By Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D. for HuffingtonPost.com
Most people’s thoughts surrounding “risky behavior” are focused on actions related to drugs, driving and sex. But the foods you eat every day can be risky, too — especially if you choose to take on a new dietary regimen without doing enough research first. How risky could food be, you ask? Well, if you consider that nutrient deficiencies can cause a whole host of negative side effects that can range from weight gain to decline in brain function and beyond, the answer is “very risky.” If you’re like many Americans, your new “trend” may be to go meat-free.
The health benefits associated with a healthy and well-balanced vegetarian (or vegan) lifestyle are undeniable. Countless studies have shown that a well-planned, nutritious, plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, as well as with longer life expectancy.
The key phrase that isn’t emphasized enough is “a well-planned, nutritious, plant-based diet.” People automatically associate a vegetarian or vegan diet with health, but in reality, eliminating meat from the diet is not a ticket to good health. In fact, it’s just as easy to be an unhealthy vegetarian as it is to be an unhealthy omnivore. The real benefits are seen when meat and/or dairy are replaced with more fruits, vegetables, beans, whole soy, and nutritiously-dense foods.
You Get Your Diet Information From Unreliable Sources
If you decided to go vegetarian after reading a magazine story with your favorite celebrity endorsing a vegetarian lifestyle, you definitely want to keep reading. Although they probably appeared very skinny and healthy, that does not mean they are getting the proper nutrients that the body requires for optimal functioning. Vitamin deficiencies can easily occur in a poorly-planned vegetarian diet, particularly vitamin B12. A recent study showed that B12 deficiency is fairly prevalent among the vegetarian population. A long-term deficiency can ultimately cause irreversible nerve damage. Avoiding deficiencies may be easy as doing your homework. Search for a reliable source when you’re looking for diet advice, or consult your physician or registered dietitian.
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