A vegetarian diet focuses on plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and grains. Many types of vegetarian diets exist and include lacto-vegetarian diets, in which lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, and lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat dairy and eggs. Pesco-vegetarians -- also known as pescatarians -- add fish and seafood to the mix. With the proper planning, it is possible to consume a healthy pesco-vegetarian diet.
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Vegetarians typically have a lower body mass index, lower LDL and total cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and reduced rates of death from ischemic heart disease, according to an article published in "Nutrition in Clinical Practice" in December 2010. Vegetarians also tend to have decreased incidence of hypertension, stroke, Type-2 diabetes, and certain cancers, compared to non-vegetarians. Some possible explanations for the health benefits of vegetarian diets include a low intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and a high intake of dietary fiber. Additionally, vegetarian diets include many health-enhancing phytochemicals.
Choose My Plate
For optimal health, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends that you make up half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth of your plate made up of grains and the remaining quarter made up of protein. Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables when possible, and stick to whole grains -- including quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, popcorn and oatmeal, for example, at least half the time. Healthy proteins on a pesco-vegetarian diet include fish, beans, tofu, tempeh and eggs.
Sample Meal Plans
For breakfast, try a green smoothie that includes spinach, fresh or frozen fruit, soy milk, plain, non-fat Greek yogurt and chia seeds. The chia seeds -- which offer a fiber boost -- along with the protein in the yogurt and milk may help you feel full longer and prevent overeating. A good lunch can be as simple as a baked sweet potato stuffed with black beans, tomato, cilantro, garlic and onions. Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil on top for a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat, which can improve cardiovascular health. At dinnertime, try grilled salmon with a serving of quinoa and a side spinach salad.
It's important for vegetarians to eat a wide variety of foods to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Potential nutrients of concern for vegetarians include vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and iron. For pesco-vegetarians, both B12 and iron are found in fish and fortified breakfast cereals. Iron can also be obtained from oatmeal, soybeans, lentils, beans and green leafy vegetables. Get your zinc from fortified breakfast cereal, yogurt, cheese, milk and flounder. The USDA recommends that adults consume three cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy per day to help meet calcium and vitamin D needs.