You know what, scratch that. Mondays are bad enough as it is. Let’s not get too lofty with our goals for this mundane day (mundane…Monday…coincidence? I think not). Plant-based diets have been gaining a lot of attention these days as the public health focus has shifted from prevention of nutrient deficiency to prevention of chronic and degenerative disease. According to research studies, health benefits of a vegetarian diet include lower rates of Cardiovascular disease, Cancer, Hypertension, Obesity, and Diabetes (ADA, 2009). But not all plant-based diets are created equally. There are different degrees of vegetarian diets and therefore, the benefits of each one differ. Regardless, a diet low in saturated fat and animal products will produce lasting health benefits. Results of several large studies show that health benefits of semi-vegetarianism (red-meat avoiders) are often intermediate between nonvegetarianism and veganism. When compared to red meat eaters, semi-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans, indicators such as weight gain, total and LDL cholesterol concentrations, mortality from ischemic heart disease, and blood pressure were most ideal among vegan eaters. Vegetarian and semi-vegetarian eaters were next best, followed by red meat eaters. (Most ideal= less weight gain, lower total and LDL cholesterol concentrations, lower mortality from ischemic heart disease, and lower blood pressure) (Rosell 2006, Appleby 1999, and Key 1999). This means that there are still benefits, whether you just avoid red-meat or you are a strict vegan.
Let’s go over the different types of vegetarian diets out there.
Lacto- means dairy and ovo- means egg. This diet includes dairy and eggs but avoids all meats, including poultry and fish.
Again, lacto- means dairy, so this diet contains dairy but avoids meats and also avoids eggs. Notice the difference between this and lacto-ovo vegetarians. One consumes eggs; the other doesn’t. Both are at risk for iron deficiencies due to a heavy reliance on dairy products (Calcium is a well-known inhibitor of iron absorption). It is important as a lacto-ovo or lacto-vegetarian to include low-fat or fat-free dairy products and to ensure adequate iron intake.
A true vegan avoids meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. This is the highest level of vegetarianism and is not for everyone. Since dairy is excluded from this type of vegetarianism, Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B12 intake can be of concern. It is possible to be a vegan and not be deficient in protein or vitamins. It just takes careful meal planning.
This is not necessarily a vegetarian diet but just excludes red meat consumption. Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, goat, or horse. Fish and poultry may be consumed. This may be considered semi- or partial vegetarianism. Note- the common nutritional concerns within a vegetarian diet (vitamin B-12, iron, and zinc deficiencies) do not apply to this diet as poultry and fish contain these nutrients.
Pesca- means fish. This diet is abundant in vegetables and excludes meat and poultry, but does include fish. Incorporating fish into a vegetarian diet prevents deficiencies in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), omega-3 fatty acids essential especially for brain development in fetuses and for vision (Jensen, 2006). Significant cardiovascular benefits have also been shown with the intake of these omega-3 fatty acids. If fish is not within your diet, that is okay. There are still ways to prevent deficiencies.
So, over the next four weeks, you will see just how easy it is to incorporate these simple changes into your diet. Every Monday, I’ll feature a new vegetarian or vegan recipe. These recipes will fit within a lacto-ovo-pescatarian diet. This means what? You guessed it! There will be fish, dairy, and eggs but no red meat or poultry. You can omit certain foods to better fit your particular meal plan. If you are a heavy meat eater, I suggest starting slow and just avoiding red meat for now. But again, this is totally up to you. Do whatever you feel you can handle.
Just to note – I do not follow a vegetarian diet, personally. As research has explained, there are several benefits to a plant-based diet. My personal philosophy is to consume a diet low in saturated fat. There is a place for everything in my diet and I choose to practice moderation.
American Dietetic Association. Craig Wj, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009; 109:166-1282.
Appleby, PN, Thorogood M, Mann JI, Key Th. The Oxford Vegetarian Study: An overview. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 70 (suppl): 525S-531S.
Key Tj, Fraser GE, Thorogood M, Appleby PN, Beral V, Reeves G, Burr ML, Change-Claude J, Frentzel-Beyme R, Kuzma JW, Mann J, McPherson K. Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: Detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of five prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 70(suppl): 516S-524S.