Vegetarianism is not a religion. People become vegetarians for several reasons, such as weight control, improved health, religion, taste preferences, or to oppose animal cruelty. There are several degrees of vegetarianism as well. If you are concerned about any of the above issues, there may be a vegetarian lifestyle to fit your individual needs.
You may become a "part-time" vegetarian simply by eating less meat. Most Americans consume more than enough animal protein to meet their nutritional needs. We could more than likely cut our consumption in half and still be well nourished. According to the American Dietetic Association's position papers, vegetarian diets are associated with reduced risk for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, colon cancer, lung cancer, and kidney disease. Seventh Day Adventists, a religious group whose food ways center on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, have a significantly lower mortality rate from cancer than the rest of the population, and are noted world wide for their longevity.
A semi-vegetarian substitutes white meats such as chicken and turkey breast for it's lower fat content, for red meats.
A Pesco vegetarian consumes fish as their main source of animal protein.
Ovo vegetarians consume eggs; lacto vegetarians consume dairy products; Ovolacto vegetarians consume both eggs and dairy.
The term "Vegan" applies to a strict diet containing no animal products. Some true vegans don't even wear animal products, such as leather and cosmetics containing animal fats. The more restrictive the diet, the more difficult it becomes to get the nutrients you need.
Vegetarians who plan their diets carefully can easily obtain all the nutrients they need to support good health throughout the lifespan, including athletes, pregnant & lactating women, and children. Protein usually is not the problem it was once thought to be in the vegetarian diet. Complete proteins are found in the animal products of the pesco vegetarian and the ovo/lacto vegetarian. Plant based proteins can provide all essential amino acids to the vegan, so long as the sources are varied. Not all plants contain the same amino acids. The vegan diet must contain plant foods that possess complementary proteins in order to receive a balanced distribution of the essential amino acids. The two most common plant foods that vegans can combine to achieve complementary proteins are legumes (nuts, beans, chick-peas) and grains (wheat, corn, rice, oats). Other deficiencies common with the vegan diet are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, as they are found primarily in animal products. Fortified cereals and soy milk should be included, as well as some vitamin supplementation. Iron and other minerals found in vegetables are not as easily absorbed due to the oxalates that naturally occur in plants. Special attention should be given to dietary practices that promote absorption of minerals.
Choosing to adopt a vegetarian diet is up to the individual and represents a significant change in dietary habits. As with all diet plans, do your research and consult with your health care provider. For more information, visit the Vegetarian Resource Group at www.vrg.org. Cooking vegetarian meals is less complicated with a guide. Easy Veggie Meal Plans (bottom of web page) is a great cookbook for beginners as well as the novice vegetarian. To order, Click Here!