The vegetarian diet is a popular diet in the world. According to Vegetarian Times Study, 3.2% of Americans or 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians and an additional 22.8 million follow a vegetarian-inclined diet(1). There are mainly four types of the vegetarian diet. They are lacto-vegetarian (which includes plant foods plus dairy products), ovo-vegetarian (which includes plant foods plus eggs), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (which includes plant foods plus dairy products and eggs) and vegan (which includes only plant foods) (2). The vegetarian diet provides many health benefits but we also have many concerns about it.
The vegetarian diet is typically low in saturated fat, cholesterol and high in dietary fiber since the diet excludes so many animal products. Refer to the journal article “Vegetarian Diet and Diabetes”, the author mentioned that a large amount of evidences show that vegetarian and plant-based diets provide exceptional health benefits, including a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease and some types of cancer, and increased longevity. This article also found in the observational experiment that the vegetarian diet is associated with reduced risk of development of type 2 diabetes and lower risk of complications in those with existing diabetes(3).
Although the vegetarian diet has so many health benefits, if people follow it incorrectly, there will be some issues and may be even worse. For vegetarians who consume dairy products or eggs or both, they can make sure their protein sources. However, for people who follow the vegan diet, it is common to ignore the importance of protein, especially for people without enough nutrition knowledge. Good sources for vegan protein are soy, legume, seeds, nuts and whole grains (4). Vegans can get enough protein by consuming these foods. Moreover, according to a journal article about nutrition concerns about the vegetarian diets, vegetarians usually have lower body mass index and blood pressure (5). These can be good things if they are not excessive low, or they will become other health issues.
As more and more people are following the vegetarian diets, many adults would like their babies to follow the vegetarian diets as well. This can be really challengeable. There are many things need to be noticed and paid attention to. First, for the first 4 to 6 months, vegetarian infants should only receive breast milk or a commercial infant formula (like soy-based formula). Then, fortified infant cereal or firm tofu is an appropriate first complementary food. Either of these, along with breast milk or formula, can meet needs for protein, iron, and zinc. Fortified soy or cow’s milk should be the primary beverage post weaning. Also and most importantly, growth of the infants should be monitored (6) so parents can make changes in time when there are any issues coming up.
The vegetarian diets are generally healthy and beneficial for people. But a too strict vegetarian diet may cause other health issues. Also, parents need to be really careful when giving the vegetarian diet to their babies. This blog just give an introduction and the basic knowledge of this diet. There are still many aspects of the vegetarian diets can be talked about.
1. Vegetarianism In America. http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/. Accessed April 7, 2016
2. Mayo Clinic. Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446. Accessed April 7,2016
3. Marsh K, Brand-Miller J. Vegetarian Diets and Diabetes. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2011; 5: 135-143
4. American Heart Association. Vegetarian Diet. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Vegetarian-Diets_UCM_306032_Article.jsp#.Vwc01NIrJdg. Accessed April 8, 2016
5. Craig WJ. Nutrition Concerns and Health Effects of Vegetarian Diets. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010; 25: 613-620
6. Mangels R, Driggers J. The Youngest Vegetarians: Vegetarian Infants and Toddlers. Childhood Obesity and Nutrition. 2012; 4: 8-20