Vegetarian Health Benefits and Risks
The word vegetarianism implies that there is a restriction of animal related products in the diet. Within this definition there are variations. For example, one might choose to exclude all animal derived products, such as milk, cheese, and eggs. Some may even continue to include foods such as fish and chicken. To the strictest form, vegetarianism can also include not wearing clothing that is derived from animals. This level of vegetarianism is referred to as vegan.
The word vegetarian is a Latin work meaning "lively." Contrary to popular belief, it is not derived from the word vegetable. Lively refers to how vegetarians feel because they do not consume animal products.
There are different variations of vegetarianism:
- Ones that choose to consume things like eggs and cheese are called lacto-ovo-vegetarians.
- If a vegetarian eats dairy products, such as milk and cheese, but not eggs, they are referred to as a lacto-vegetarian. Religion may be the main reason why they would not eat eggs.
- If someone eats eggs, but not other dairy products, they are referred to as an ovo-vegetarian. The main reason for someone being an ovo-vegetarian is lactose intolerance.
- Vaganism, or a vagan, is someone that is not only a vegetarian, but also excludes all products that contain any traces of animals. For example, they will not eat butter, cheese, etc. In addition, some vegans will also exclude the use of any products tested on animals, and any products created via animals, e.g. leather, fur, and even wool.
- If you hear the term raw vegan, it refers to someone that is not only a vegan, but also only eats unprocessed foods, and foods not cooked over 46 degrees celcius. They believe that food in this category is much healthier than other foods or cooked foods.
- Pescatarian is a term used for someone that does not eat meat but does eat fish. Usually this is done for health reasons.
- Macrobioticism involves avoiding all processed foods, meat, dairy, refined flours, and sugars. It holds the idea that encompasses the Chinese practice of Yin and Yang.
- A fruitarian is someone that eats nuts and fruits.
There are several reasons for choosing to becoming a vegetarian. These can include things such as;
- to protest the killing of animals
- religious beliefs: this could be permanent, or during specific religious holidays such as easter
- cultural reasons
- improved nutrition: to increase fiber and various vitamins
- medical: to reduce saturated fat intake, and cholesterol levels
- economical: it is well documented that it takes multi fold many more resources to raise animals for consumption compared to plants
It has been shown that vegetarian diets help lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, assist in weight loss, and show lower levels of colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart attack and stroke.
Be aware, that being a vegetarian does not automatically mean the person is eating healthy. For example, one can easily become vegetarian, but may limit their consumption of healthy foods, or may consume 'junk' food which has no animal products but may still be high in preservatives and calories.
If the diet allows for foods such as eggs, milk, and cheese for sure there should be no lack of nutrients found in animal products. However, a strict vegan diet may lead to a shortage of vitamins B12, vitamin D, calcium, omega 3 oils, and essential proteins. Many illnesses can develop from lack of nutrition, such as anemia (low hemoglobin).
The importance here is that vegans need to plan their diet carefully to assure they do not end up lacking any of these precious nutrients. This can be done by including a large variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and soy milk, as well by including a daily vitamin supplement.