Vegetarian: Is it Better Than Eating Meat?

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Who doesn’t like bacon? It is salty, meaty, goes with anything and everything, and there is just no substitute for it. People have even started cooking it into candy. When someone states that they are a vegetarian it appears like they are instantly better than those of us who are omnivores because they have a measure of control not to eat bacon that the rest of us don’t have.

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Most of us realize that vegetarianism is an expression of one’s ethical orientation, so when we think of a vegetarian, we don’t simply think of a person who’s just like everyone else except that he or she doesn’t eat meat. We think of a person who has a certain philosophical outlook, whose choice not to eat meat it a reflection of a deeper belief system in which killing animals for human ends is considered unethical. (Joy, 2011)

Vegetarianism is defined by a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while omitting animal based products such as meat and eggs. There are many reasons to choose a plant based lifestyle, the promise of weight loss or health improvement, environmental impact, and religious reasons are among the most common. Also, while not widely known, or talked about, some people adopt vegetarian diets to mask eating disorders. Vegetarians can have a hard time getting the proper amount of usable nutrients because they are not consuming the most ready source of it. Being a vegetarian can affect a person’s bone density, nutrient levels, and even their ability to conceive a child. Vegetarianism can be a great way to lose weight or reduce environmental impact, but those who choose this lifestyle also need to be aware of the different nutrients that are not as readily available in plant-based foods as they are in a balanced diet containing meat products.

It is the first nice weekend of the year. A woman has stepped out of her bedroom wearing shorts for the first time all year, and her husband sees her legs full of bruises. So many bruises that they blend into one another, and he can’t tell where one ends and one begins. There is more purple, green, and blue colored skin on her legs and upper arms than there is flesh colored. The husband is immediately concerned for his wife. It turns out that her latest effort to lose her baby weight was to go vegetarian. However, now it has turned into vegetarian induced anemia and every time she bumps into something or touches something too hard, it leaves a bruise. Many things can cause anemia, especially for women. If people don’t get enough of any certain nutrient, it will cause a deficiency. Not all nutrients and vitamins can be supplemented with taking a pill. Some are more readily available if they are eaten at their purest form in food. An iron deficiency, which would cause the anemia, is best treated with eating iron rich foods with some vitamin C rich foods because the vitamin C helps the iron get absorbed into the bloodstream properly. No weight goal is worth sacrificing the health and wellbeing of any person; however, this is exactly what many people in society do today.

Being vegetarian can affect bone density even if the person is not anemic. (H., L., N., & V, T., 2009) One of the keys to successfully undertaking a vegetarian diet is to plan daily and weekly meals out to avoid the potential deficiencies that are common among all vegetarians, and to make sure a balance is achieved for all nutritional needs. The most common vitamins and nutrients that a vegetarian becomes deficient in are protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B 12, and vitamin D. Since these nutrients are less prevalent in plant-based diet, some vegetarian foods are fortified with them. A nutritional supplement can also fill these gaps. The amount of usable protein they are consuming also needs to be taken into account as well considering they’re not consuming the easiest source of it, animal products.

Vegetarian diets help many people looking for an easy to follow solution, to lose weight. They help people cut calories out of their diet simply because a cup of broccoli contains 30 calories well a cup of beef contains 213 cal. This leaves the body and 183 calories deficit and will lose weight. Calories in and calories out is the oldest and easiest form of dieting. Vegetarians can fill up on high fiber, high water content foods with a low calorie cost and be able to lose pounds. They still feel full and are probably eating a lot healthier than they were before. In the American diet people tend to eat a diet consisting of meat, bread, white rice, and sugars with a low emphasis on fruits and vegetables. If people take a look at the vegetarian’s lifestyle to see that they place a high priority of vegetables and fruit over everything else with a lower amount of carbs, they will usually get a lot healthier than they were. The fact that vegetarians can cut out calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol will help them create a healthier picture of themselves.

