Nutrition advice

How to follow a vegetarian diet

Many people choose to follow some form of a vegetarian diet, often saying that it’s healthier. But is there compelling evidence that this is the case?

Types of vegetarian diets


When is a vegetarian not a vegetarian? When they are a flexitarian! Not all vegetarians have dreadlocks and eat mung beans and not all plant-based eating styles are the same. Here is our quick guide to the many dietary choices that avoid meat:

Vegans
Do not consume any type of animal products, including red or white meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy. They also avoid animal by-products such as gelatine, honey or beeswax. Typically vegans do not use or wear animal products such as silk, leather and wool. 

Lacto-vegetarians
Avoid most animal products but do consume dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt. 

Ovo-vegetarians 
Avoid most animal products but do consume eggs. 

Lacto-ovo vegetarians
Avoid most animal products but do consume dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt, plus eggs. 

Pescetarians 
Avoid most animal products but do consume fish and seafood, dairy products and eggs. 

Flexitarians
Follow primarily a plant-based diet with occasional meat and animal products. However, these are used more as a condiment than a main-meal ingredient.

Meat-free Monday
Followers take the pledge to be vegetarian for one day of the week and explore new ways to shop, cook and enjoy dishes without meat.
 

Are vegetarians healthier than non-vegetarians?

While many assume that vegetarians are healthier than non-vegetarians, the scientific evidence is not consistent. There are some studies that show beneficial health effects to following a vegetarian diet. For example, a study looking at 34,192 California Seventh-Day Adventists suggested that the vegetarians had lower risks of hypertension, arthritis and diabetes mellitus than the non-vegetarians. Other research done in the United Kingdom found lower death rates among non-meat eaters. It is important to note, however, that lifestyle habits beyond eating may account, at least in part, for the findings. For instance, Seventh-Day Adventists practice an overall “healthier” lifestyle, such as not smoking and not drinking alcohol, in addition to abstaining from meat. Other studies, however, have not found that vegetarians are better off than non-vegetarians. For example, research at the University of Oxford found no significant difference in the major causes of death rate between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
 

What health benefits can being vegetarian have?

Research has shown that a well-planned vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even obesity.

Why? Because vegetarian diets are generally lower in saturated fat and higher in dietary fibre than non-vegetarian diets. It’s this combination of factors, but more importantly the wide variety of protective phytonutrient antioxidants found in plant foods, which is likely to be the secret to good health and a longer life.

In addition, consuming too much red meat (more than 100-120g per day) has been linked to increased risk of colorectal and renal cancer.

Not prepared to stop eating steak? That’s where meat-free meals can be of benefit. According to leading nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, “Not everyone needs to or wants to become vegetarian, but reducing our dependence on meat is a good recipe for our own health and also that of our planet. Diets dominated by plant foods are almost certainly the way of the future.” 

In fact, Australian dietary guidelines recommend a maximum of seven serves of lean red meat a week. However, since a recommended serve is only 65g of cooked meat and our actual servings are often more like 100g or higher, this equates to only three or four lean red meat meals a week. Adding some meat-free recipes to your weekly diet is a good way to ensure you don’t exceed these suggested limits.
 

Financial benefits to a vegetarian diet

Reducing the amount of meat you eat may not only improve your health, it may also reduce your food bills. On a weight-for-weight basis, meat is usually more expensive than fresh vegies, legumes, rice and grains so going meat free may save you in more ways than one!