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Why Become Vegetarian

Updated on April 13, 2012
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Vegetarian Defined

A vegetarian is a person who does not eat animal meat, though often will eat eggs and dairy products. That is the standard definition, though there are many variations such as lacto-vegetarian (dairy included), ovo-vegetarian (eggs included), and lacto-ovo-vegetarian (dairy and eggs included). A vegan is a person who does not eat animals or animal products at all.


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Why Do People Become Vegetarians?

There are a variety of reasons why people are vegetarians, from religious and moral reasons to the simple dislike of the taste and texture of meat. There are also political, environmental and economical reasons. And then some people just follow trends as they did in the 80's with perms.

Some people choose not to eat meat for more than one reason. Though I was never comfortable eating meat off the bone, or with the killing of animals, the main reason I became a vegetarian seventeen years ago was in an effort to eat better. Good health is one of the most common reasons why people become vegetarians.

As the world embraces meatless meals more and more, and as doctors prescribe eating less meat for certain health conditions and preventatively, it has become easy to make the change to vegetarianism. Restaurants have updated their menus to accommodate, even celebrate, vegetarian diets. Check your local library or book store, and you will find stacks of vegetarian cookbooks. There are even college courses about vegetarianism these days. It is not difficult to jump on the band wagon and enjoy good health by good eating.


Vegetarians have a lower risk for:

  • high cholesterol
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • hypertension
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • cancer
  • diverticulitis
  • gallstones
  • dementia

What Are the Health Benefits of a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet?

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), vegetarian diets (including vegan) are "healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." How is that for a stamp of approval?

In their 2009 report, the ADA confirmed that well-balanced and varied vegetarian diets are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher in fiber and healthful nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamins C and E. Benefits from such a diet include lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians also experience lower blood pressure, lower body mass index, and lower cancer rates. Vegetarians are less likely to develop dementia, obesity, diverticulitis, and gallstones. It really makes sense, because we know eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is good for the body.


Vegetarian Trivia


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Are There Any Health Risks With a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet?

Some people worry that there may be health risks associated with a vegetarian diet. Lack of protein, calcium and vitamin B-12 is a concern that people have questioned me about. The ADA report addresses those concerns, and the report is good for vegetarians, especially lacto-ovo-vegetarians.

Plant protein can meet the same protein requirements as meat protein. Beans and soy products are great choices. Cereals and other wheat proteins can be a protein source as well, though not as rich when it comes to digesting the needed nutrients.

Vegetarians that include diary products in their diet have the same, if not more, calcium intakes than nonvegetarians. Vegans typically do have lower calcium intakes, but there are nondairy rich calcium sources one can consider:

  • fortified fruit juices
  • soy milk
  • rice milk
  • almond milk
  • fortified breakfast cereals

*Spinach is not the best source of calcium, because its calcium is not easily absorbed.

Vitamin B-12 is important in brain function and blood formation, but some vegetarians do not get the required amount. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians are able to meet the daily requirement if they regularly consume dairy, eggs, and fortified foods. Vegans need to plan more to make sure they are consuming enough B-12 from soy and rice drinks, and fortified cereals and meat substitutes. If not, a daily vitamin B-12 can be taken.


Well-planned Vegetarian Diet

The key to the most beneficial vegetarian diet will be the one that is varied and well-balanced. Select a wide variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, along with eggs and low-fat dairy products if you choose to include those. You should also limit foods that are high in sodium, fat and sugar.

With all the health benefits of becoming a vegetarian, maybe the question should be "Why not become a vegetarian?"

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    • profile image

      upwelling 5 years ago from Durham, NC

      In India a huge portion of the population never ate any animal product except milk, butter, butter milk and yogurt. They eat a lot cooked rice, rotis, vegetables, carrots, beet roots, potatoes, taro roots, cucumbers, radishes, many varieties of greens, and numerous types of fruits only. Why they do it even today. Because their parents did not consume any others as food. It Is a view point and did them good healthwise. No health problems till they reach their 70's. I can say this for I am a vegetarian for the last 75 years.

      upwelling

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      That is so interesting, upwelling. The fact that you and many in India never even "gave up" eating meat - you just never ate it in the first place. Good health to you!

