by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
If planned correctly, a vegetarian diet can easily meet the essential nutritional requirements for people, including children, teenagers and pregnant or breast-feeding women. The key is to be aware of your nutritional requirements so you can plan a diet that meets your needs.
Vegetarian diets are very popular, and people choose this way of eating for a variety of reasons such as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, as well as to protect the environment and animals.
Unfortunately, some vegetarians rely too heavily on processed foods which are often high in calories, sugar, fat, MSG and salt. Some do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains and risk missing out on the nutrients these foods provide.
Another issue is the use of ‘fake’ meats made from things like ‘textured vegetable protein’, which contain high amounts of gluten, glutamates, and a predominance of carbohydrates without enough protein. Some people think that all they need to be a ‘vegetarian’ is not eat meats and think they will still get what their body needs, but there’s more to it than that.
The difference between a vegan and a vegetarian diet is that vegetarians usually eat foods like eggs, honey, and dairy products (however I don’t recommend dairy products – see why in my Dairy Free Diet article).
Eggs certainly help vegetarians to easily get some B12, Choline and good quality complete protein in their diet, compared to vegans where other sources and approaches are needed.
When most people think about what a vegetarian diet includes or excludes, they commonly think of a diet that excludes animal meats and seafood. While that is true, vegetarian diets can vary. Here are some different types of vegetarian diets:
Excludes beef, pork, lamb, fish, poultry and eggs, and foods that contain them, but includes dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, and butter.
Excludes beef, lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, and dairy products, but includes eggs.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian diet
Excludes beef, lamb, pork, fish, and poultry, but includes dairy and eggs.
Avoids animal proteins such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry, dairy, and eggs, but includes fish and seafood.
Excludes beef, pork, lamb, dairy, and fish, but includes poultry (chicken, turkey).
Excludes beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, honey and dairy foods, and any foods containing these products (or products from animals such as leather, fur coats etc).
A semi-vegetarian is someone who eats mostly plant-based foods, but occasionally will eat small amounts of animal products, honey or fish/seafood.
Children’s Vegetarian diet
When my daughter was young she wouldn’t eat anything that ‘looked’ like an animal, so if the fish was a square fillet in a bun, or a beef pattie was round, or anything that didn’t look like it came from an animal, that was ok by her – even though she knew very well what it was. She couldn’t eat a chicken leg because she saw it was a bone she had to chew the meat off, and forget trying to serve her a steamed whole fish (with eyes)!
I used to think she was a ‘natural born vegetarian’, except she also didn’t like vegetables. She would have loved to survive on vegemite on toast and cheesy pasta, but with a mother like me that really wasn’t an option.
As she grew up she preferred vegetarian meals, but as a teenager buying her own meals when out with friends, she ate McDonald’s burgers. When I asked her about the meat or fish, she would say, “Yes but that’s ok because it’s not real meat” which I found amusing (and please note that it wasn’t my choice for her to eat this).
She is now a beautiful lady who enjoys a variety of foods, but still loves vegetarian food the most.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
For about a year before she came in to see me Amelia suffered from gastric reflux. She had been to her doctor and had all manner of tests to see if she had gastro-oesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) or Hiatus Hernia or parasites in her stomach (Helicobacter Pylori), which are all potential common reasons for her symptoms.
She also had an endoscopy to look down her throat with a camera but all seemed to be fine except for a little inflammation. Amelia was put onto antacid medication, but she still had reflux after most meals.
I asked her about her diet and she thought she had a ‘good diet’. I then asked what she specifically ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. It was somewhat different to what I consider as a ‘good diet’.
In fact, Amelia had been eating a high protein diet as she thought this was a good weight loss diet (which it can be for some). She ate steak for breakfast with eggs; nuts, or a boiled egg, or tin of tuna for morning tea; cheese at afternoon tea; then meat with a few vegetables or salad for dinner.
I also asked about her bowel movements and found she was terribly constipated most days, only passing little ‘rabbit pellets’ when she did go to the toilet (you can see why I keep the identity of clients confidential in these case studies).
She was so backed up with heavy protein food that it was literally trying to come up and out the other end, or at least trying to, hence the reflux. The pressure on her lower digestive system was pressing on the upper digestive system, just like plumbing pipes backed up and blocked. Not healthy at all for her.
Short of putting her onto a liquid vegetable juice fast (which was not going to suit her work life) I recommended to drop most of the heavy proteins in favour of a vegetarian or even a vegan diet for a while, to allow the back up of rubbish to pass through her system.
I also kept her levels of grains, legumes and nuts low initially to allow the fruits and vegetables to do their thing and alkalise and cleanse her body. She also had a few blended vegetable shakes to help and was encouraged to drink lots of Aloe Vera juice and liquid chlorophyll in water.
A week later, Amelia emailed me to say she was going to the toilet without any problems and hadn’t had any reflux for a few days, and asked if she could re-introduce some eggs, and more legumes, nuts, and seeds. I agreed and said to observe how she felt and how her bowels were functioning.
She was now on a vegetarian diet rather than a vegan diet which she was happy with, and she was also losing more weight than when on the high protein diet. It shows that different diets work for different people.
Amelia did reintroduce other protein foods again but found if she ate red meat or even chicken, she would block up and get reflux again. She was fine with fish, so she decided to be a pescetarian, which suited her and provided more flexibility with what she could eat.