Why Vegetarianism Could Be Bad for You
In the last six months, I've cut most meat out of my diet. I don't have plans to become a full vegetarian at this point but I've probably cut meat consumption by about 90%. Since I've reduced meat in my diet, I've dramatically increased the amount of vegetables and whole grains I consume to compensate. When I've told friends and relatives about this some express concern that I might not get enough protein.
But a lack of protein usually isn't a concern. Most Americans get way too much protein in their diets. Too much protein can harm the kidneys. Protein deficiency shouldn't be a problem for anyone who has a balanced diet with plenty of low fat dairy, beans, nuts, eggs and tofu.
While vegetarians are generally healthier and live longer, there are some potential dangers to a vegetarian diet. Cutting meat out of your diet can lower your risk of developing many health problems. But it can put you at risk of others. The more restrictive your diet becomes, the more you need to ensure that your body is getting all needed vitamins and minerals. You can also work with a dietician to ensure your diet is balanced.
Vitamin K Deficiency
Vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting and for strong bones. Vegetarians should eat lots of green vegetables, which are high in vitamin K. This includes brussel sprouts, kale, Romaine lettuce, spinach, parsley, broccoli, asparagus and avocado.
Dangerously Low Cholesterol
We all know that high cholesterol is bad for us. But cholesterol levels that are too low are also potentially dangerous and can lead to an early death. This shouldn't be a problem for people who consume plenty of dairy products and eggs.
Increased Colorectal Cancer Risk
This one surprised me the most. Studies have found that cancer is lower among vegetarians than among meat eaters with the exception of colorectal cancer. And the risk to vegetarians is a whopping 39 percent higher. The researchers weren't able to pinpoint a cause.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Meat eaters are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. But a lack of vitamin B12 in the blood can put vegetarians and vegans at higher risk. Low levels of B12 can result in arteriosclerosis. Dairy foods and eggs should provide adequate amounts of B12. Many breakfast cereals are vitamin B12 fortified.
Lack of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, which include EPA and DHA, mainly come from fish products. Omega-3s are important for cardiovascular health and brain health. Some studies have found that elderly people who consume omega-3's score better on memory and attention tests. They may also improve the symptoms of people who suffer from severe depression. Nuts, flaxseed and seaweed are good sources of these essential fatty acids as well. Vegetarians can buy omega-3 supplements to ensure they are getting enough of these essential fats in their diets.
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Alternatives to Vegetarianism
If you're concerned about potential health consequences of becoming vegetarian, you could consider being a flexitarian instead. Flexitarians are vegetarian most of the time, but incorporate small amounts of animal protein into their diet.
Another alternative is becoming a pescatarian. The only animal protein pescatarians consume is from fish. Fish raise HDL levels and many are high in omega-3's. One study found that heart disease was 34% lower in pescetarians, 34% lower in ovo-lacto vegetarians (vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy), 26% lower in vegans and 20% lower in occasional meat-eaters.