    • tarajeyaram profile image

      tarajeyaram 5 years ago from Wonderland

      I am vegetarian most of the days. I occasionally eat chicken and eggs. I love my vegetarian diet. Very nice hub. I am voting up and thanks for SHARING.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

      I guess I am a pescetarian as i eat fish once in a while--otherwise, I have been vegetarian for close to 15 years and love it--I never liked meat much so there was nothing really to give up--Such a better way of eating!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Yes, I have gone the mostly-vegetarian route. I would be all vegetarian, but my hubby is thin as a rail and when we tried going vegetarian - and dramatically upped our intake of tofu, tempeh, edamame and the like - he started losing weight. It was like he was evaporating. So, we decided to include chicken and fish in our diet. But, this is a great hub, informative and insightful.

    • jenntyl99 profile image

      jenntyl99 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      It ia amazing how vegetarianism has grown over the years. I first became a veg head when I was only 8 years old (despite my dad's attempts to get me to eat meat) and have been a vegetarian for almost 30 years. When I first started, there weren't many places to eat out that offered strictly vegetarian meals. However, now I can go almost anywhere and find something to eat. At any rate, I have been relatively healthy, have excellent blood pressure (what an athlete would have) and am the same weight I was when in high school (even after having 4 kids). I attribute this to my diet (I realy do not exercise except walking at work). Thanks for sharing!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, tarajeyaram. I eat eggs sometimes too, as well as dairy and even fish. Hope that doesn't tarnish my credibility too much!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Audrey - Funny how we have all these names for the different types of vegetarians. I would also be considered a pescetarian. Seems like more and more people are tilting this way towards healthy eating.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thank you, cclitgirl. I have never been able to cook well with the tofu, tempeh and edamame, so usually only eat that at restaurants. Something I need to work on. Glad you and your husband found a diet that works.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      jenn, I wish I could say I was the same weight as high school! But I am working on that one. That is great that you have been so healthy and yes, I agree that your veg diet kept you there. I have noticed over the years how much easier now it is to order off a menu. Many more choices.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      In addition to the numerous health benefits, there are so many tasty vegetarian recipes out there that a good cook could really shine when faced with a veg at their table. Nice hub, voted up!

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Excellent hub. I cannot say I aspire to be a vegetarian but I do look for more ways to up my family's intake of vegetables.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Very true, clever cat! Thanks for the vote up.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, Teresa. Yes, I am also looking for more ways to get the veggies in for my son in particular. Now that Spring is here, more fresh choices.

    • cperuzzi profile image

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      I have had some mixed feelings about going vegan.

      Recently, after viewing the film "Forks Over Knives" (a film I thoroughly recommend) as well as some prompting from my wife (a vegan) and a close friend (recently turned vegan), I started going vegan for some general health reasons. I won't say the transition was easy - it wasn't.

      Have I had some fall back, sure. Do I recommend vegetarianism, absolutely.

      Going vegan or vegetarian is probably one of the best health choices you can make. Plant proteins are certainly more beneficial than the regular ingestion of animal proteins we as Americans have grown used to. Your point regarding vegetarians missing vitamin B from ingesting meat products is very true. I recommend supplements for this.

      I recommend a vegan lifestyle over vegetarian for health reasons as more and more researchers are finding that dairy is not only unnecessary but has some definite problems - especially regarding the human body's production of mucous. The argument for dairy products is that it contains calcium. What few people know is that humans can get more calcium through green leafy vegetables than through milk and dairy products.

      I must confess the following, to be fair. I had gone completely vegan for about a month and a half. On Saint Patrick's Day, I allowed myself the luxury of Corned Beef and Cabbage and a breakfast of eggs, buttered toast, and hash browns. I felt extraordinary, afterward. Truly energized. I attribute this - not because meat and dairy products are good - but because all things done in moderation may have a beneficial effect.

      Why do I mention this. I mention this because many people who start out will find that the transition may be difficult - even with the aid of soy products. Don't beat yourself up if you slip or have something out of the ordinary. If your body is craving something, listen to it. Judge how you feel afterward. If you feel bloated or head achy - that food is not for you.

      Great article, Chaplin.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, cperuzzi, for your insight. I think it helps others to hear about the experiences of others. I did have vegan as my "goal" once, but decided it was not for me. And yes, everything in moderation!

    • vegetarianceleste profile image

      vegetarianceleste 5 years ago from San Fransisco

      I am a vegetarian and I believe it's so important for the environment and our health that we humans move away from meat eating. Thank you for a good article that supports the cause, hopefully it will help some to make the switch.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
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      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, vegetarianceleste. The health benefits alone certainly make a good case, don't they? It will be interesting to see the numbers on how many more people become vegetarians in the next 10, 20, 30 years.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I love beans and nuts, but I also love eggs and cheese. Thanks for this information for supporting a vegetarian diet as passing for meeting daily protein needs. Great job!

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