Why Vegetarian Diets are Beneficial
Over the past two decades, millions of individuals all over the world have adopted vegetarian diets. This article, which relies on secondary research, looks at the history behind vegetarianism and at different aspects of such a diet. In particular, three important aspects are examined. These are a) a short history of the vegetarian diet, b) the advantages of such a vegetarian diet, and c) the disadvantages. Research findings so far indicate that adhering to a vegetarian diet can have positive effects on one’s health, the environment around them, and to animals. Nevertheless, there are some downsides including, for example, lifestyle changes and possible deficiencies in terms of nutrition. Overall though, the findings lead us to conclude that if those who practice vegetarianism are to maintain a healthy body they need to ensure their diet is balanced.
1. To Begin
In his later years, Albert Einstein was vegetarian. In March 1954, he wrote to Hans Muehsam describing how he was existing without meat, fish, and fats, but was still feeling well. He said it seemed to him that man was not meant to be a meat-eater or carnivore. A vegetarian diet is thought to be beneficial to health. According to the Medical Dictionary Online
, vegetarianism is defined as voluntarily abstaining from "eating meat" and the word "vegetarian" is one that is used to indicate a diet that is devoid of animal-based foods but includes essential plant-based foods. The Vegetarianism (2011) suggests there exists five major types of vegetarian diets, which are a) the lacto vegetarian, (comprising of dairy produce, plant-based foods, and honey), b) lacto-ovo vegetarian (comprising of dairy produce, plant-based foods, honey and eggs), c) ovo vegetarian (comprising of plant-based foods, honey, and eggs), d) vegan (comprising solely of plant-based foods), and e) the fruitarian diet (comprising of fruit, seeds, and nuts). These days there are several types of vegetarian and the concept is growing more popular in every part of the world. A 2007 study by Thich indicated that vegetarians have increased in numbers by around 30% since 1970. A 1992 survey undertaken by The Vegetarian Times in Illinois, US showed that eight million of the almost 12.5 million participants were vegetarians. In 2012, the W&S Company (Vietnam) carried out a brief survey involving 659 participants, of which almost 60% were vegetarians. One of the reasons why the vegetarian lifestyle is becoming more popular is that many people believe a non-meat diet helps protect them from illnesses like heart disease, various cancers (most notably colon and prostate), obesity and other types of disease. There are, however, some drawbacks to a vegetarian diet. Therefore, this essay discusses the history of the concept of vegetarianism as well as the benefits and pitfalls of such a diet.
2. Discussion on Research Finding
2.1. Short History of the Development of Vegetarianism
The Wikipedia description suggests that, according to the earliest available documentation, vegetarianism started to develop in the sixth century BC in the ancient Greece and India. The concept of the diet was linked closely to the notion of not harming animals, and both philosophers and some religious movements encouraged it in both nations. In these ancient times, vegetarianism spread across India and South East Asia, to name but a few areas, and the majority of followers were Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain. According to Nordqvist in 2004, when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity vegetarianism was virtually eliminated from around Europe. The vegetarian diet re-emerged during the Renaissance and gained in popularity during the 1800s and 1900s. It was in 1847 that the first Vegetarian Society was established in England, with the Netherlands, Germany, and other countries throughout Europe following up with similar societies. In 1908, the International Vegetarian Union was set up and contributed to the widespread development of vegetarianism across Europe. With people becoming increasingly health conscious, a lot of individuals have switched to a vegetarian diet as a major lifestyle change. Vegetarians keep increasing in numbers, but the overall number is still small when compared to the world’s entire population.
2.2. Benefits of Vegetarianism
There exist several different (and usually good) reasons for becoming a vegetarian. While most people understand and accept the benefits of vegetarianism, the next section will show the benefits to health and the environment. Looking first at the health benefits, author Mary Krane Derr supports the idea that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of disease in an article entitled Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
. This type of diet has a larger number of "phytochemicals,", which are naturally-occurring chemical compounds found in plants that have many well-known antioxidants and other properties believed to reduce the possibility of cancer. A vegetarian diet furthermore reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, dementia, and other serious illnesses. Without these diseases, people will be healthier and enjoy longer lives. With plenty scientific evidence to support her views, Derr does not doubt the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. So, switching to vegetarianism is an effective way of staying healthy and avoiding serious illnesses.
