Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
I've been a vegetarian for about 6 months, would like to start eating white meat again due to my lack of protein. I've heard that after not eating meat for a period of time, it's common for someone to get sick. Is this true and if so, how should I go about eating meat again?
If you are worried about getting enough protein from a vegetarian diet, you do not have to start eating meat. You can get ample protein by eating a variety of vegetarian foods such as legumes (i.e. beans, soybean), vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts.
If you want to include meat back into your diet because you like the taste, then when introducing any new food into the diet, it's always best to start slowly and in small portions.
However, equally important to getting adequate protein is obtaining sufficient vitamin B12 in a vegetarian diet. Deficiencies of vitamin B12 cause an array of problems such as memory loss, dementia, loss of appetite, vision problems, and neuropathy (weakness, numbness, tingling, or pain in the arms and legs). Strict vegetarians who exclude all meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products from their diets need to include vitamin B12 fortified foods or vitamin supplements. Although it may take years for deficiency diseases to show up, some nerve problems that result are irreversible (Office of Dietary Supplements, 2006).
According to the Vegetarian Society, people who do not eat red meat but eat chicken or fish are meat-reducers and not vegetarians. Vegans are people who do not eat any animal product including eggs, dairy, honey, and all meats (2009).
The health benefits of being a vegetarian are outlined by the American Dietetic Association (2003):
Compared to nonvegetarians, vegetarians have:
1. lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians
2. lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease
3. lower blood cholesterol levels
4. lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension
5. lower rates of type 2 diabetes
6. lower rates of prostate and colon cancer
For more information about vegetarian diets go to the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom at www.vegsoc.org or the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org