Table of Contents
History of the Vegetarian Diet 3
Varieties of Vegetarians. 5
Nutrient Profiles of a Vegetarian Diet and a Non-Vegetarian Diet 6
Advantages of a Vegetarian Diet 7
Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet 8
Challenges Faced By Vegetarians. 10
Reference List 12
Vegetarianism is defined as the voluntary practice of non-consumption of animal meat. For this reason, vegetarians only eat plant based diets. This diet goes a step further in its commitment by eliminating all animal derivatives like eggs and dairy products/ As a result, vegetarians do not consume any products from animals. Different people commit to this diet for various different reasons. Among these reasons include: following religious beliefs, desire to lead a healthier life, desire to stop cruelty to animals, while some just follow this diet since they are unable to afford buying meat.
Contrary to what many believe, vegetarianism is not new to the world, it has been here for many centuries. The earliest record of this practice dates back to Ancient India and Ancient Greek civilizations including Greece and Southern Italy (Spencer, 1993; Kerry and Portmess, 2001). These early practice of vegetarianism was mainly due to a desire to stop violence against animals and was mostly encouraged by philosophers and religious leaders. In Ancient India, eating meat was not completely banned, however, being a vegetarian was highly encouraged since it was believed to bring about great rewards (Bühler, 1886). Most notably in Ancient Greece, Pythagoras, a well-known philosopher was a devout vegetarian. He believed that all animals should be treated with respect and also believed that killing animals brutalized the human soul. For this reason, he avoided and encouraged his followers to avoid eating meat (Haussleiter, 1935).
After these ancient civilizations, evidence suggests that many communities practiced vegetarianism including East and Southern Asia (Japan and China). Although early Christianity preached human’s superiority over all living things, some Christians practiced vegetarianism. Early Christians including Clement of Alexandria and Basil the Great were well known vegetarians (Roberts, 2004).
In the Early Modern Period, this practice became a philosophical concept and was supported by people like Leonardo da Vinci (Spencer, 1993). Although not all philosophers practiced complete vegetarianism, most of them advanced the belief that cruelty to animals was unfounded and could be used to identify a man’s character (it was believed that anyone who practiced cruelty with animals could do the same to his fellow men). During this period, a group of Christian vegetarians were spreading this practice in the United States (Iaconno, Karen, and Michael, 2004).
Vegetarianism became even more popular in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Specifically in the early twentieth century when the International Vegetarian Union was founded. A reason for the sudden increase in popularity of the diet is believed to be the concept of advocating for non-violence against animals, which the western world found to be significant (Stuart, 2007; Spencer, 1993). Even Albert Einstein converted to this diet plan during the latter years of his life stating that, “So I am living without fats, without meat, without fish, but am feeling quite well this way. It always seems to me that man was not born to be a carnivore” (Mathews, 2009).
Today, vegetarianism has become extremely popular. This is proven by the fact that over forty percent of Indians are vegetarians. Further asserting this fact is that, a study by Harris Interactive found that in 2006, 1.4% of Americans were actively engaging in consumption of the vegan diet. For many vegetarians, their motivation emerges from stopping animal cruelty and making healthier choices in their lives.
By definition, a vegetarian is a person who voluntarily avoids consumption of animal meat, fish, poultry and any animal products. However, many people consume different vegetarian diets and therefore are classified by the kind of food they omit from their dietary plans. For this reason they are classified as follows:
Total Vegetarians or Vegas- these are individuals who do not eat any animal meat, fish, poultry or any animal products including any dairy products and eggs.
Lacto Vegetarians- these are individuals who do not consume any animal meat, fish or poultry but consume dairy products.
Lacto-ovo Vegetarians- these are individuals do not eat any animal meat, fish or poultry, however, they do consume dairy products and eggs
Ovo Vegetarians- these are individuals who do not consume any animal meat, dairy products, fish or poultry but do eat eggs.
Partial Vegetarians- these are individuals who practice avoidance of meat but may sometimes consume fish or poultry.
