According to the Roy Morgan Research, between 2012 and 2016, the number of Australian adults whose diet is all or almost all vegetarian has risen from 1.7 million people to almost 2.1 million (11.2% of the population) (Roy Morgan Research, 2016, para 1). Is the vegetarian diet a new fad? Let’s have a closer look. The Oxford dictionary defines vegetarianism as the practice of not eating meat or fish, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com). The Better Health Channel website defines different types of vegetarians – from lacto-ovo-vegetarians who do not eat any meat and seafood, but include dairy and eggs, to Lacto-vegetarians who avoid meat, seafood, and eggs, but include dairy foods, to vegans who exclude all products which are derived from animals (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/). There are also many different reasons why people decide to follow a vegetarian diet. Some people believe that it is better for the environment, others don’t want to contribute to animal suffering, while others go vegetarian for a health reason. But is vegetarianism a healthy diet? It depends. Let’s say you have a big portion of chips and a milkshake at McDonald’s for lunch. While this would classify as vegetarian it is surely not healthy. If however you opt for whole foods and plant-based meals than the answer is YES.
According to The Better Health Chanel, a well planned and well balanced vegetarian diet is associated with lots of health benefits, such as reduced risk of chronic diseases, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and some types of cancer. Vegetarians also have lower rates of illness and death from a number of degenerative diseases ( https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au)Why do you ask?A well-balanced vegetarian diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals. It is also low in saturated fat and processed sugar. In fact, the vegetarian diet perfectly reflects the dietary recommendations from the current Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au)As you see, a vegetarian diet, like any other healthy diet, needs to be well planned and balanced. We need to ensure that our dietary requirements are met. It is understandable that people are often concerned that they won’t get enough protein and vitamins such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12 on the meat-free diet. But these beliefs are long outdated. There are plenty of ways to get your protein and vitamins from plants. As seen in the guide above, The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating now includes plant-derived foods as an alternative to animal-derived foods.
Protein. The best source of plant-based protein are legumes such as lentils, beans and chickpeas. Whole grains such as brown and wild rice, quinoa and buckwheat are another excellent source of protein. Nuts and seeds will provide you with protein plus they will add healthy unsaturated fats to your diet.
Vitamin B12. Whitney and Rolfes (2017) write that vitamin B12 is only found in animal products. If you cut out all animal derived products you should take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid deficiency.
Iron. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, dried fruit, and legumes are all good sources of iron. According to McEvoy, Tempel, Woodside (2012) you also have to eat food rich in vitamin C to ensure that iron is absorbed by your body.So as you can see the vegetarian diet is not a fad. But like with any other diet it needs to be well planned. Follow the Australian Guide To Healthy Eating to make sure that you consume a variety of foods and get adequate nutrients and an appropriate amount of energy.One final note. Go at your own pace – if you are interested in becoming a vegetarian but not sure you can do it, start by joining the Meatless Monday movement. Add more fruit and vegetables to all your meals. Reduce your meat consumption and cut out red meat. To become a vegetarian is a journey, but it is a wonderful journey which is deliciously fun!
Roy Morgan Research (2016) The slow but steady rise of vegetarianism in Australia. Retrieved from http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/vegetarianisms-slow-but-steady-rise-in-australia-201608151105
English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/vegetarianism
Better Health Channel. Vegetarian and vegan eating. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/vegetarian-and-vegan-eating
Better Health Channel. Health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/vegetarian-and-vegan-eating
Eatforhealth.gov.au Australian Guide To Healthy Eating Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating
McEvoy C.T., Temple N., and Woodside J.V. (2012) Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review, Public Health Nutrition, 2287-2294, DOI: 10.1017/S1368980012000936
Whitney W., Rolfes S.R., Crowe T., Cameron-Smith D., Walsh A., (2017) Understanding Nutrition . Cengage Learning Australia Pty Limited.