Is Being Vegetarian Good for You?
Find out how to make your vegetarian diet as nutritious as possible with smart plant-based choices.
With a larger recent spotling on plant-based eating, you may be wondering if going vegetarian is good for you. Wonder no more — it is! Here's some proof. One review study, published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, found that eating a vegetarian diet can lower your risk of both heart disease and cancer. And another study, published in Nutrients, shows that following a vegetarian diet can help with weight loss and also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
That said, not all vegetarian diets are equal. A vegetarian diet that consists of pasta, French fries and potato chips is not going to be healthy. When you're eating vegetarian, be sure to include plenty of vegetables and fruit, as well as whole grains, healthy fats and plant proteins. Here are a few especially nutritious plant protein options.
"All beans are good sources of proteins for vegetarians, but I especially like black beans because of their iron content," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, a dietitian in New York City. "Many vegetarians miss out on getting enough iron, an important mineral for delivering oxygen throughout the body and keeping energy levels up." A 1-cup serving of black beans contains more iron than a 3-ounce cooked flank steak!
Nuts are a great source of protein, and Rizzo especially recommends walnuts. "These are a source of healthy fat in a vegetarian diet, which is important for appetite control and keeping you full," says Rizzo, a nutrition partner with California Walnuts. "Plus, there's plenty of research on the benefits of eating walnuts, including studies in the fields of heart health, cognition, healthy aging, weight maintenance, gut health and more." Case in point: A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that healthy adults eating 1.5 ounces (a little over a third of a cup) of walnuts each day for three weeks saw an increase in bacteria thought to provide benefits such as improved colon health, reduced inflammation and improved insulin sensitivity.
"You're likely familiar with tofu, but have you tried this other soy-based protein?" asks Rizzo. Per 3-ounce portion, tempeh provides 17 grams of protein. "Since it's made from fermented soybeans, it has natural good-for-your-gut probiotics and tastes nutty and savory," she says. "Try adding tempeh to stir-fries, tacos or burgers."
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She's a regular contributor to many publications, including EverydayHealth.com, ReadersDigest.com, NBCNews.com, and more. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy's Eat List, where she shares easy, healthy recipes.