It’s a simple fact: No diet plan is perfect. All chocolate, all the time? Well, there are some advantages to that, but also some obvious downsides. The same is true for a plant-based meal plan. Even though vegetarian diets aren’t ideal for everyone, their major health benefits can be hard to ignore. Let’s explore some of the main pros and cons that come with vegetarianism.
In Support of Plant Based Diets
There are Plenty of Great Meatless Proteins.
Vegetarians still have high-quality protein options like eggs, yogurt, milk and cheese. And even vegans, who eschew animal products altogether, can eat soy and quinoa that provide complete proteins with all essential amino acids. Additionally, plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are a healthy choice because they contain dietary fiber and are low in saturated fat.
It’s Easy to Get Other Vitamins and Minerals.
The vitamins and minerals present in fruits and vegetables play important roles in preventing health conditions including cancer, bone loss, kidney stones, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. Even though it’s harder to absorb iron from plant-based foods, there are plenty of sources of it including beans, lentils, spinach, tofu and dark chocolate. Vitamin B12 is available in meatless, animal-based, proteins like dairy products and eggs, and it’s also sold as a dietary supplement.
Vegetarian Dishes are Tasty and Healthy.
You might not think of plant-based foods like brussels sprouts or brown rice as being especially delicious, but with the right seasonings and preparation methods, they can offer a surprising amount of flavour. The health benefits are also undeniable: vegetarians and vegans tend to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol, and more dietary fiber, which contribute to them having lower risks of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than the average meat eater.
Challenges to Vegetarianism
You’re Missing Out on High-Quality Protein.
Meats and other animal-based foods are some of the highest-quality sources of protein available to humans. Animal-based proteins are complete proteins that have all essential amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair. So while vegetarian diets typically include a wide range of protein sources, vegan diets may fall short on protein without the careful planning of complementary proteins.
It’s Tough to Get B12 and Iron.
Red meat may be high in saturated fat, but it’s also one of the best dietary sources of iron and vitamin B12. Iron and B12 are important for transporting oxygen throughout the body, producing energy, and maintaining a healthy nervous and digestive system. Iron deficiency is the world’s leading nutrition disorder, and vegans and vegetarians are at an increased risk for this condition. While only about 5 percent of meat eaters are B12-deficient, closer to 70 percent of vegetarians and more than 80 percent of vegans show signs of deficiency.
Meat Tastes Good.
A lot of vegetarians and vegans have chosen a plant-based diet for ethical or health reasons rather than because they don’t like the taste of meat. This is one of the reasons why meat substitutes like tempeh and seitan are so popular at vegetarian restaurants. Since meat is a very convenient and widespread feature of most restaurant menus, it can often be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to find substantial entrees that suit their diet.
The Take Away.
So are plant-based diets better? That depends. Well balanced, varied vegetarian and vegan meals have nutritional benefits that may help you live to a ripe old age with relatively few health problems, but it is also possible to follow a “plant-based diet” that is largely junk food. The bottom line is that a variety of nutrients from whole foods will help protect your health, whether those nutrients are sourced from meat, fish, or entirely plant-based goodies.