About 20 million Americans are vegetarians, from partial vegetarians who limit the amount of animal flesh they eat, to vegans, who eat only plant food -- no meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, or eggs.
Most physicians and nutritionists agree that switching to a low-fat vegetarian or even vegan diet that includes fruits, vegetables and nuts can be a huge benefit to your health.
A vegetarian diet may take a little extra planning—especially at first—but it is easy to learn how to ensure your diet is healthy. As with any diet, you have to make the right choices:
- Eat a variety of plant-based foods every day, including fortified whole grains, fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, tofu, and fortified soy milk.
- Make sure you know how to get enough iron, calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and zinc, especially if meat, dairy products and eggs are not going to be part of your diet. Chickpeas and lentils are among iron-rich foods and are also good sources of protein, for example. And you can get calcium from broccoli, mustard greens, kale and other vegetables as well as calcium-fortified orange juice.
People who follow a vegetarian diet are relatively healthier than those who don't. Vegetarians tend to have a lower incidence of obesity and fewer chronic health problems, including some cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.