Several studies have been carried out to determine the dietary patterns of vegetarians. In doing so, they have identified a specific nutritional profile for this group of people. A vegetarian diet comprises mainly of a plant based foods which includes vegetables, fruits and grains. For this reason, they end up consuming high amounts of fiber since their diet is full of fiber-rich foods (Fraser, 2003). Additionally, they acquire Vitamins that are usually acquired through consumption of vegetables and fruits like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K.
For strict vegetarians who do not consume any animal meat, fish, poultry or animal product, their diets provide them with very low intakes of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids (Rizzo et al., 2013). For vegetarians who consume some animal products they have moderate intakes of these nutrients. Strict vegetarians also have a low intake of animal protein but a high intake of soy protein intake while semi vegetarians have a moderate intake of animal intake. All vegetarians have a decreased intake of saturated fat and arachidonic acid while having the highest fiber intake (Rizzo et al., 2013).
Based on the above, a nutritional profile for a strict vegetarian could be summarized as containing: Fiber, Soy protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin K. semi-vegetarians on the other hand have the following nutritional profile: Fiber, Soy protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin K and some animal protein.
On the other hand, non-vegetarians consume animal meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products thereby having a high intake of animal protein. For this reason, they end up consuming a high intake of saturated fat and fatty acids, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D calcium and Omega-3 fatty acids, iron and zinc (Rizzo e al., 2013).
Based on the difference in nutritional profile of these two groups, researchers have observed major differences in their obesity levels. Non-vegetarians have been observed to be prevalent to obesity due to their energy-dense diets which contains fatty acids and saturated fats while vegetarians have lower risks of becoming obese since their nutrient included low energy foods.
Many studies have been carried out to determine whether a vegetarian diet is advantageous over a non-vegetarian one. Most people who commit to this diet assert do so believing that it has various benefits to their heath, animals and the environment.
To begin with, a vegetarian diet protects animal life since it discourages killing of animals for human sustenance. In past years, many animals have had to die to feed the human need to eat meat. Noam Mohr, a member of PETA estimated that every year, an average American consumes: forty fish, twenty six chicken, a turkey, and half a pig, more than tenth a cow and about a hundred and thirty jelly fish. These are a lot of animals that have to die to feed the population and with the increasing number of the population, more animals will have to keep dying. Converting to a vegetarian diet reduces this number since all the animals that one is estimated to consume will be saved. PETA (2010) reported that with the increased popularity in adoption of Vegetarian diets, the total number of animals killed to be consumed by Americans between 2008 and 2009 decreased by three hundred million. Strict vegetarians consume no animal meat or any animal products and by doing so, end up saving about two hundred animals every year (PETA, 2010). This may not end animal cruelty but at least it decreases it significantly.
Another benefit of a vegan diet is that, it has immense benefits on the conservation of the environment. Studies have found that a non-vegetarian diet consumed almost three times more water than a vegetarian diet. The former also use more energy, fertilizer and pesticide than the latter. From this, it is clear that meat based diets strain the environment with the water consumption causing the most stain. Adopting a vegan diet reduces one’s consumption of water and as a result, conserves the environment’s water reserves. Additionally, raising animals to feed humans needs for meat produces more greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to the overall greenhouse effect plaguing the earth. Moreover, land used to graze animals and grow the food they eat takes up more than thirty percent of the earth’s land mass. Production of a pound of animal protein compared to soy protein takes up approximately twelve times more land, thirteen times more fossil fuel and fifteen times more water. A vegetarian diet not only saves us this huge waste of landmass but also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Perhaps the major advantage associated with a vegetarian diet is the various health benefits it provides to individuals who choose to adopt it. To begin with, since most vegetarians consume less meat or no meat at all, they end up with a significant less intake of saturated fat and cholesterol which generally results in lower blood pressure, low cholesterol and lower BMI which is overall reduces the risks of development of chronic diseases which may lead to complications and eventually early death.
