Is Being Vegetarian Healthy? Our Journey And What We’ve Discovered So Far

When Larissa and I became lacto-ovo vegetarians in 2013, one question we were frequently asked was, “Is being vegetarian healthy?” When people ask me this today, my answer is, “It depends.” Larissa and I started this podcast because, when we became vegetarian, we did it in a way that wasn’t healthy. We became the classic “junk food vegetarians,” relying on a lot of overly processed foods with not a lot of nutritional value. 

After course-correcting a few months into ditching the meat, we finally started to experience some of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. We’ll share with these with you and provide a few tips for overcoming challenges many first-time vegetarians and vegans experience along the way. 

You can listen to our story and what we’ve learned so far or scroll on for a quick summary and links to everything we discuss.

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Our story of transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle

Before we dive into answering the question, “Is being vegetarian healthy?”, let’s go back to when our vegetarian journey began.

Back in 2013 we came across two powerful and thought-provoking films: Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead and Vegucated. These documentaries shook us and inspired us to make a life-changing decision to become vegetarians. Sure, it was a bit of a challenge at first, but we embraced it with joy and curiosity. That very same year, we started Vegetarian Zen (both the website and the podcast) as a way to share our discoveries and experiences with our loved ones and the world.

sliced vegetables and fruits on black ceramic plate

3 Common Misconceptions About Vegetarian Diets

When we first considered adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, we encountered several common misconceptions that almost made us doubt our decision.

1. One of the most prevalent myths is that vegetarians don’t get enough protein and, as a result, suffer from various health issues. The truth is that a well-planned vegetarian diet can provide all the essential amino acids and protein that our bodies need.

2. Another misconception is that vegetarian diets are bland and lack variety. In reality, the plant-based world is incredibly diverse and flavorful, with abundant fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and other delicious options.

3. Some also believe that vegetarians miss out on essential nutrients like iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. While it’s true that these nutrients are often found in animal products, there are plenty of plant-based alternatives that can help meet our daily requirements.

Overall, these misconceptions can create unnecessary fear and hesitation, but with proper research and planning, a vegetarian diet can be both satisfying and nutritionally sound.

Our  Reasons for Going Vegetarian

1. Ethical Reasons

As an animal lover, watching Vegucated was a real eye-opener. I was disgusted by the treatment of animals, particularly in the factory farm industry. I made myself watch what was going on because I felt I had closed my eyes for far too long. 

Larissa couldn’t actually watch it but she was in the room and I told her what I saw, which was very disturbing. This was our biggest “why.” 

Since starting the podcast, we’ve had the awesome opportunity to speak with amazing advocates such as:

gene baur with 3 turkeys

2. Environmental reasons

Another reason we decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle was for the well-being of our planet and environment. We realized that a plant-based diet requires fewer resources like land, water, and energy, compared to a diet that includes meat. We also learned that livestock farming consumes a significant amount of water and land and produces greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, which contribute to climate change.

By choosing a vegetarian diet we could reduce our carbon footprint and help conserve valuable resources.

Furthermore, we discovered that embracing a vegetarian diet can help combat deforestation. Large areas of forests are often cleared to create grazing land for livestock or to grow feed crops. By reducing the demand for animal products, we felt like we were contributing to the preservation of vital ecosystems and the rich biodiversity they support.

3. Health Benefits

The saturated fat in meat can lead to cardiovascular disease, which runs in my family. Weight loss wasn’t a motivator for me, but heart disease and blood pressure issues certainly were considerations. 

It’s the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

American Dietetic Association

While health benefits definitely factored into our choice to become vegetarians, a vegetarian diet doesn’t guarantee health in itself (as we quickly discovered).

Overcoming Challenges To Being Vegetarian

1. Having a Picky Diet

As we delved into our vegetarian journey, we faced a unique challenge: Larissa, being a very picky eater, wasn’t a fan of a lot of green vegetables (or most non-green ones either!).