Environmental conservation is another great benefit that vegetarianism brings. A study undertaken in California in 2009 compared how both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets impacted the environment. Researchers discovered that those who did not follow a vegetarian diet used more fertilizer, pesticide, primary energy, and water by factors of 13, 1.4, 2.5, and 2.9 times respectively. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition presented similar results of a study undertaken in Italy. The study concluded that meat-based diets over-strain the environment, with water consumption particularly playing a key role by contributing to the total effect by 41% to 46%. Consequently, it is evident that vegetarian diets help reduce water, fertilizer, pesticide, and energy consumption, thereby protecting the environment.
A vegetarian diet additionally protects animal life, although most animal species suffer tremendously because of the current trend towards factory or mass farming. It is believed that the number of animals killed annually to supply meat to the US population exceeds twenty million. It is claimed that the average meat consumption over seven years for a US citizen equals 1,097 chickens, over 40 turkeys, 22 hogs, 390 kilograms of fish,12 cattle, and 3 sheep/lambs. The large numbers of animals slaughtered per year to meet demand are surprising and, obviously, the larger the population the more animals that are needed for food. By contrast, vegetarians consume a reduced amount of animal-based products and eat a lot less or no meat. This reduces the amount of animals consumed and, therefore, saves the lives of countless animals.
2.3. Downsides to Vegetarianism
As well as the benefits, there are some disadvantages to a vegetarian diet. For example, such a diet can seriously affect health. In a 2009 article called Health Risk of Vegetarian Diets
, author John Michelle says that even though all essential nutrients are generally provided in a vegetarian diet and that these are usually healthy, some important nutrients can be lacking e.g. vitamins, minerals, and proteins. This is because many food types are absent from such a diet. Due to these deficiencies, vegans can find it difficult to create a balanced diet containing all essential nutrients, which often come from animal-based food products. Other research undertaken by Rebecca J Frey shows that a vegetarian diet contains five basic food types such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, and other calcium-based and protein-based foods and fats. These food groups provide a minimum of 1,400 to 1,500 calories per person per day so vegetarians need to develop suitable menus to acquire the necessary nutrients and energy. This can be difficult for those who are inexperienced cooks.
Furthermore, the lifestyle of a vegetarian can differ significantly from that of family members and friends. If family and friends do not properly understand vegetarianism, life can be made even more difficult. Many will, for example, encourage vegetarians to eat animal food products or prepare meals without catering for the needs of vegetarians. This can cause rifts between meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters. During holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, vegetarians may suffer when the majority of meals are meat-based. Some may even digress from their vegetarian eating habits during these times or take along their own meals to save their host any embarrassment or pressure. Another area that can be problematic is dining out, which sometimes presents real difficulty for a vegetarian. Many restaurants cater for the needs of meat-eaters with a limited choice of vegetarian dishes. The Bodybuilding Forum has stated that while some restaurants do offer menus for vegetarians, the food might not be prepared in strict vegetarian fashion e.g. food may be cooked in animal-based oils or the food might not contain proper ingredients such as cheese with a rennet base. Food is not acceptable to strict vegetarians if the equipment or utensils used in its preparation are meat-contaminated.
3. To Conclude
The above findings discuss vegetarianism in terms of its history and it provides an overview on both the negative and positive effects of a vegetarian diet. Furthermore, it suggests that this type of diet is not entirely without disadvantages. Despite the health benefits, and the advantages to animals and the environment, it also has disadvantages in terms of possibly lacking important nutrients and causing lifestyle changes. Consequently, vegetarians are advised by nutritionists to develop suitably nutritious diets. As is the case with any type of diet, it is important a vegetarian diet is varied with an ample amount of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, legumes and seeds and with a limited amount of fats, sweets and processed foods. It is worth checking out the food guide published by the American Dietetic Association when planning vegetarian meals to ensure nutritional requirements are met on a daily basis. Ensuring a balanced diet with all important nutrients can help bypass the pitfalls and help you stay in good health.