Some people even use vegetarian diets, or other restrictive diet plans, to mask eating disorders. It becomes a way to say they can’t eat a food because they are vegetarian, and it gives them the excuse to not indulge in other foods that anorexia or bulimia won’t allow them to eat. Natalie (Name changed for personal protection) was extremely anorexic in high school; however, she drank a ton of soda, because she was a teenager and it was socially acceptable for her to drink Mountain Dew at dinner and say she ate earlier while still looking like she was consuming calories. She claimed to her friends that she was a vegetarian and wouldn’t eat when they stopped at McDonald’s for game dinners after cheerleading. Natalie told her parents she ate all the time with her cheerleading squad, or at school. No one saw her eat. Natalie admitted a few years afterward that she drank diet Mountain Dew to be able to partake in a social eating activity. Telling everyone she was a vegetarian allowed her to mask that she was extremely anorexic and unhealthy. The one thing that saved her was getting pregnant with her son. Natalie knew she had to take care of her body to be able to take care of her baby. After she took care of her body for her baby, she knew she could take control over food in her life again. She cured herself of her immediate anorexia, although it never entirely goes away.

Natalie’s story is not the exception. About half of all patients seeking treatment for anorexia nervosa, a reported 45 to 54%, practice some form of a vegetarian diet. This is critical information for treatment because professionals have to figure out the person’s motivations for being vegetarian while balancing respect for his or her body autonomy. Vegetarianism can be viewed suspiciously in these circumstances as it seems to give those struggling with restricting food a way of masking attempts to lose weight, or the avoidance of eating certain foods. It’s a way to let the eating disorders out in public while masking it with restrictive diets. Using restrictive diets to mask eating disorders also allows people not to accept food at a party, or force them to bring their own food to a social gathering. It also gives an excuse not go out to eat with friends. If nearly half of people seeking treatment for anorexia are admitting that they were vegetarians because it was an easy way to control their eating disorder, then vegetarianism, along with any other restrictive diet, is something that needs to be looked at closer for those who have a predisposition for eating disorders.

For those who bring up the environment as the reason to eat a plant based diet, the numbers there are quite different depending on the perspective you take. While every body is different the common consensus from nutritionists is that adult males and females need approximately 2000 calories to perform their daily bodily functions. To grow a thousand calories of broccoli it emits 5.9 planetary emissions, subsequently it only takes 4.8 emissions to grow 1000 calories of chicken. (Vegetarian or. Omnivore, 2014) While broccoli is seen as a superfood, a person’s body still needs the same 2000 calories to fuel it every day. Broccoli is near the top when ranked in missions per calorie. If a person were to eat 2000 calories of chicken to their daily needs intake, their planetary emissions would only be 9.6. However if the same person took 2000 calories of tomatoes to fill their daily caloric needs their planetary emissions would be 12.2. If we look at someone who chooses to be vegetarian based on the environmental impact of their food choices, it’s almost worse than those who are omnivores and eat a mix of both. (Kateman, 2017)

While religious beliefs can have an impact on society’s diets, it is usually expressed as asceticism, so that the motivation is spiritual, rather than ethical. Vegetarianism in these instances is equated with restraint, spirituality and dissent, while meat eating is associated with wealth, strength and social position. (Spencer, 1993) In many different cultures a form of vegetarianism is practiced or encourages. Buddhism is among the most well-known for its vegetarian practices in conjunction with their religion.

According to several different studies vegetarians do consume less alcohol and have a lower body mass index is. (“Vegetarianism, 2012) However, they were still in worse physical and mental health overall. Vegetarian food is widely thought of to be healthier than that of a traditional meat and vegetable diet; however, cardiologists have found that vegetarian food can be just as bad because it involves eating a lot of sweets, junk food, refined grains, and potatoes. These foods have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. All studies show that vegetarians are still at risk for cancer, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease just like everybody else.

The higher intakes of vegetables and whole grain products can carry an elevated risk of cancer, allergies, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. (It is from not eating all that bacon!) It’s also been found vegetarians had poor health practices such as avoiding going to doctor’s appointments for preventative checkups and vaccines. Also it appears that vegetarians have a lower quality of life and require more medical treatment for cures rather than preventative measures. (Vegetarians are less healthy and have a lower quality of life than meat-eaters, 2018)

For men and women, vegetarian diets can be harmful when trying to conceive. Soy products such as tofu, soy sausages, bacon, burgers, and soy milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream tend to have a lot of phytoestrogen in them. Men who eat a lot of soy commonly have lower sperm counts than men that don’t, even just eating half a serving a day can lower their fertility. The more soy men eat the less sperm they produce. (Konkel, 2009) Along those same lines vitamin A (retinol) plays a healthy role in maintaining a healthy immune system but also helps in both male and female reproduction. Vitamin A helps the male body produce healthy sperm, and for women it’s not only vital to the production of a healthy ovum, but it also aids with the implantation and sustaining of the pregnancy. The richest sources of vitamin A are cod liver oil, liver, seafood, beef, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. All of these are not vegetarian approved. While people can get synthetic vitamin A fortified in certain foods, they are not the best sources and not consistently the easiest used in the body.

