People who enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle are often healthier than those who eat meat. The foods that ideally make up a vegetarian diet are full of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that affect the body in many different ways. The down side to a vegetarian diet is a higher likelihood of becoming deficient in certain nutrients primarily found in animal products. How a vegetarian diet affects you depends not only on the type of diet, but also on your specific food choices.
There are many forms of vegetarianism, but the basic premise of them all is a diet centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. A strict vegan limits her food intake to these food groups, while a lacto-vegetarian also includes dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese in her diet. A lacto-ovo vegetarian adds eggs to the lacto-vegetarian diet. Some people follow a partial vegetarian diet that includes fish or seafood, but no meat or poultry.
A healthy, balanced vegetarian diet can affect the human body in many good ways. In general, following a vegetarian diet makes people healthier. Vegetarian diets decrease the risk of many forms of cancer, heart disease, gallstones, kidney stones, osteoporosis and diabetes, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. People who eat no meat also tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, and they weigh less overall than meat eaters do.
Some people can become deficient in certain nutrients when on a vegetarian diet. Nutrients of particular concern include protein, iron, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. All of these nutrients can be in a vegetarian diet as long as the dieter eats a wide variety of healthful foods and plans a diet that considers these nutrients. Vitamin B-12 is of more concern because it is almost exclusively in animal products. Vegetarians often take a B-12 supplement to ensure that they don't develop deficiencies.
A vegetarian's specific food choices affect his diet just as much as the choice to go vegetarian. Someone can technically be a vegetarian surviving on a diet of french fries, vegetarian hot dogs, white rice, soy lattes and peanut butter, but this isn't going to improve his health much. The true benefits of vegetarianism come when you focus your diet on healthy, nutrient-rich whole foods.