Vegetarianism is gaining popularity and people are embracing it as a lifestyle choice and reaping the benefits.
These days, with everyone becoming more environmentally and health conscious, vegetarian diets are no longer the domain of dreadlock-toting Rastafarians and hippies.
Perhaps you have also considered becoming a vegetarian.

Here are some points to ponder if you are thinking of embracing this lifestyle choice:

Types of vegetarian diets
If you would like to become a vegetarian, you need to decide what type of vegetarian diet you would opt for.
Ovo-vegetarians consume eggs and omit all other animal products including dairy from their diet, while lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products and omit all other animal products. Ovo-lacto vegetarians consume both eggs and dairy.
Vegans go a step further and abstain from consuming any kind of animal derived products including eggs, dairy, honey, and wearing leather or silk.
Some consider themselves vegetarian while steering clear of red meats, but eating fish or/and chicken.
A true vegetarian however, avoids eating all animal flesh and animal by-products.

Why do people become vegetarians?

The most common reasons people choose a vegetarian diet:
•    Animal rights â?? to prevent the suffering of animals
•    Economy â?? vegetables, fruits and grains are more affordable than meat
•    Religion â?? certain religions recommend vegetarianism,  e.g. Rastafarians, Jainism and Seventh Day Adventists
•    Diet â?? people often choose to become vegetarians to lose weight and improve their health.

What are your reasons for becoming a vegetarian?

If you choose vegetarianism, you should have good reasons for doing so – they will help you to stick with your decision and make the choice easy.

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The benefits of a vegetarian diet

•    Besides being slimmer, vegetarians tend to be healthier, since they consume less saturated fat, and more fibre and vitamins than non-vegetarians. They have lower body indices, are less prone to blood pressure problems, diabetes, kidney disease and certain cancers.
•    Vegetables, fruits and grains are cheaper than meat and seafood, so in addition to saving calories, you will be saving money too.
•    It is free from the chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones and drugs that are commonly given to livestock. It is also free of the parasites, bacteria and viruses found in animal meat.
•    The livestock industry has been shown to be a major contributor to air and water pollution, climate change and land degradation. Vegetarianism is thus kinder to the environment.

Dietary recommendations for vegetarians

Like most balanced diets, a vegetarian diet can be healthy if it is planned well. The most common nutrients that may be lacking are iron, calcium, protein, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
•    Iron
Fortified breakfast cereals contain iron, and it can also be found in beans, lentils, soybeans, dried fruit, pumpkin seeds and broccoli. In addition, an iron supplement may also be considered.
•    Calcium
Lacto-vegetarians can obtain calcium through milk and yoghurt that is free of gelatine (an animal derivative). Those who do not consume dairy products will find rich sources of calcium in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, tofu, soy milk and dried figs.
•    Protein
Non-vegetarians commonly choose chicken, fish and lean red meats as choice sources of protein. Vegetarians can obtain their protein requirements from a variety of sources, such as beans, nuts, lentils, tofu, seeds, grains and cereals.
•    Vitamin D
This vitamin can be found in cowâ??s milk, soy milk, rice milk and tofu.
•    Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products. Ovo-lacto vegetarians can find their source of B12 in eggs and dairy, but it is also present in fortified breakfast cereals, fortified soy milk, brewerâ??s yeast, marmite spread or a good vitamin supplement.

Tips to make the transition to a vegetarian diet easier

Gradual transition

If you feel uncomfortable cutting out meat altogether, you may want to gradually ease into a vegetarian diet by decreasing the amount of meat dishes you are eating.

For example, if you eat meat every day, have it three times a week for two weeks, then twice a week, until you cut it out completely. Or you could begin by cutting out red meat, then chicken and finally fish.

Meat substitutes

Look in your local supermarkets or on restaurant menus for meat substitutes. There are some products which taste just like meat that you can still enjoy. Have the soya burger instead of the beef burger at the restaurant.

Support and understanding from friends and family

It is important to inform your friends and family of your decision to become a vegetarian, as you will be dining together and seeing each other at social occasions where food may be present.
Some may have a hard time accepting your decision and may even argue with you. Be confident in your choice and ask them for their understanding.

It is becoming easier in our time to embrace vegetarianism

Every day, new meat substitutes are appearing in our supermarkets, so vegetarians donâ??t miss the taste of meat. Now, one can dine out at most restaurants without being confined to ordering onion rings and potato chips or hungrily nibbling on tomato and lettuce garnishes.
Vegetarian foods are tasty and filling enough to satisfy even the hungriest sumo wrestlerâ??s appetite. There are infinite choices in foods and recipes to try. We are limited only by our imaginations.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.