11 Surprising Ways Your Body Can Change When You Become A Vegetarian
Everybody needs something different in order to feel their best, so what you decide to eat on a daily basis is entirely up to you. If you feel great after eating a burger, or chicken, or fish, then go for it. But if you prefer to live that veggie life, or if you'd like to give it a try, you might notice the changes to your body when you go vegetarian.
In many ways, a diet high in vegetables and whole grains can improve your health, and even lower your chances of developing of certain diseases. "Vegetarian diets decrease the risk of many forms of cancer, heart disease, gallstones, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and diabetes," New Jersey-based dietician Bess Berger, RDN, CDN, CLT tells Bustle. "People who eat no meat also tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol."
While there are many benefits to eating meat, there is also a lot of research supporting a vegetarian lifestyle. As Berger says, "The true benefits of vegetarianism come when you focus your diet on healthy, nutrient-rich whole foods," such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Of course, this lifestyle preference is completely up to you, and what you are comfortable with, but if you are thinking of going full-on veggie, experts say there is a lot to be gained. Here are a few more interesting ways experts say a vegetarian diet may change your body.
1. Your Mood Might Improve
When it comes to what affects your mood, there's a seemingly endless list of factors at play, such as how well you sleep, or your exercise patterns.
But what you eat can play a role, too. And research in Nutrition Journal has found that a vegetarian diet may boost your mood. "Chemicals produced from animal sources, specifically arachidonic acid, have been linked to mood disturbances," says Berger. "Omitting animals from your diet may help decrease these side effects."
2. Your Taste Buds Might Change
Once you go veggie, you might notice that your palette starts to change. "For example, you might not like some foods, and you will taste other foods more fully," says Berger. "You may even develop more of an appreciation for spices, and delicate flavors."
Berger says this often has to do with a vegetarian's tendency to avoid salty, over-processed foods, which may sort of "burn out" your taste buds. But it can also be due to low levels of zinc, which Berger says is a necessary mineral when it comes to tasting food, and one that is often deficient in vegetarians. If you notice a difference in your taste buds after becoming a vegetarian, try increasing your intake of zinc-rich foods, like whole grains, spinach, chickpeas, and kefir.
3. You Might Take Longer To Recover After Working Out
If you're someone who likes to hit the gym, you might notice that it takes longer for your muscles recover, once you switch to a vegetarian lifestyle. "Since plant proteins take longer for your body to break down and reassemble in useable parts, you may notice your body takes a bit longer to recover from a good workout or run," says Berger.
But this doesn't mean you're doomed to a life of fatigue. If you feel tired, "adjust and consider your protein sources," says Berger. "For example, find a good recipe for a protein-filled vegetarian smoothie or shake." Once you add more protein to your diet, you should be able to keep up with your workouts.
4. You Might Notice More Energy
On the flip side, you might notice an increase in your energy levels. "There are several positive changes one may notice after becoming vegetarian, including elevated energy, thanks to the increase in vitamins and antioxidants, and improved digestion, mainly [due] to the increased fiber," Jessica Waller, a holistic nutritionist based on Maryland, tells Bustle.
5. You May Feel More Bloated Than Usual
If you're just beginning the process of switching over to a plant-rich lifestyle, you might feel a bit uncomfortable at first. "Plant sources have more fiber and good bacteria. This is all very healthy for your gut and for overall wellness. However, while your body acclimates to its new higher fiber intake, there may be some bloating," Berger says. "Don’t let it discourage you ... it is most likely temporary." If you're feeling uncomfortable, drinking more water can help with bloating, as can avoiding certain bloat-inducing foods, like broccoli.
6. You May Sleep Like A Baby
As with mood, there are so many factors at play when it comes to how well you sleep. But many experts say vegetarians often have an easier time sleeping. "Digestion/metabolism is often slowed down by meat and animal products, [so] vegetarians may ... experience improved sleep, thanks to the speedier breakdown of food in the gut and the increased mineral intake," says Waller. Add in a healthier lifestyle that's common for vegetarians — who, according to studies, often drink less, smoke less, and exercise more — and it all adds up to a great night's rest.
