There are many reasons why people become vegetarians, be it environmental, ethical, health, religious or cultural. Whatever the reason, becoming vegetarian requires careful planning to ensure your body gets all the nutrients required to grow, be healthy and perform physically. Becoming vegetarian does not mean simply cutting out meat and many vegetarians end up getting their diets wrong by making vital mistakes.
Minerals & Vitamin Density
The term vegetarian, to me, means someone who predominantly eats vegetables. However, what I regularly see is that the main part of a vegetarian diet consists of pasta, bread, rice, dairy and other non-vegetable foods. To me this is a STARCHetarian — a huge mistake. Starchy foods hold very little mineral and vitamin content — empty calories, whereas vegetables are fibrous and nutrient-dense, full of antioxidants and nutrients that promote wellness and health. Everyone’s diet should mainly consist of mineral and vitamin (nutrient) dense foods that include a large variety of vegetables and good fats.
Firstly, saturated fats are not bad for us. A 2009 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no association between saturated fats and heart disease when analysing research from 21 studies that incorporated 350,000 people. On the other hand vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and usually contain large amounts of trans fatty acids. Many studies have now demonstrated that vegetable oils can cause serious harm to your health.
Omega-6 oils are pro-inflammatory — inflammation leads to chronic disease. On the other hand omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and promote good health and cell function. World-leading performance nutritionist Charles Poliquin has commented that even with a smart vegetarian diet omega-3 fats (widely regarded as essential for health), can’t be gotten in large enough quantities from solely plant-based food sources.
Vegetarian Protein: Soy
Soy was promoted 20 years ago as the protein saviour of the vegetarian world. Therefore, now that more research has been conducted people are surprised to learn that the soybean itself is toxic to humans and livestock. It is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and approximately 90% of it is genetically modified. The properties of soy mimic oestrogen in our bodies and cause a host of health problems. Its known to promote breast and prostate cancer, alter brain function, suppress thyroid hormones and cause reproductive issues. Performance-wise, soy protein is proven to increase cortisol, decrease muscular strength, and lower testosterone. The sad thing is the only positive things I hear about soy comes from companies marketing soy or governments controlled by them.
Bad science over the last five decades has lead society to an epidemic of obesity and poor health. Mistakes that are now hard to rectify are public knowledge and part of our mindset. A leading nutritionist and strength coach, Mike Sheridan, points out six common myths regarding reasons for avoiding meat in your diet and turn to a vegetarian lifestyle:
— “Eating meat won’t give you heart disease”. Saturated fat does not clog arteries and dietary cholesterol has no impact on blood cholesterol.
— “Not all fats are the same”. Vegetable fats are associated with heart disease; saturated fats are not.
— “The widely quoted China Study is a farce”. Yet meat-free dieters use it to support their claims even though it’s been proven highly inaccurate.
— “Vegans and vegetarians don’t stave off disease”. Their disease rates are not lower than that of meat-eating populations.
— “Crops aren’t more ethical than raising cows”. They destroy land, use more resources than you’d imagine, and kill more animals than you know.
— “Plant proteins aren’t effective proteins”. They cause more nutritional deficiencies than avoiding them altogether.
A vegetarian diet can be very healthy but there are some common mistakes made by a lot of people. Are you making these mistakes? A balanced diet is the best for achieving optimal health, wellbeing and performance, and vegetables should be the king of every meal.