However, we were determined to overcome this obstacle and make the most of our new plant-based diet. Here’s how we navigated Larissa’s picky eating habits and eventually broadened her palate.

First, we began by identifying the foods and flavors that we already enjoyed. I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely LOVE Mexican food. Fortunately, many ethnic foods lend themselves very well to a plant-based diet. 

Next, we made it a point to introduce new foods gradually, giving us the opportunity to adjust to different flavors and textures. Trying to do too much all at once is usually a recipe for disaster.

In our quest to find vegetarian meals that would please Larissa’s taste buds, we also explored various cuisines from around the world. This allowed us to discover creative ways to prepare and season vegetables, grains, and legumes to make them more appealing to her.

Over time, Larissa’s palate expanded and she became more open to trying different ingredients and flavors. By being patient, persistent, and creative we were able to overcome the obstacle of having a picky eater within our vegetarian lifestyle. In the end, this journey not only enriched our dining experiences but also brought us closer together as we shared our love for food and cooking.

2. The Social Aspect of Being Vegetarian

Larissa and I have been fortunate in that our family and friends were very supportive when we told them we were becoming vegetarian. Unfortunately, not everyone has this experience. If you’re the only vegetarian or vegan in your immediate family, it can sometimes be difficult to plan meals or go out to eat at places where everyone’s dietary preferences are met. 

Even though our family has been very supportive of our choice (including being open to our vegan wedding), we’ve still experienced some tricky situations and have learned a few helpful tips to tackle these while still enjoying ourselves and maintaining our vegetarian lifestyle.

One key approach is to communicate our dietary preferences to our friends and family in a positive and non-confrontational way. After all, we created Vegetarian Zen because we wanted a peaceful place for vegetarians, vegans, and the veg-curious to share tips for living a more compassionate lifestyle–and that compassion begins with us!

We totally get that not everyone will understand our choices right away, but we’ve found that being open and patient goes a long way toward fostering understanding and support from our loved ones. Sharing our experiences, our reasons for going vegetarian, and even some delicious plant-based meals can help bridge the gap and make them more accommodating.

When it comes to social events, planning ahead is essential. If we’re invited to a gathering where we know the vegetarian options might be scarce, we like to offer to bring a dish to share. Not only does this ensure we’ll have something tasty to eat, but it also gives us an opportunity to introduce others to the wonderful world of vegetarian cuisine. Who knows, we might just inspire someone else to explore a plant-based lifestyle!

Eating out can also pose a challenge, but with a little research and creativity it’s totally manageable. We often scout out the menu beforehand and, if necessary, call the restaurant to inquire about vegetarian options. Don’t be shy about asking for modifications to menu items or requesting off-menu dishes–most restaurants are more than willing to accommodate.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that we’re each on our own unique journey. Sometimes, we might face criticism or misunderstandings about our vegetarian lifestyles, but maintaining a positive attitude and staying true to our beliefs is what matters most. Over time, we’ve found that as we confidently embrace our vegetarian identity, others around us become more accepting and supportive.

woman pouring juice on glass

3. Maintaining a Balanced Diet 

One revelation that we’ve had on our vegetarian journey is that it’s entirely possible to obtain all the essential nutrients our bodies need from a plant-based diet. And yes, vegan and vegetarian sources of protein are ABUNDANT! Maintaining a balanced diet is a challenge faced by everyone, whether they are vegetarian or not.

To be honest, before we embraced vegetarianism and became “junk food vegetarians,” we were actually “junk food omnivores.” In other words, our diet was far from a healthy diet, even when we were consuming meat. The transition to vegetarianism made us more mindful of our dietary choices and prompted us to learn about the importance of balancing our meals with the right nutrients.

As we delved deeper into the world of vegetarian nutrition we found that, by incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into our diet, we could obtain all the protein, vitamins, and minerals we need for optimal health. Of course, it took some effort and research to plan well-rounded meals, but the benefits have been well worth it.

