BY MARIA MONTEMAYOR

What do celebrities Drake, Kal Penn and Zac Efron have in common? They all adhere to plant-based diets! Toss NFL star Tom Brady into this mix as well – Brady and his wife Gisele Bundchen promote and eat mostly vegan meals (in Brady’s case, a diet dominated by vegetables, electrolyte-infused water and protein shakes).

Before you start throwing out your frozen chicken wings and lamb chops, it’s good to think about the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet to see if it’s really for you (and if you decide to go vegetarian, farther down we list the three best vegetarian restaurants in Toronto).

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A (lacto) vegetarian diet suggests the absence of meat, fish, poultry, or eggs. However, some vegetarians may also avoid dairy products but consume eggs (ovo vegetarians). Others (lacto-ovo), don’t eat red meat, fish or fowl, but they do include eggs and dairy products in their diet (this is the most common type of vegetarian). Vegans do not consume any animal products whatsoever or animal by-products, including honey.

PROS

Prevents heart disease

A vegetarian diet may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This is the case because an over-abundance of red meats may include too many saturated fats which some dieticians believe raise unhealthy cholesterol levels. Following a healthy, whole foods-based vegetarian diet – including good sources of protein like beans and legumes, as well as some healthy fats – while also eliminating processed foods, will make you less likely to get heart disease.

Helps you manage your weight

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help you lose weight, provided you don’t over-indulge in potatoes, rice and bread products. Fresh produce is also rich in fibre leaving you feeling full longer. If weight loss is your goal, a vegetarian diet can help you achieve that.

Regulates your bowel movements

Another benefit of a fibre-rich vegetarian diet is that it helps improve digestive health by keeping bowel movements regular, as well as feeding the good bacteria in your gut.

CONS

Lack of essential nutrients

Vitamin B12 is found mainly in animal foods. Low vitamin B12 can negatively impact your mood, sleep and energy levels. A vegetarian diet is often low in Vitamin D, which also effects mood, and can lead to muscle pain and weakness, and brittle bones. Vitamin D also helps keep your immune system strong, and helps to produce hormones in the body, so it’s important to help ward off illness as well as to provide energy. If you choose to follow a vegetarian diet be sure to supplement with not only a good multi-vitamin, but also Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Omega 3s if you are not including fish in your diet.

Potential hair loss

In addition to vitamin B, meat also contains protein, zinc and iron, which are all necessary for hair growth. Due to the lack of iron and some other minerals, a vegetarian diet can lead to weaker and thinner hair, even hair loss.

Risk of anemia

A lack of iron and certain vitamins can also lead to anemia. Anemia makes you feel more tired than usual, sometimes weak and dizzy, and also occasionally lead to headaches and chest pain. People who are anemic may not experience issues at first, but over time these symptoms may worsen leading to extreme fatigue.

If you like the benefits of a mostly vegetarian diet, but don’t want to completely remove meat from your life, you can try increasing your vegetable intake while at the same time reducing the amount of meat you eat on a daily basis. Alternatively some people prefer a diet that cuts out red meat but includes chicken and/or fish.

Challenge yourself to “Meatless Mondays” and see how that makes your body feel. If you notice positive change in the way you feel, you may try including more vegetarian days. We are all unique so it’s always a good idea to listen to your body, and try to discern which foods make you feel healthy and energetic.

Top image: Shutterstock

TOP THREE TORONTO VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS