It is currently estimated that 7 million adults in the US are vegetarians and out of these 7 million, 4 million are vegans which means they don’t eat any animal products including dairy foods and eggs. Many vegetarians are college students. There are many different types of vegetarians. Some people consider themselves vegetarians when they regularly eat poultry and fish. Others avoid the flesh of animals, but some consume eggs, milk and cheese. Some avoid all products of animal origin including milk and eggs, and even by-products like candies and puddings made with gelatin. A vegetarian diet that has received a lot of media attention recently is the flexitarian diet. These people are considered semivegitarians who eat mostly plant foods, eggs and dairy but occasionally eat red meat, poultry and fish.
The most common responses for people becoming vegetarians include religious, ethical, safety reasons, ecological benefits and health benefits. Some make the choice for religious or spiritual reasons. Several religions prohibit the consumption of animal flesh. Many vegetarians are also guided by their personal philosophy to choose vegetarianism. These people feel it’s ethically wrong to consume animals and any products from animals because the practices in the modern animal industries are inhumane. There is also a great deal of concern about meat-handling practices because contaminated meat has occasionally made its way into our food supply. Many people also choose vegetarianism because of the concerns about the effect of meat industries on the global environment. Examples include the massive uses of water and grain to feed animals, methane gases and other waste products by animals themselves and increased land use to support livestock. Others also practice vegetarianism because of the health benefits. Research has shown that a balanced vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.
Some health benefits of being a vegetarian include:
- Reduced intake of fat and total energy, reducing the risk of obesity and lower the person’s risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lower blood pressure which could be due to the higher amounts of fruits and vegetables. Also people who consume a vegetarian diet seem to be nonsmokers, drink little or no alcohol, and exercise more regularly
- Reduced risk of heart disease which could be due to the lower amount of saturated fat and higher consumption of antioxidants found in plant based foods
- Fewer digestion problems such as constipation and diverticular disease due to the higher fiber content of the diet
- Reduced risk of kidney disease, kidney stones and gallstones because the lower protein content plus the higher intake of legumes and vegetable proteins may be protective
Some challenges include:
- Limiting consumption of flesh and dairy products introduces the potential for inadequate intakes of certain nutrients
- Research indicates that a sign of disordered eating in some female athletes is the switch to a vegetarian diet to use as an excuse to restrict any foods from their diets
- It’s important to consume soy products, eat complementary proteins and obtain enough energy from other macronutrients to get enough protein
- It is important to make sure to get enough vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Supplements ay be necessary
Vitamins & minerals to pay attention to:
- Vitamin B12 is important because it assists with DNA synthesis and protection and growth of nerve fibers. Non-meat and non-dairy sources include, fortified cereals, yeast, soy products and vitamin b12 supplements
- Vitamin D promotes bone growth. Some non-meat/non-dairy sources include fortified cereals, margarines, soy products, exposure to sunlight, supplementation for those who don’t get enough sunlight
- Riboflavin promotes release of energy and supports normal vision and skin health. Non-meat/non-dairy sources include whole and enriched grains, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, beans, nuts and seeds
- Iron assists with oxygen transport and is involved with making amino acids and hormones. Some good sources include whole grain products, prune juice, dried fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and leafy vegetables
- Calcium maintains bone health, assists with muscle contraction, blood pressure, and nerve transmission. Good sources of non-meat/non-dairy include fortified soy milk and tofu, almonds, dry beans, leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified juices, fortified breakfast cereals
- Zinc assists with DNA and RNA synthesis, immune function and growth. Good non-meat/non-dairy sources include whole grain products, wheat germ, beans, nuts and seeds
So overall, a vegetarian diet has many health benefits as long as you make sure you are maintaining a healthful diet including all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need. It is something I believe every healthful individual should try and remember there are a lot of different lifestyles you can choose when becoming a vegetarian!