We’ve learned to pay special attention to certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can be more challenging to obtain from a plant-based diet. However, with the help of fortified foods and supplements, we’ve managed to maintain healthy levels of these nutrients.

This podcast has also given us the opportunity to ask questions from health professionals and doctors such as:

In the end, our journey into vegetarianism has made us more conscious of our eating habits and the importance of a balanced diet. By embracing a diverse range of plant-based foods, we’ve improved our overall health and deepened our appreciation for the incredible variety and abundance that a vegetarian lifestyle has to offer.

dr brooke goldner
Dr. Brooke Goldner

The Benefits I Experienced When Becoming a Vegetarian

1. Increased Energy Levels and Better Sleep

Definitely, but not at the beginning! As we mentioned, we first became vegetarian we experienced lethargy and crankiness because we were eating a lot of processed foods.

However, once we started adjusting our diets to include more whole foods, it wasn’t long before we began noticing a significant change in our energy levels. As we began incorporating a wider variety of whole foods and paying closer attention to our nutrient intake, I found myself feeling more energized and alert throughout the day.

Gone were the after-meal energy crashes I used to experience, replaced by a newfound sense of vitality. By focusing on a balanced vegetarian diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources, I discovered that I was better able to utilize the nutrients from my meals, providing me with steady energy to power through my day.

This transformation not only improved our daily routines but also motivated us to continue exploring the many benefits of a well-planned vegetarian lifestyle.

close up photo of cute sleeping cat

2. Improved Digestion

When we made the switch to vegetarianism we felt awful because we were eating a ton of junk food. As we started to eat healthier vegetarian meals, we both noticed a significant improvement in our digestion. There are a few reasons why this change happened to us.

First of all, our new diet was packed with dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. This fiber played a key role in maintaining a healthy digestive system.

Second, our plant-based meals were much gentler on our stomachs since they were generally lower in saturated fats compared to our previous meat-heavy diet. Consuming less saturated fat meant that our digestion could function more efficiently, without feeling weighed down or sluggish.

Third, our vegetarian diet was rich in essential vitamins and minerals, which contributed to our gut health. We began eating more foods containing prebiotics, which encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in our digestive systems and helps maintain a healthy balance. We also found that some of the plant-based foods we were eating had natural anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce gut inflammation and improve overall digestive health.

Of course, everyone’s experience may differ and you should ALWAYS check with your doctor but for us, adopting a well-balanced vegetarian diet led to better digestion and a happier gut.

healthy gut

3. More Creativity in the Kitchen

When we first embarked on our vegetarian journey, little did we know it would open up a whole new world of culinary creativity for us. As we bid farewell to our meat-centered meals we were faced with the exciting challenge of discovering new ways to create satisfying and flavorful dishes. And you know what? It turned out to be an absolute blessing in disguise!

As we ventured into the realm of plant-based ingredients we began experimenting with a wide and colorful array of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. This exploration led us to some amazing new flavors, textures, and combinations we had never considered before. Our kitchen soon transformed into a playground where we enthusiastically tried out new recipes and cooking techniques. I was even inspired to sign up for a vegan cooking course from Forks Over Knives!

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This culinary adventure also encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and explore diverse cuisines from around the world. We found ourselves delving into the rich flavors of Indian curries, marveling at the simplicity of Thai dishes, and savoring the freshness of Mediterranean fare. Our taste buds were constantly delighted, and our appreciation for the diversity of vegetarian food grew exponentially. Luckily there are many awesome cookbooks to help get you started!

In retrospect, becoming vegetarian not only introduced us to a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle but also ignited our passion for cooking and broadened our culinary horizons. The creativity we discovered in our kitchen turned out to be one of the most unexpected and rewarding aspects of our vegetarian journey.

The Bottom Line: Is Being Vegetarian Healthy?

The bottom line is that your own personal vegetarian journey can be as healthy as you make it. Ours started off on the awful misinformed path of processed foods, which was far from healthy and not substantiable. But the good news is, there are plenty of resources available these days that can not only help your journey be healthy but also SUPER fun!

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