Deciding to switch from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet is never a quick choice because there is a wide range of potential pros and cons of being a vegetarian.
Everyone has to make their own personal choice when weighing up the benefits of being vegetarian and the disadvantages of being a vegetarian, as a veggie diet can affect your health and your lifestyle in different ways.
Becoming a veggie can help with weight loss, it can improve your nutrition when done right, and it helps the planet. But becoming vegetarian can also lead to potential nutritional deficiencies in some people, it can be difficult to change diets after a lifetime of eating meat, and it can limit your dinner menu if you don’t get creative.
There are both pros and cons of vegetarianism, so in this article, we decided to examine them in detail! Keep reading to find out more.
What is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is a diet that primarily involves not eating meat (we saw this really good animated video about vegetarian diets when visiting a nutrition conference in LA). There are, however, many different degrees, or levels of vegetarianism, with some people sticking to strict plant-based (vegan) diets and others choosing what has become known as a ‘flexitarian’ diet, where meat intake isn’t cut out entirely but is certainly lessened.
Traditional western diets are meat-heavy, but more precisely, are termed as omnivore diets (a mixture of meat and vegetables). A vegetarian diet aims to cut out the meat and move towards a more plant-based diet.
Vegetarianism is becoming more common in western society, as people realize and better understand the potential perks of being a vegetarian. Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not a new health food fad, as societies across the world have practiced some form of vegetarianism throughout history.
Individuals can choose the ‘level’ of vegetarianism that suits their lifestyle, tastes, and health needs, but there are lots of clear vegetarianism pros that we’ll get into in more detail later. As with any diet, of course, there also negatives to being a vegetarian.
What are the different types of vegetarian diets?
Before we examine the pros and cons of vegetarianism, let’s take a look at the different types of vegetarian diets that are popular today. It’s important to remember, though, that you don’t have to pick one of these diets and rigidly stick to it to start seeing the benefits of going vegetarian. You might cut out red meat but still enjoy a bit of chicken every now and then, for instance, or the odd shrimp salad!
A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet is the most common way to start eating vegetarian. A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet cuts out all forms of meat and fish but does still allow eggs and dairy products (such as cheese and milk).
A Lacto-vegetarian diet goes one step further, cutting out all meat, fish, and eggs from the menu. Dairy products such as cheese and milk are still allowed, however.
An ovo-vegetarian diet cuts out all meat, fish, and dairy products. An ovo-vegetarian diet does, however, still allow eggs to be eaten.
The pescetarian diet is another popular way to ease into vegetarianism, as this diet only cuts out meat. Pescetarians still eat fish, eggs, and dairy products.
Flexitarian diets are a great way to cut down on meat consumption while starting to see the advantages of vegetarian diet plans. Flexitarian diets cut down on meat, fish, dairy, and eggs but don’t entirely eliminate them. For example, a flexitarian might only eat chicken once a week; the rest of the week, they are plant-based.
Vegan diets cut out everything except for plant-based products. That means no meat, no fish, no dairy, and no eggs. Many vegans cut out all products associated with animals, such as honey or animal enzymes. As you can imagine, one of the main arguments against veganism is that it’s difficult to stick to!
Pros and cons of being a vegetarian
There are lots of vegetarian benefits and disadvantages, and how much of these pros and cons you experience depends on how strict or flexible your diet actually is.
Let’s take a look at both the pros of vegetarianism and the cons.
Switching that double bacon cheeseburger for a healthy tofu burger is a great way to start managing weight and losing weight.
A veggie diet is consistently lower in calories and saturated fats than a meat-based diet. Even cutting out meat once or twice a week can significantly help to lower weight, but remember, it’s still about moderation.
Lowered risk of chronic disease
One of the most important benefits of vegetarian diet plans is the lowered risk of chronic disease associated with eating less meat and more vegetables.
Meat-heavy diets often lack essential nutrients and minerals that are found in fruits and vegetables. Increasing the variety of fruits and vegetables (more legumes, beans, nuts, etc.) that you include in your diet can help to lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes, prevent heart disease, and potentially lower the risk of certain cancers by improving your nutrition.
Overall, a reduced risk of disease means that the health benefits of vegetarianism can essentially lead to a longer life.
Make a positive environmental and ethical impact
Another reason to decrease meat consumption and adopt a vegetarian diet is the positive impact it can have on the environment. Many vegetarians stop eating meat because they are against the negative treatment and killing of animals. Vegetarianism becomes an ethical choice.
Others are concerned with the increasingly negative impact that meat-eating has on the environment. Eating red meats such as beef directly leads to deforestation in parts of the world, and contributes massively to CO2 emissions. Cutting down on meat lowers the demand for mass-produced meats, thereby creating a positive effect on the environment.
Lower grocery costs
There’s also a financial advantage to becoming a vegetarian. You’ll probably have already noticed that meat products in the supermarket are more expensive than vegetables. Red meat, such as steak, is particularly pricey, as are certain kinds of seafood.
Cheaper meat products (sausages, for instance) tend to be of a lower quality, or they won’t be as healthy (fatty ground beef is more expensive than lean ground beef).
There’s no doubt that vegetables are cheaper than meat, and switching to a vegetarian diet can help you to save significantly on your weekly shopping bill.
Lack of certain nutrients
When you’re looking at vegetarian diets’ pros and cons, then it’s important to look at the potential lack of nutrients that you can experience, particularly if you’re new to preparing veggie meals.
Vegetarian diets can be lower in protein while cutting out dairy can result in a lower calcium intake. You can, however, make up for this by incorporating new products into your diets, such as protein-rich beans and tofu.
Lack of choice and convenience
One of the major arguments against becoming vegetarian is that it’s just not convenient. This is true, to an extent, but as lifestyles, diets, and products change, this argument will eventually become null and void.
Restaurants and stores are stocking a wider range of vegetarian and vegan products (more tofu, vegan cheese, and plant-based sausages, for instance), and there’s more choice now than there’s ever been.
Difficulties adopting a new ‘lifestyle’
Of course, adopting a new way of eating isn’t easy, particularly if you’ve grown up used to eating meat. Being vegetarian, however, is consistently seen as a positive life choice for both your health and for the environment. It’s easier now than ever before to adopt a veggie or vegan lifestyle!
Pros and cons of being a vegetarian: the final say
It’s clear that there are lots of excellent health, lifestyle, and environmental benefits to becoming vegetarian. With the right diet and meals, you can avoid nutritional deficiencies and potentially improve your overall nutritional intake, while vegetarians can also lower their risk of deadly chronic diseases such as heart disease.
As with any diet, though, individuals need to also examine the disadvantages of vegetarian diet plans. For some people, it’s difficult to replace certain nutrients, while for others, it’s a matter of simple tastes and preferences.
But even if the taste is the main struggle for you, there are many workarounds. Nowadays, you can find tons of recipes and tutorials on how to cook a delicious plant-based meal. You've got prep: spices, dressings, and marinades to pack those veggies with flavor. You've got cooking techniques: baking in an oven, roasting on a grill, or even sizzling them up on a fire in pie irons for camping, cast iron skillets, or a simple skewer. And you've got veggies and fruit themselves: there are dozens to try out, so you won't get bored.
If you're still on the fence, the best thing to do is just try! Explore the diet before committing to it. Go ahead and cook a veggie dinner. Get yourself and your buddy a pair of pie irons for camping cast iron and see if campfire veggies is your new favorite thing. Or simply opt for a fruit salad the next time you want to snack on beef jerky. If you find it doable a few times, chances are, you can do it long-term.
Overall though, there are clear advantages, in terms of health and perhaps more importantly, in terms of environmental factors, that make vegetarianism (and veganism) an increasingly popular diet and lifestyle. This ensures that it’s becoming more mainstream, and much easier to stick to in the long term!