There are certain times when vegetarian diets can help those suffering from certain elements to cure or less and their symptoms. Vegetarian diets can help protect against certain cancers and heart disease in some cases. Researchers have found that vegan diets protected against female specific cancers and overall cancers in both genders. It also can be linked to the higher intakes of fiber and phytochemicals and lower intake so saturated fat and cholesterol are among the main factors responsible for these cancer protective benefits. Vegetarian diets are usually higher in fiber. People with higher intakes of dietary fiber are at a significantly decreased risk for heart disease stroke hypertension diabetes gastrointestinal disorders and obesity. (Pollan, 2006) They also found that vegetarian diets are associated with a lower body mass index and increased rates of obesity in children. If a person has high cholesterol switching to a mostly vegetarian diet can cut those cholesterol levels significantly, therefore lowering the rest of heart disease. A vegetarian diet is virtually cholesterol free. Vegetarian diets also help lower the consumption of saturated fat because they are no longer eating the animal fat associated with meat eaters and omnivores. Whenever a person adopts a vegetarian diet they can increase their energy level through the higher consumption of fruits and vegetables in their diet versus beforehand of just meats and carbs. (Foer, 2013) Vegetarian diets generally have a much higher consumption of fruits vegetables but when planning weekly meals, people need to make sure they are balancing their entire day and week with the correct amount of vitamins and nutrients they need.

The amount of vegetarian recipes that are available on the internet is astounding but in looking at older cookbooks there are very few recipes for exclusive vegetarian meals because of the way that the American diets has evolved. Some people choose to live their lives without bacon. There are various reasons why someone would want to live the vegetarian lifestyle ranging from health reasons, to environmental tolls. The one thing all vegetarians need to do, regardless of their reasons, is make sure they have a balanced diet to include all of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. In this age it is easier than ever to get a full range of nutrients from a plant based diet, and those looking to be vegetarian only need to be resourceful with their food plans. Vegetarianism can be a great way to lose weight or reduce environmental impact, but those who choose this lifestyle also need to be aware of the different nutrients that are not as readily available in plant-based foods as they are in a balanced diet containing meat products

References:

Foer, J. S. (2013). Eating animals. Vancouver: Access and Diversity, Crane Library, University of British Columbia.

H., L., N., & V, T. (2009, July 01). Effect of vegetarian diets on bone mineral density: A Bayesian meta-analysis | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/90/4/943/4597049

Joy, M. (2011). Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows: An introduction to carnism: The belief system that enables us to eat some animals and not others. Berkeley, CA: Conari.

Kateman, B. (2017). The reducetarian solution: How the surprisingly simple act of reducing the amount of meat in your diet can transform your health and the planet. NY, NY: TarcherPerigee.

Konkel, L. (2009, November 03). Could Eating Too Much Soy Be Bad for You? Retrieved September 25, 2018, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soybean-fertility-hormone-isoflavones-genistein/

Leonard, C. (2015). The meat racket: The secret takeover of Americas food business. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Nestle, M. (2003). Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Ogle, M. (2013). In meat we trust: An unexpected history of carnivore America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma; A Natural History of Four Meals. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.

Spencer, C. (1996). The heretics feast: A history of vegetarianism. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Vegetarian or omnivore: The environmental implications of diet. (2014, March 10). Retrieved September 25, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/vegetarian-or-omnivore-the-environmental-implications-of-diet/2014/03/10/648fdbe8-a495-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html

Vegetarianism. (2012, October 12). Retrieved September 25, 2018, from

https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/MPH-Modules/PH/NutritionModules/Popular_Diets/Popular_Diets_print.html

Vegetarians ‘are less healthy and have a lower quality of life than meat-eaters’. (2018, March 31). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/vegetarians-are-less-healthy-and-have-a-lower-quality-of-life-than-meateaters-scientists-say-9236340.html

Vegetarian Anemia (2018, October 18). [Personal account].

Eggebrecht, T. (2018, September 25). Personal interview.

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