7. Your Bathroom Habits Might Change
When you begin eating mostly plant-based foods, don't be surprised if your bathroom habits change. "A common complaint that many of my clients have is inconsistent stools," Kylene Terhune, a functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and personal trainer, tells Bustle. "Some may be constipated, some have diarrhea, or some fluctuate between the two."
This can be super annoying at first, but tends to go away as your body adjusts. But if it doesn't, follow up with a doctor to find out if your lifestyle choice is truly to blame. "If you aren't having regular bowel movements and/or you have stomach pains that accompany inconsistent bowel movements, you need to get it checked out," she says. "Consider ordering up a comprehensive stool test and/or a food sensitivities test. Often the two compliment each other well."
8. You May Feel Fuller Longer
A vegetarian lifestyle can also help you feel fuller longer after eating, and prevent you from experiencing annoying blood sugar crashes throughout the day. This, again, has to do with all those fiber-rich foods.
"Fiber ... takes longer to break down in the digestive process, [which] helps to make ... stool more solid, and keeps things moving along through the intestinal system so that we keep elimination nice and regular," Melainie Rogers MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD, Founder and Executive Director of BALANCE eating disorder treatment center™ and Melainie Rogers Nutrition, LLC, tells Bustle. "The positive side effects [are that] you feel fuller for longer, because digestion is slowed down; blood sugars also don't spike and crash as the digestion of the food slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream." As a result, you may also feel more energized.
9. You May Notice Clearer Skin
Not all vegetarians have clear skin, and not all meat eaters have acne. But experts say there is sometimes a connection between a vegetarian lifestyle and clearer skin.
"There are a multitude of reasons why new vegetarians might notice better skin than they had before," registered dietician nutritionist Sarah Skovran, RDN, LD tells Bustle. "Vegetarians diets are often richer in fruits and vegetables than omnivore diets. Fruits and vegetables have high water content and lots of antioxidants, both of which help decrease risk of acne. Antioxidants also protect the skin from damaging free radicals."
10. You Might Feel Rundown
Until you adjust to what a healthy vegetarian lifestyle looks like, you might notice that you're running low on energy. And this is mainly due to vitamin deficiencies, such as low vitamin B12, low vitamin D, and low iron levels.
"There are a few reasons your body might be low in certain vitamins," says Skovran. "Vitamins B12 and Vitamin D are available in animal products and very few other places, so ask your doctor or registered dietitian if supplementing is right for you. If your diet is very low in fat, you might not be able to absorb and use fat soluble vitamins (which include vitamin D, and also A, E and K) very well. There is a fix here too: be sure to consume adequate healthy fats from vegetarian sources."
And be sure to include iron in your lifestyle, too. "Some people get most of their iron from red meats. If you switch to a vegetarian diet, make sure to include lots of iron sources like beans and lentils, dark leafy greens, dried fruit, and fortified breads and cereal," she says. "Also make sure to consume plenty of foods containing vitamin C (citrus fruits, leafy greens, red and green peppers), as this is needed in order to absorb the type of iron found in plant foods."
11. Your Hormones Can Change
"The elimination of foreign hormones from your diet that are often found in non-organic meats and poultry plays a huge role in balancing hormones," Molly Rose Hoffman, Integrative Nutritionist and Health Coach, tells Bustle. "In addition to the removal of hormones from animal sources, vegetarian diets can actually stimulate a production of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. Vegetarian sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids — such as coconut oil, olive oil, chia seeds, and avocados — actually increase the levels of your 'good cholesterol' (HDL), which is a key factor in healthy and balanced hormones."
Hoffman warns against packing your diet with too much soy (as many vegetarians tend to do) as it can disrupt your hormones in a negative way. "The key to any diet is — everything in moderation," she says.
Of course, no one lifestyle choice is better than the other, but if you are thinking of going vegetarian, these are some ways your body might change. Feel free to try it out, but in the end, always eat what feels right for you.