For anyone considering giving up meat products, the question often is how much to give up? There are numerous health and dietary implications that also need to be considered when choosing to become either vegetarian or vegan, especially in focusing upon what can be eaten for optimum nutrition, as well as what cannot be eaten.
In short, vegetarians do not eat foods derived directly from animals, whilst vegans do not eat any foods produced by animals at all, and avoid use of other products that use animal products (such as leather). However, there are some further classifications and mid-stages of vegetarian and vegan that you might not know about.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians are the most common type of vegetarians, and they do not eat red or white meat or fish; this is the type of vegetarianism that you are typically referring to when you say “vegetarian”. Lacto-vegetarians also exclude eggs from their diet, but still eat dairy. Ovo-Vegetarians exclude dairy such as cheese, milk, and yoghurt from their diets, as well as meat and fish, but they still do consume eggs.
Vegans, as mentioned above, exclude all meat and animal derived products from their diet.
Gelatine, Isinglass, and Animal Rennet are three ingredients found in many foods that come from meat sources, making the foods they are used in unsuitable for vegetarians. Gelatine is derived from collagen, and typically comes from either beef or pork sources. It is used as a thickener and gelling agent, most famously used to product jelly. Gummy and jelly sweets also typically contain gelatine, as do marshmallows, candy corn, and many trifles.
Capsules of supplements and medicines are often made from Gelatine; whilst some companies use alternatives suitable for vegetarians, it is best to check the label.
Isinglass is taken from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is used in the clarification of some beers and wines, although it is unlikely to state this on individual bottles.
Animal Rennet is a complex of different enzymes taken from the stomach of mammals, and used in cheese production. This means that many cheeses which contain animal rennet are not considered vegetarian. The source usually correlates to the type of milk used, so the animal rennet found in goats’ cheese will be from goats, cow cheese from cows, and so on. There are lots of vegetable and microbial rennet alternatives, and so plenty of vegetarian cheeses exist. Soft cheeses are typically made without the addition of any rennet (either vegetarian or animal). Cream cheese and paneer, for example, are almost always vegetarian.
There are some foods that are eaten by some vegans but not others; some of the debates as to why these foods are considered non-vegan are very involved, whilst others are a matter of personal preference.
Honey, for example, is a product that many vegans choose to avoid, as it could be considered an abuse of the bees’ hard labour, and the physical collection of honey does inadvertently kill some of the bees in the hive.
Others have argued that by continuing to eat honey, it allows beekeepers to look after bees, which are increasingly becoming threatened species.
Some types of white sugar are also avoided by some vegans; this is because cane sugar is bleached and filtered using bone char. Beet sugar is not filtered through bone char, and so is suitable for vegans. However, many sugar brands use a mixture of cane and beet sugar in their products, or might not state their sources.
The meat-alternatives market has boomed in the last few years, making it easier than ever to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, without ever feeling that you are “missing out” on the meat experience. As more products are launched, these products become more affordable as well as more widely available. Products such as Quorn, which is made from mycoprotein (a type of fungus), are high in protein and fibre, low in saturated fat, and contain no cholesterol.
Tofu and Tempeh are two other great meat-replacements, and although they are naturally quite bland, they absorb flavours readily.
There are also lots of dairy free alternatives to milk and other dairy products. Almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, and coconut milk (or cream) are all great alternatives to cow’s milk. It is best to try a variety of these, as some suit various recipes more than others.
There are some people who believe that vegetarians and especially vegans are unable to get enough protein in their diet, as meat, dairy, and eggs are such a huge source of protein in our diets. However, with some planning, this need not be the case. The meat alternative products discussed above are a great source of protein, as are nuts, beans, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and lentils. Even vegetables contain some protein.
There is a misconception that all vegans and vegetarian diets are automatically healthy, but this is not true. After all, chocolate and ice cream are suitable for vegetarians, and french fries are suitable for vegans. If you are thinking about becoming either vegetarian or vegan as a part of a weight loss plan, or just to become healthier in general, you still have to watch your diet, beyond avoiding meat products.
Overhauling your diet for any reason can take some getting used to, especially as you need to learn what foods you can and cannot eat, and learn how to adapt recipes accordingly. Talking to other vegetarians or vegans about their experiences, including tips and tricks, as well as recipes, can be an invaluable resource. Having a support network, either in person or online, is a great way to help you become either vegetarian or vegan in the healthiest and easiest way possible.
Becoming vegetarian or vegan isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. If you find that you love it, then by all means continue, but if veganism or vegetarianism doesn’t suit you, then don’t feel bad about going back to eating meat.
You could try the middle road of following a flexitarian diet, where you try to minimise the amount of meat products you eat, but still have them from time to time.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.