Categories: generalnutrition

Starting Vegetarian Diet.. the Side Effects

ِAre there risks in vegetarian diets?

Unfortunately, the risks exist and should not be underestimated if this type of diet translates in practical terms into the abolition of meat and fish, without simultaneously adopting the right precautions to compensate for the absence of all the nutrients existent in these categories of food. Some vegetarian patients have an unbalanced diet. Here is a summary of the risks – true or supposed – of vegetarian diets. This is to give a vade mecum to those who intend to orient themselves towards this choice.

A small premise before starting: in this article we will talk about vegetarian diets, and not vegan. Therefore, we will address eating styles that still include the introduction of eggs and cheeses. Some may consider vegan diets strongly unbalanced from a nutritional point of view.

Proteins in Vegetarian Diets

Let’s start with the most common complaint: the inadequacy of protein requirements in vegetarian diets. In reality, this objection has no reason to exist for at least two reasons. First of all, as written above, vegetarians can count on the contribution of eggs and cheeses. Secondly, there are also vegetable protein sources you can rely on: legumes, certain types of cereals (for example, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat contain more proteins than pasta and rice), certain types of oily fruit (peanuts, cashews and pine nuts), and vegetable substitutes such as tofu and seitan.

The problem could be another: the biological value of proteins in vegetarian diets.

The biological value of proteins in vegetarian diets

The biological value of a protein expresses the amount of protein that can effectively be used for organic purposes after having introduced it as food. Of 100 units that are introduced, unfortunately a portion is lost and cannot be relevant for metabolism. This applies to both animal products and plant products. But the share lost in animal products is negligible and does not contribute to creating a lack of essential amino acids. The egg -that vegetarians should not exclude from its power supply- is the source of the higher-protein biological value.

Protein requirement

Since two sources of high biological value proteins are excluded, the daily protein requirement of the vegetarian is not equivalent to that of the omnivore but is higher than it. Does it seem strange to you? Am I a vegetarian and do I need to get more protein? It is exactly like this: to compensate for the loss of biological value, the vegetarian must take a daily amount of protein higher than the norm.

In an omnivorous diet for a “normal” person (not athletes, but not even completely sedentary), the protein requirement is 0.8 g / kg of protein body weight. In a vegetarian diet it is estimated a requirement of 1.1-1.2 g / kg of protein (US Guidelines 2005). This is to say that if someone weighs 60 kg, he will need 48 g of protein per day if he is omnivorous. And he will need 66 g if he is  a vegetarian. Needs increase in proportion to physical activity.

Here is a fact that few think about when organizing their vegetarian diet. They may know that they have to compensate for the lack of protein. But they do not take into account that this lack must not only be equated with plant sources, but even overcome .


Due to the high biological value of the egg, it is a food source to be introduced at least 3-4 times a week. Fear not any contraindications for cholesterol. This claim is widely and repeatedly denied by science.

Instead, be careful not to overdo the cheeses for several reasons. First of all, the widespread lactose intolerance could make dairy products indigestible for many people. If you suffer from abdominal distension and air in the belly after drinking milk or taking fresh cheeses, you could fall into this case. Reduce the quantities and prefer low-lactose sources. The more a cheese is aged, the less it contains lactose, but alas the more it concentrates salt and fat. The whole set of negative consequences caused by the constant introduction of dairy products, which can be correlated with a worsening of asthma and respiratory problems, lower insulin sensitivity, skin impurities, hormonal imbalances (especially in women who suffer of micropolycystic ovary), anemia and other broad-spectrum ailments. Therefore, be careful not to abuse yogurt, milk, ricotta, mozzarella and other dairy products.


They should be introduced almost daily in those who adopt a vegetarian diet. However, you should heed some small side-effect data. Legumes, for example, can cause swelling and mutterings in the intestine. In fact, you have to make chickpeas, beans and lentils easily digestible. It is essential to subject them to long soaking with water replacement. They should undergo long cooking in unsalted liquid, and be associated with herbs that avoid the meteorizing effect (rosemary, sage, fennel seeds…). If you only use canned legumes and consume them often, you should review your habits!

A small side note: for some people, legumes cause drowsiness and mental numbness, as if they “drain energy”. If you realize this side effect, we suggest you reserve the legumes for the evening meal and not for the midday lunch.


Calcium, iron and zinc in Vegetarian Diets

After discussing proteins and vegetables, we face another great (very unfounded) challenge to vegetarian diets. By this we mean the lack of calcium, iron and zinc minerals.

The Zinc is a mineral found primarily in animal sources. We must not forget that eggs are a zinc concentrate. The importance of zinc is for sexuality. In children the deficiency can lead to a delay in pubertal development. In adults it can lead to a sharp decline in libido. Among vegetables, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, beans, chickpeas and whole grains are also good sources. There is only one drawback. For other minerals, the presence of fiber and phytates leads to a lower absorption of zinc. This is why the more vegetarian the diet, the more important it is to practice soaking, fermentation and germination of legumes, cereals and seeds.

There would be a final problem related to the change to a vegetarian diet: cholesterol deficiency. This leads to menstrual cycle disorders in women. It further causes a lack of testosterone and sexual desire in men.


Glycemic load in Vegetarian Diets

A balanced vegetarian diet is perfectly capable of avoiding glycemic peaks. But you may very often meet people who followed a vegetarian diet strongly predisposed to such peaks. This happens when meals are mainly carbohydrates. It also occurs when you follow a vegetarian diet and as first courses you eat only pasta and rice. Further, this happens if your bread is white, if you consume a lot of biscuits or sweets…Pay attention, because your diet lacks balance. Over time it could lead you to feel tired , lack of concentration , struggle to recover energy and need more hours of sleep to be able to feel active. If you find yourself having these symptoms, we recommend that you review your diet with the help of a professional.

Vegetarian diet can have some advantages in the short run. But you can’t maintain it in the long run without experiencing health problems.