A vegetarian diet is difficult to institute, and requires significant planning and menus, in order to achieve proper overall nutrition. That said, the typical vegetarian has lower body mass index, lower cholesterol, lower risk of type 2 Diabetes, and reduced risk of heart disease. A vegetarian diet obviously excludes meat, poultry and in many cases fish, but may include dairy and eggs.
Proteins are obtained from plant sources, including avocado, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains, eggs, and soy. Male vegetarians should avoid excess soy, as this provides phytoestrogens, which can have feminizing side effects. Many soy products are also contaminated by other dangerous chemicals. Estrogen level can be monitored, and effectively treated without toxicity if necessary.
Adequate nutrition requires careful planning, in order to avoid deficiencies. A trusted nutritionist may be necessary. Deficiencies to be aware of include calcium, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin D, and the avid vegetarian should consider following these values with regular laboratory testing, until the diet is mastered. Supplements should be used where necessary, and a physician with a nutritional can monitor this. If fish is consumed regularly, omega oils should be sufficient, but levels should be followed, and supplemented if necessary. High quality produce is recommended. Protein intake needs to be regularly reassessed, in order to avoid muscle wasting—sarcopenia, which is quite common in vegetarians who are not as skilled in monitoring protein requirements. Lack of adequate protein will lead to less results in the gym, and an increase in percentage of body fat, despite weight loss, and normal or low BMI.
That said, a person committed to the lifestyle, usually does not develop these issues, and remains healthy.
A VEGAN diet takes the vegetarian program to another level, being meat and dairy free, including eggs. Because Vegans avoid all animal products, fish is excluded as well. Additionally, any food that is manufactured or processed using animal products, is usually avoided. Therefore the diet is more restrictive, and more difficult to set up.
Vegans usually have the same health benefits as the Vegetarian, as well as the same nutritional risks, but again, with careful planning, remain very healthy. The vast majority of my Vegetarian and Vegan patients are quite healthy, feel well, and are very well educated in their nutritional needs. The danger usually occurs in adolescents or young adults, who do not self-educate, and fail to seek assistance and support for their lifestyle change.
PESCATARIANS, also known as Pesco-vegetarians, follow a vegetarian diet, but will eat fish and seafood. This is a healthy diet as well, with the same health advantages while still avoiding land-animal protein sources. Eating fish and shellfish also avoids iron, omega oil, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies.