Vegetarianism has long since ceased to be a niche topic. There are many good reasons for consciously choosing a meat-free diet or at least greatly reducing meat consumption. Depending on the chosen vegetarian diet, there are of course a few points to consider, but with a little background knowledge, it is no problem to eat a balanced diet without meat. Pleasure without bad conscience stands with all vegetarian nourishing forms in the focus. So it is always worthwhile to put one’s own diet to the test and to rethink one’s personal menu with a view to one’s own health, sustainability and animal welfare.
Vegetarian nutrition: What is it?
The philosopher Pythagoras already dealt with the topic of vegetarianism. The term goes back to the Latin word “vegetare”. “Vegetare” means “to enliven.” Accordingly, a vegetarian diet stands for focusing on plant foods in the diet and using only products of the living animal. Accordingly, a vegetarian diet basically excludes the consumption of meat.
Number of vegetarians increases worldwide
World-wide the number of humans increases itself vegan or vegetarian nourishing constantly. Also the number at Flexitariern increases constantly. Thus it results from statistics Federal Ministry for nutrition and agriculture (BMEL) that in Germany 2020 10 per cent of the population vegetarian and 2 per cent vegan nourish themselves. This is more than 10 million people in Germany who consciously opt for a meat- and fish-free diet or completely forgo animal foods. In addition, around 55 percent of Germans have consciously decided to reduce their meat consumption in 2020 and are therefore counted as flexitarians.
There are many reasons for doing without or reducing animal foods. Common reasons:
- a sustainable lifestyle
- health aspects
- religious reasons
- animal welfare
- climate change
The different vegetarian diets
Basically, there are different forms of vegetarian nutrition. Accordingly, different forms of nutrition can also be found within the spectrum of vegetarianism. This is how the vegetarian diets differ concretely:
Flexitarians rely on a predominantly vegetarian diet. Animal products such as milk, eggs and Co are constantly part of the diet. In addition, flexitarians do not completely reject the consumption of meat, poultry and fish. On special occasions and in exceptional cases, meat, poultry and fish can certainly be found on the menu of the flexitarian.
Pollotarians follow a special sub-form of the vegetarian diet. A pollotarian nutrition contains beside milk products, eggs, honey and CO also poultry and fish. However, red meat (beef, pork, lamb, venison, etc.) is eliminated from the menu.
The pescetarian diet includes animal products such as milk, eggs, etc. in addition to plant foods. In addition, fish and seafood are still regularly on the menu for pescetarians, while meat and poultry are completely eliminated.
Ovo-lacto-vegetarians can basically also be described as the classic vegetarians. In the ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet, meat, poultry and fish are completely avoided. Milk, dairy products, eggs, honey and co. continue to supplement the diet here.
The step from ovo-lacto-vegetarian to ovo-vegetarian is not far. Also here meat, fish and poultry are renounced. In addition, any dairy products are eliminated from the diet. Eggs, however, remain part of the diet.
Lacto-vegetarians eliminate not only meat, poultry and fish, but also eggs, honey and the like from the menu. However, milk and dairy products are still consumed.
Vegan nutrition is a purely plant-based diet. It is completely renounced animal products. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, dairy products, honey and Co are not found on a vegan menu.
Usually the transitions between the individual vegetarian nourishing forms are flowing. Thus the reduction of meat is often followed by a complete renunciation of meat and piece by piece further animal products are consciously renounced.
Vegetarian food pyramid
As with any form of nutrition, it is essential to ensure a balanced diet, even with a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians can optimize their diet with the help of the vegetarian food pyramid. The more balanced the menu, the better the nutrient supply. The following food groups should be part of a vegetarian diet.
As with all diets, water is the most important foundation of a vegetarian diet. Water and unsweetened beverages such as tea are therefore the foundation of a healthy diet. It is recommended to drink 1 to 2 liters of water per day.
• Fruits and vegetables
While water is the base of the food pyramid, fruits and vegetables are second. Basically, fruits and vegetables should play an important role in any diet. The recommendation is to eat 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily. As an important supplier of vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables are the most important basis of a healthy and balanced diet.
• Cereals and potatoes
Directly above fruits and vegetables in the vegetarian food pyramid are grains and potatoes. These provide a lot of fiber and thus plenty of energy. With 2 to 3 servings of cereals and potatoes daily, the body receives carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and important nutrients that are an important part of a healthy diet. However, it depends on the choice of cereal products and so it is recommended to rely mainly on whole grain products instead of products made from wheat.
• Legumes and protein products
Pulses, soy products and Co are an important source of protein and should be an integral part of a vegetarian diet. Pulses should be on the menu at least 2 times a week. Due to the numerous preparation possibilities of legumes and Co, they can be easily integrated into the diet and replace meat and fish as a source of protein.
• Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds not only provide healthy fats, but are also rich in protein. Thus, it is recommended to consume an amount of 30 to 60 g per day. Almonds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds and co. can be enjoyed as a snack or to refine vegetarian dishes.
• Fats and oils
Although fats and oil also play an important role in the diet, but in moderation and so they form the top of the food pyramid. Oil consumption should be limited to 2 to 4 tablespoons per day. Preference should be given to omega-3 fats with a view to a healthy diet. Linseed, walnut, hemp and rapeseed oil are particularly suitable. But also other oils (olive, wheat germ, sunflower oil and Co) can be used excellently in the vegetarian kitchen.
Depending on the personal vegetarian diet, dairy products and eggs can complement the vegetarian food pyramid. Vegetarians who consume dairy products should not exceed 250 ml of milk or 50 g of cheese per day (note: not every type of cheese is vegetarian). For eggs, it is recommended to limit consumption to 2 eggs per week. Here you will find everything worth knowing about cooking eggs.
As with any form of balanced and healthy diet, snacks, alcohol and sweets should remain the exception in a vegetarian diet and should only be consumed consciously.
Tips for meatless diet: What should you pay attention to?
If you are on the way to change your eating habits and turn to a vegetarian diet, you should pay attention to a few points.
• Choice of food
It is not enough to simply do without meat, fish and co. It is important to think about the personal nutrition concept. There are many vegetarian or even vegan foods, but they are not really healthy. The classics such as French fries and frozen pizza, white flour products and highly sugary foods are often vegan or vegetarian, but the diet should not be based on these products. Rather, focus on natural and unprocessed foods.
• Avoid iron deficiency
Meat is considered a particularly good supplier of trace elements. Those who do without animal products should make sure that sufficient iron is absorbed. Foods rich in iron include beans, lentils, seeds, nuts and quinoa. It is also important for iron absorption to consume sufficient vitamin C in the form of fruit and vegetables.
• Vitamin B12
A vegetarian diet should also ensure adequate intake of the vital vitamin B12. Vegetarians who continue to eat fish can use it as a source of vitamin B12. Who renounces beside meat also to fish, can its need over eggs and milk products covers. If animal products are completely avoided, it is absolutely necessary to take vitamin B12 products.
• Omega-3 fatty acids
Essential fats are indispensable for our body. Low-fat fish is the most important supplier of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). If you want to change your diet to a meat- and fish-free diet, you can meet your DHA requirements in other ways. It is recommended for vegetarians and vegans to rely on linseed oil with DHA and EPA enrichment. Alternatively, algae oil is also a supplier of DHA.
Vegetarianism: for whom is it suitable?
A vegetarian or vegan diet is basically an alternative to the conventional diet for everyone. From toddlers to seniors, from athletes to pregnant and breastfeeding women, everyone can basically do without animal foods. However, it is important to ensure that pregnant women, nursing mothers, children and athletes receive a sufficient supply of nutrients, vitamins and energy. Especially for children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, consultation with a doctor is recommended.
Vegetarian diet: advantages and disadvantages
A vegetarian diet is quite advantageous. For example, vegetarians consume significantly less fat. In a conventional diet, the proportion of fats in the daily food energy is around 50 percent, whereas in vegetarians it is significantly lower at a maximum of 30 percent.
Due to the lower cholesterol content in vegetable fats, a vegetarian diet significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and arteriosclerosis. In addition, vegetarians are significantly less likely to suffer from heart disease and obesity. These findings lead to a low-fat vegetarian diet being used as a therapy against numerous diseases of civilization.
In addition, a vegetarian diet means that a good 60 percent of carbohydrates are consumed via cereals, fruits and vegetables. This also corresponds to the general recommendation of the German Society for Nutrition.
Disadvantage however is it that particularly attention must be paid that no undersupply with Vitamin B12, iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin D, Riboflavin and fatty acids occurs. Especially vegans have an increased risk to suffer from a nutrient deficiency. Depending on the phase of life, the need for individual nutrients can change, so that it is recommended to seek advice from an experienced physician and to regularly review the nutrient requirements in order to be able to counteract them with dietary supplements if necessary.
Frequently asked questions about vegetarian nutrition
Why choose a vegetarian diet?
There are many good reasons to choose a vegetarian lifestyle. First and foremost, people have always chosen a vegetarian diet for health reasons. However, it also makes sense to abstain from consuming animal products for ethical reasons and for the sake of the environment.
Do vegetarians eat fish?
There is no universal answer here. Basically, it depends on the specific vegetarian diet. Pescetarians and flexitarians eat both fish and seafood.
Do vegetarians eat eggs?
Classic vegetarians do not eliminate eggs from their diet. However, those who have chosen a lacto-vegetarian or vegan diet do not eat eggs or products made from eggs.
Do vegetarians eat cheese?
In principle, the vegetarian way of life does not exclude the consumption of cheese. Ovo-vegetarians and vegans, on the other hand, generally abstain from consuming dairy products.