Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism: The Beginner’s Guide to a Vegetarian Diet

    Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism: The Beginner’s Guide to a Vegetarian Diet
    Updated 25 April 2020 |
    Published 03 December 2019
    Fact Checked
    Olga Adereyko, MD
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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    While some opt for a vegetarian lifestyle for ethical reasons, others wish to reap its many health benefits. If you’re still weighing the pros and cons of vegetarianism, read on to learn about different types of vegetarian diets and which one is best for you.

    Types of vegetarian diets

    Has your doctor advised you to reduce the amount of red meat and saturated fat you regularly consume? Depending on personal preferences, you may decide to keep some animal products in your diet or to simply eliminate them altogether.

    While the pros and cons of vegetarian diets can be a bit complicated, it’s important to carefully evaluate vegetarian benefits and disadvantages. A thorough understanding will allow you to choose a plan suited to your daily lifestyle. Vegetarianism covers a wide spectrum of eating habits, such as: 


    Vegans don’t consume animal products of any kind, including by-products like honey, gelatin, and beeswax. They avoid red meat, pork, seafood, and poultry. Eggs and dairy are also off-limits. It’s difficult to get nutrients only found in meat when practicing veganism, so research plant-based sources of protein and iron to maintain a well-balanced diet.

    Incorporating soy and tofu will provide necessary proteins, while leafy greens like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard deliver plenty of iron. Be careful not to overdo it on carbohydrates, and eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Lacto-Ovo vegetarianism

    It’s the most common type of vegetarianism, and is a combination of two different approaches: lacto vegetarianism and ovo vegetarianism. One or both of these diets may be ideal if you’re not getting enough protein as a vegan. 

    Lacto vegetarians steer clear of red and white meat, and fish. They consume dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt ‒ but not eggs. In contrast, ovo vegetarians avoid meat, seafood, and dairy, but they do enjoy egg products. Lacto-ovo vegetarians combine these eating plans and incorporate both eggs and dairy into their regimen.

    Flexitarian vegetarianism

    When evaluating the pros and cons of vegetarianism, note that certain plans are a little less strict. Some individuals limit their animal product consumption by eliminating only meat or seafood, and might add dairy or eggs, or both, to their meals. Pescatarians eat seafood, but not poultry, pork, or red meat. Pollotarians don’t eat red meat, pork, fish, or shellfish ‒ although they do enjoy poultry. 

    An actual flexitarian isn’t a vegetarian, per se, but rather someone who eats mostly fruits and vegetables, with the occasional piece of meat. This primarily plant-based approach is typically better for your health. It’s ideal for getting nutrients only found in meat, without all the potential cons of being a vegetarian.

    Next, we delve a little deeper into the long-term pros and cons of being a vegetarian.

    Pros of being a vegetarian

    For women with a family history of heart problems, adopting a vegetarian diet could reduce high blood pressure and the likelihood of a heart attack. To secure the heart-healthy benefits of eating vegetarian, incorporate nuts, legumes, and high-fiber, whole grains into your meals. Consume lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods with a low glycemic index. 

    In this case, the pros of being a vegetarian include getting more soluble fiber, lowering cholesterol, and stabilizing blood sugar levels to prevent peaks and crashes.

    To secure the heart-healthy benefits of eating vegetarian, incorporate nuts, legumes, and high-fiber, whole grains into your meals.

    Heart concerns aside, women with a greater predisposition toward certain cancers might be able to decrease their chances of developing these diseases through vegetarianism. Animal-free diets can have a positive effect when it comes to brain cancer, colorectal cancer, and female-specific cancers. Also, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet could offer some protection against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. 

    By having at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables (naturally loaded with vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fiber), you’ll gradually tip those odds in your favor. Vitamin supplements are another great way to supply your body with the proper nutrients and to give it a fighting chance.

    Furthermore, you may not need to be exclusively vegetarian. Even a mostly plant-based diet has wonderful advantages. Simply reducing the amount of red meat you consume and boosting fiber intake delivers countless cancer-fighting health benefits.

    Lastly, a well-rounded vegetarian diet, coupled with exercise and other lifestyle changes, could drastically decrease your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects millions of Americans, and inhibits your body’s ability to produce insulin or creates insulin resistance. That’s why eating foods with a low glycemic index, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is important.

    Cons of being a vegetarian

    Balancing the pros and cons of vegetarianism means taking into account certain drawbacks associated with eliminating animal products from your diet. For those who prefer not to eat a lot of vegetables, becoming a vegetarian means relying on starchy foods and carbs. High-carb diets cause your blood pressure to spike and drop, which negatively impacts overall health and increases your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

    Other cons of being a vegetarian include vitamin deficiencies, especially when it comes to nutrients found only in meat. Without the aid of supplements, many vegetarians will experience low levels of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids.

    If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, it might be wise to take a supplement to ensure both you and your baby get a daily dose of vital nutrients. Folic acid, omega-3, and iron supplements should be at the top of the list. 

    How to become a vegetarian

    In order to create a diet plan that’s easy to stick to, a little research will be necessary. Meat-free substitutes, typically made from soy products, can be swapped into your favorite chili or casserole recipes. Consider trying a new vegan fast food spot or looking up weeknight vegetarian meals online to ensure dinnertime is both healthy and stress-free.

    After evaluating being a vegetarian pros and cons, choose an official start date. Maybe you could ease yourself into it with a flexitarian approach, as opposed to quitting cold turkey. During the first couple of weeks, it’ll be hard to resist temptation. For those who normally consume a lot of red meat, try a more lenient approach like “Meatless Mondays” instead.

    When baking, substitute eggs for 1 tablespoon of ground flax meal or chia seeds, plus 3 tablespoons of warm water or Ener-G Egg Replacer. Another option is to use 1/4 cup of pureed silken tofu, banana, sweet potato, or applesauce. 

    If you’re an avid chef, always remember to use vegetable stock instead of bone broth, and to switch to soy-based, dairy-free cheese.


    Admittedly, there are a lot of vegetarian diets pros and cons to factor into your decision. Aside from its positive health benefits, vegetarianism may lower your grocery bill, as fruits and vegetables tend to cost less than steak, chicken, or shrimp.

    But before you take the plunge, carefully weigh the pros and cons of eating meat, as well as your own personal dietary preferences. Also, be sure to first consult your doctor or a licensed dietitian to guarantee that your body will still receive all the nourishment it needs.

    History of updates
    Current version (25 April 2020)
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
    Published (03 December 2019)
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