If you’re reading this article, you’re probably thinking about becoming a vegetarian, or maybe you’re just curious about a vegetarian diet since you’ve started to hear about it so much. Vegetarian diets are increasingly being considered healthier than meat-based diets, and nutritionally adequate. Vegetarian diets also provide benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases, apart from offering general nutritional benefits like lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.
The founders of the British Vegetarian Society coined the word ‘Vegetarian’ in 1847. It comes from the Latin word “vegetus”, which means “whole, sound, or fresh”. Originally the word vegetarian meant a kind of lifestyle that was balanced and moral. However, the word has now evolved to mean a kind of diet in which meat, fish, or fowl are excluded.
There are several variants of the vegetarian diet. Some exclude eggs; some also exclude animal products like milk and dairy products, honey, etc. Veganism is an example of a kind of diet that excludes all animal products from the diet, and even from attire (for example leather, silk, feathers, wool, etc.). The primary types of vegetarian diets are as follows:
• Ovo-lacto vegetarianism: The vegetarian diet that includes eggs, dairy products, and honey falls in this category.
• Lacto vegetarianism: This vegetarian diet excludes eggs, but includes dairy products and honey.
• Ovo vegetarianism: People following this category of vegetarian diet exclude dairy products from their diets, but include eggs and honey.
• Veganism: This type of vegetarian diet excludes eggs, milk and dairy products, as well as honey.
• Other variations include fruitarianism, which is a diet only of fruits, nuts, and seeds, and raw veganism, which is a diet of fresh and uncooked fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
There are many reasons for people to be vegetarian. For many, it is part of their religious and cultural traditions. For example, Hinduism holds vegetarianism as the ideal, because of its emphasis on non-violence. Hindus also believe that non-vegetarian food is detrimental to spiritual development, and hence a large number of Hindus are vegetarians. Jainism and Buddhism also instruct their followers to avoid meat. Some people choose vegetarianism because they were raised in a vegetarian household, or because their partner was vegetarian.
Many people choose vegetarianism for health reasons. According to the American Dietetic Association of Canada, vegetarian diets lead to lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein in the body, while increasing carbohydrate, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C and E levels (www.dietitians.ca/news/downloads/Vegetarian_Food_Guide_for_NA.pdf). Some studies have suggested that a vegetarian diet keeps body weight under control and reduces the risk of heart disease. Research also suggests a link between cancer of the colon, rectum, and breast to meat eating.
In developed countries, many people are converting to vegetarianism because of ethical and environmental reasons. Many people are against the factory farming of animals, and their treatment as commodities. A belief in animal rights, and an aversion to inflicting pain on other living creatures is leading people to vegetarianism. Others are concerned that the production of meat for mass consumption is environmentally unsustainable and hence take up vegetarianism. It is pointed out that animal farming leads to extremely high consumption of fossil fuels and water resources, and leads to emissions of greenhouse gases. One study estimated that animal farming produces 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, and 37% of all human-related methane ([http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm]), which have far greater potential for global warming than carbon dioxide.
Many vegetarians also make vegetarianism a basis in their choice of textiles. Such people eschew the use of leather, silk, and even wool. Because these textiles form such an important part of most footwear, clothing, and accessories, alternatives made of synthetic materials, like Vegan leather, or polar fleece as a substitute for wool, are available in the market.
A vegetarian diet can be extremely healthy and nutritious. If one includes a lot of variety-lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds- it can provide all the essential nutrients required for a healthy body. Vegetarianism is the way to go for a healthy body, and a healthy, sustainable environment on the planet.