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How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian

What are the pros and cons of becoming a vegetarian? If you have considered becoming or are already a vegetarian, are you receiving the appropriate amounts of nutrients in your diet?  What supplements should you take? Join House Call Doctor as she reviews crucial tips on how to be a healthy vegetarian and avoid any medical pitfalls.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
6-minute read
Episode #223

Types of Vegetarians

Not all vegetarians follow the same food rules. Here are the most common categories, with labels you may have heard thrown around but perhaps didn't quite grasp:

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians:  “Lacto” means milk, and “ovo” refers to eggs. Hence, these vegetarians eat dairy (like milk and eggs), but simply no animal flesh products. This is the base of vegetarianism and the least restrictive type. 

Lacto Vegetarians:  Now that you’ve learned the basic terms, you can make an educated guess on this one. Yep, these vegetarians consume milk and milk products but no eggs. This makes it more of a challenge to find desserts, most especially, because most contain eggs in their batter mix.

Vegan Vegetarians: This is the most restrictive type, excluding all milk products, eggs, cheese, yogurt, etc.  Kudos to those who follow this diet successfully, because it is not easy to find food that lack dairy altogether.  Yet, it is definitely achievable.

Pros/Cons of A Vegetarian Diet

The pros of vegetarianism are plentiful, as long as it is done correctly. Studies so far show that vegetarians tend to have decreased risk of:

·         Heart disease

·         Obesity

·         Elevated Cholesterol Levels

·         Hypertension

·         Prostate and Colon Cancer

·         Diabetes

But it is not risk-free either. If not careful, a vegetarian diet can predispose you to:

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Those who consume animal products tend to have lifetime stores of vitamin B12. But vegetarians, vegans in particular, are at risk for a deficiency over time. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anemia, and neurologic symptoms (such as peripheral neuropathy). 

Low Bone Density: Vegetarians who lack sufficient calcium intake have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and osteopenia, and are hence at risk for fractures.

Weight Gain: For those who consume an overabundance of carbohydrates, weight gain is also a possibility.  But if done right, it is often the opposite.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.