips to stay healthy as a vegetarian
It is possible to live healthily without fish and meat in your diet, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. These following tips will help to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet:
1. The right protein intake.
The complete amino acid profile relevant to us humans must be covered. To achieve this goal, foods such as quinoa, gluten-free porridge, buckwheat, and rice as well as various nuts and nut flours should be regularly included in the diet. For vegetarians, organic eggs and — provided the intestines are healthy — goat's and sheep's milk cheeses and their curd and yoghurt still belong.
Meanwhile, there are also occasional products such as sunflower mince, which is made from sunflower seed protein (ground) and contains no additives or soya and has a high-protein content. If the intestines are intact, chickpeas or other pulses that have been soaked the day before and rinsed well afterwards can also be used. See the article on anti-nutrients for more information on what to look for. If the hormone balance is in equilibrium, tempeh (fermented soy product) can also be used from time to time. Otherwise, soy is not recommended.
2. Consume natural foods.
With an increased plant-based diet, there is often a danger of resorting to substitute products that belong to industrially processed foods and contain many critical ingredients. Supermarkets are increasingly offering plant-based products such as burger patties, steak, mince, etc.
However, these are mostly based on soy, seitan (=gluten) or composed with numerous additives and cheap, hydrogenated vegetable fats, which in any case does not correspond to the intended nutrient profile and is more harmful than beneficial to health. However, as described in the previous tip, there are some alternatives that are harmless to health. Vegetarians should eat many vegetables and unprocessed, natural foods.
3. Regularly check blood values with your doctor.
With a vegetarian diet, blood values should be checked approximately every three to six months, as explained above.
4. Consider genetics, goals, and circumstances.
As mentioned above, there is also a group of people who do well dieting without meat and fish. It can be assumed that these people are well adapted to these foods due to their genetic background. People with blood group A are often among these people, but there are exceptions here too.
Can low-carb also be eaten as a vegetarian?
People often ask whether it is possible to eat a vegetarian low-carb (ketogenic) diet.
In short: Yes, it is possible, but for ovo-vegetarians and ovo-lacto-vegetarians it will be difficult to find enough healthy foods, especially those containing protein, but the classic vegetarian diet can also do with fewer carbohydrates.
Instead, more eggs, good fats and dairy products are then consumed. It should be noted, however, that foods made from cow's milk are less recommendable and one should rather stick to sheep's and goat's milk products. Cow's milk is one of the most common food allergens and can promote leaky gut syndrome.
Conclusion on the vegetarian diet
Considering some aspects, a vegetarian diet can be healthy. One should stick to natural organic foods, make sure to get enough quality protein sources like goat cheese, eggs and quinoa, and get blood levels checked regularly.