Vegetarianism can be good for your health, but side effects might occur at first.
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Switching to a vegetarian diet has many benefits, but getting through the transition period can be a challenge. Your first step should be to decide what type of vegetarian you want to be. Some avoid only beef, pork and poultry while others also stay away from eggs, seafood and dairy. Vegans do not consume or use any animal products at all. There's no right way to go vegetarian as long as you make sure you're getting all of the nutrients your body needs from your plant-based diet. This not only helps keep you healthy and strong, it can also help lessen the negative side effects.
Positive Side Effects
Eating a plant-based diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants can offer long-term benefits to your health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, nuts and avocados. They help reduce the amount of lower-density lipoproteins, or LDLs in your blood. LDLs can build up in your bloodstream, clogging your arteries and leading to heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids also raise the levels of higher-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, which scour the little clumps of LDLs out of your system.
Fiber is necessary for healthy elimination. It also helps keep you full longer than the empty calories in refined starches and sugary treats. This can have a beneficial effect on weight control.
The antioxidants, such as those found in fruits and leafy green vegetables, help fight the free radicals that grow on your cells like rust. This helps lower your risk of heart attack, stroke and certain cancers and also helps slow the visible signs of aging. Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of water, helping to keep you hydrated.
The positive side effects of becoming a vegetarian may include a decreased risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancers. Sticking to a plant-based diet can also help you lose weight and support supple skin and strong, shiny hair and nails.
Negative Side Effects
There are relatively few physical side effects to going vegetarian, but some do exist. If you don't get enough protein, you can become anemic. This means that there's not enough iron in your blood - a lack that can make you tired, weak and less able to fight off infections. It can also result in dull, brittle hair and nails.
Lack of calcium can weaken your bones, so make sure that you take in enough either from dairy or from dark green leafy vegetables.
Bloating and gas are often issues for people who are not used to consuming a large amount of vegetables. Some of the carbohydrates in vegetables contain bacteria different from what your gut is used to. While this is unpleasant, it's not life-threatening and should settle down after a few weeks as your body acclimates.
Most negative side effects of a vegetarian diet can be avoided if you educate yourself on what vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, in what amounts and where they're found so you can plan your meals to ensure that you're eating a balanced diet.
Social Side Effects
Depending on where you live and in what culture, you may receive an embarrassing amount of praise or a dismaying amount of criticism once you announce your decision to stop eating meat. Enjoy the praise and try to let the criticism go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes people feel threatened when someone they're close to makes a substantial lifestyle change, so be compassionate and kind, don't try to change anyone else's mind and quietly stick to your plan.
Dining out may become a challenge. This will depend on where you live and also on what kind of a vegetarian you become. Avoiding red meat, chicken and pork is fairly easy almost anywhere, while dining out as a vegan in the midst of a steak-and-potato culture may require a bit more effort. Whenever possible, search for your destination's menu online so you'll have an idea of your options before you sit down to order.
Dinner parties at friends' homes can also be a challenge. Check with the person throwing the party ahead of time. Offer to bring a vegetarian dish large enough for all to share so that you don't find yourself dining only on bread and dessert.