Fraser (2003), found that vegetarians tend to be thinner than non-vegetarians, have lower cholesterol and have moderately lower blood pressure since they consume many vegetables and fruits which contains high fiber content, antioxidants, folic acid and psychochemical. For this reason, these individuals have a lower risk suffering from stroke and heart diseases thereby have a lower risk of early death from these conditions. Additionally they are protected from heart diseases since consumption of whole grains, nuts and soy provides vegetarians with significant cardio protective effects (Kelly and Sabate, 2006; Mellen et al., 2008). A study involving over forty five thousand participants provides proof of this, concluding that a vegetarians were approximately thirty two percent less likely to suffer from or die from heart diseases (Collins, 2013).
Vegetarians consume more fruits, legumes and vegetables which provide them with more nutrients that protect them against various forms of cancer. Fruits and vegetables generally protect individual s form cancer of the lungs, mouth, stomach and esophagus. Legumes on the other hand, protect against prostate and stomach cancer. Vitamins form fruits and vegetables, fiber and phytochemicals are responsible for offering protection against these various forms of cancer (World Cancer Research Fund, 2007). Phytochemicals are particularly significant in this prevention since, they interfere with different cellular processes that contribute to the progression of cancer (Liu, 2004). These interferences include inhibition of cell proliferation (Liu, 2004). Since many vegetarian diets provide a wide range of phytochemicals, it is clear that vegetarians are at a lesser risk of suffering from cancer. In addition to this, eating red meat and processed animal meat and products is largely associated with a high increase of suffering from colorectal, liver and esophageal cancer (World Cancer Research Fund, 2007). Jacobsen et al., (1998), carried out a study which concluded that consumption of soy milk by vegetarians protected them from suffering from prostate cancer.
Some researchers have also been carried out suggesting that a high plant based diet can reduce the risk of an individual suffering from type II diabetes. Among these researches include the Harvard based Women’s Health study which concluded that there was a significant relationship between consumption of processed red meat and increased risk of suffering from diabetes. However, there is a lack of sufficient research and evidence to fully support this hence there is a need for more research in order to affirm if a vegetarian diet really does lower one’s risk of suffering from diabetes.
Since the number of vegetarians in America is still small, most vegetarians face some problems. Among these problems is receiving criticism form family and friends who do not fully understand or support this type of diet. For this reason, most of these people would entice vegetarians to eat meat by preparing meals with meat while paying no attention to the needs of the vegetarian. This is usually most noticeably during the holiday seasons when all meals prepared usually contain some type of animal meat or animal product. Due to this, tensions may arise causing a rift between family and friendships.
Another problem is that, while eating at a restaurant, there is a limited amount of dishes that are completely vegetarian. Additionally, there is a limited amount of vegetarian restaurants and even if they are, they sometimes prepare their meals in an unacceptable way using animal oils or using ingredients that may contain some animal products like cheese. This proves to be a major challenge especially for total vegetarians.
Most of all, a vegan diet leaves out some essential nutrients which are important to the overall health of an individual. Exemption of eggs, fish and sea food lacks fatty acids and docosahexaenoic acid which is important to cardiovascular health and brain functions. Vegetarians are at a higher risk of iron, zinc and calcium deficiency as a result, they are at a higher risk of conditions like bone fractures, iron deficiency anemia. This is a challenge to present vegetarians as well as people who are considering adopting the lifestyle. It could be seen as a hindrance to adoption of the diet by the larger population.
In summary a vegetarian diet is composed largely of plant based foods, however some may include some animal product. Although, it has become largely popular in recent years, this type of diet is not a modern concept, rather, it has been in existence for many centuries dating back to Ancient India and Ancient Greece. Consumption of a vegetarian diet provides an individual with the following nutrients: Fiber, Soy protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin K and some animal protein depending on whether or not one chooses to include some animal products. Many people consume this type of diet for various reasons including a desire to end cruelty to animals and a desire to enjoy the many various health benefits. A vegetarian diet has many health benefits including prevention of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and various forms of cancer. Adoption of a vegetarian diet will provide one with essential nutrients which result in a healthier body as well as a decreased risk of suffering from many health problems that may result in early death.
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