Diets in this day and age follow trends, fads and health news. People can utilize gluten-free, dairy-free, carb-free, organic, and even kosher diets. Some trends even started out as religious or health necessities. Vegetarian diets began as a moral choice, but many people now use them as ways to lose weight or prevent certain diseases.
A new study out of Austria recently published results stating that vegetarian diets offer greater risks for many frightening health issues. However, that was not the first study released on the subject and many others actually promote the health benefits of vegetarianism. When studies differ that greatly, it's often difficult to know exactly what's what.
The truth is that there are both pros and cons to a vegetarian lifestyle. Vegetarian diets run higher risks of B12 deficiency, which can lead to joint pain, shortness of breath and other health issues. Diets that include meat have a higher fat content which can lead to heart disease and obesity. Both diets have an equal amount of health risks, but what about benefits?
Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index, lower risk of heart disease and some studies even report that they have a lower risk of dementia. On the other hand, people who eat diets rich in meat and protein have a lower risk of non-genetic depression, asthma issues, and osteoporosis while helping maintain strong muscles and teeth.
The biggest problem with vegetarian diets is that they are low in vitamin B12 and, in the case of veganism, vitamin D, both of which are necessary to the human body. B12 can't be supplemented by other foods, either, since it's found solely in fish, meat, dairy and eggs.
"The health benefits of vegetarian diets depend on how they are defined," says Marion Nestle, PhD, a nutrition professor at NYU. "Vegans must find an alternative source of vitamin B12."
As with just about anything else in life the golden rule seems to be, "anything in moderation." Many nutritionists claim that, if the decision is not based solely on morality, that it might be a good idea to combine the two diets.
"We are, biologically, omnivores. Our closest cousins – chimps – are also omnivores," says David Katz, MD, a director at Yale University.
The American Dietetic Association's official position is that vegetarian diets can be a healthy option for just about anyone, provided that they are well designed. Talk to your doctor before starting a new diet and ask him how to supplement the vitamins that may be missing in your plans.