While it may sound tempting to only eat your favorite foods, whether these are veggies or meats, restricting your diet to just one food group is likely to lead to nutrient deficiencies. No one food group provides all of the essential nutrients. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends following a balanced diet containing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein foods and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives to maintain your health.
Risks of a Meat-Only Diet
While meat provides high-quality protein and essential amino acids, as well as iron, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins, it isn't the perfect food. Meat doesn't contain enough carbohydrates, which are your brain's preferred fuel, fiber or many of the other important nutrients, including vitamin C and the beneficial phytochemicals found only in plant foods. Diets low in fiber often lead to constipation and other digestive conditions. A study published in "Archives of Internal Medicine" in 2012 found that diets high in red meat increase the risk for dying from heart disease, cancer or any other cause compared to diets low in red meat.
Risks of a Vegetable-Only Diet
Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may help you lose weight and lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity. However, although vegetables provide some protein, especially if you include beans in your diet, they don't provide all of the essential amino acids in high enough amounts with the exception of soybeans. You need to either eat meat or other animal products or eat vegetables along with grains or nuts and seeds to meet your protein needs. Vegetables tend to be very low in fat, and don't contain significant levels of the essential omega-3 fats, so without adding flaxseeds, walnuts or fish to your diet it would be hard to meet your daily fat needs. Also, vegetables don't contain all of the essential vitamins and minerals. Only animal products contain vitamin B-12, for example.
Characteristics of a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet contains a variety of foods from each of the four food groups. Each meal should contain carbohydrates, protein and fat. Choose the healthier sources of each of these nutrients, including carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead of those from refined grains; protein from fish, beans or poultry more often than red meat; and unsaturated fats like those from nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocados and seafood instead of saturated fats from meat and dairy. Opt for low-fat dairy over full-fat, since most of the fat in dairy products is unhealthy saturated fat.
An easy way to plan a healthy meal is to use the plate method. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, then divide the remaining half between whole grains and lean protein. While you can get all the protein and nutrients you need without eating meat, it isn't as easy to avoid vegetables. Vegetables are low in calories per serving and high in nutrients, so they help fill you up and provide the nutrients you need more efficiently than most other foods. Fruits and whole grains provide some of the same nutrients, but often contain more calories per serving, possibly making it harder for you to maintain your weight if you rely solely on them for nutrients instead of consuming vegetables.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: How to Build a Balanced Meal
- Help Guide: Healthy Eating
- Choose My Plate: Why Is it Important to Eat Vegetables?
- MedlinePlus: Protein in Diet
- MayoClinic.com: Meatless Meals: The Benefits of Eating Less Meat
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Help People to Manage Their Weight?egetables help people to manage their weight?
- Archives of Internal Medicine: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.