The options are endless for those seeking to limit their intake of animal products. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
The options are endless for those seeking to limit their intake of animal products. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

What do Anne Hathaway, Bill Clinton, Natalie Portman and Paul McCartney have in common? They don’t eat meat.

Vegetarianism has been on the rise in recent years.

Many people choose this lifestyle for a variety of reasons: animal rights, helping the environment, improving your health or for cultural customs. Whatever your reason, there’s cause for considering the health benefits of cutting out meat.

First, we must look at the different types of vegetarianism. Yes, there is more than one.

In general, vegetarian diets refer to the exclusion of meats while still consuming some animal products.

Here are more specific definitions:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians do not eat meat, but will consume eggs and dairy products
  • Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy, but do not eat eggs or meat
  • Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but do not consume dairy or meat
  • Pesco/pesca-vegetarians consume seafood, dairy products and eggs, but do not eat other types of meat
  • Semi-vegetarians (or flexitarians) occasionally eat meat
  • Vegans exclude all animal products of eggs, dairy and meat

Pros and cons of vegetarianism

One of the biggest, most obvious pros would be simply getting in more vegetables and plant foods, as the name suggests.

Granted, there are certainly unhealthy alternatives that fit the vegetarian lifestyle (like Oreos—they’re vegan but so processed and full of sugar). But when following a balanced diet, vegetarianism provides many valuable nutrients and fewer saturated fats.

As a bonus, it’s also associated with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.

The cons, on the other hand, include some missing nutrients that are found in animal products. These include iron, protein, calcium, B12, zinc and vitamin D. However, all of these nutrients may be obtained in a vegetarian diet when well planned.

Get started slowly

Still not sure if you are ready to dive in?

There are many ways you can dip your toes into a vegetarian lifestyle. These include eating meat-free for the day or throughout the month, trying the meatless options available at local restaurants and eateries, hosting a meatless meal or potluck for your friends, or starting with Meatless Mondays.

Just be sure you do your research before getting started in a vegetarian lifestyle.

Here are some resources to get you started:

Regardless of your level of commitment to the vegetarian lifestyle, you’ll benefit from incorporating more vegetables into your diet.