Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat such as red meat, poultry, seafood and any other meat from animals. It may also include the abstinence from the products from animals which include egg, cheese, milk etc. The Vegetarian Society (UK) defines a vegetarian as “someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter” (www.vegsoc.org). It is of great importance to note that there are different kinds of vegetarian which includes;
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians, they eat dairy and eggs, but exclude meat, fish and poultry.
- Lacto vegetarians eat dairy, but do not eat eggs
- Ovo vegetarians eat eggs, but do not eat dairy.
- Pesco vegetarians eat fish, but exclude poultry.
- Veganism or vegan vegetarian is the strictest form of vegetarianism. They exclude not only eggs and dairy, but also animal products, such as honey, refined and processed foods, products containing preservatives, caffeine and other stimulants
Interestingly, a well-balanced vegetarian diet is appropriate for all ages. Vegetarians consume widely divergent diets and a well-balanced vegetarian diet can offer potential health benefits over non-vegetarian diets. There are several benefits associated with vegetarianism which includes;
- Healthy body: People who follow vegetarian life style usually have low percentage of diseases such as high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, most heart diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases and gallstones.
- Also due to consumption of dietary fiber the work of the digestive system becomes normal. According to statistics vegetarians are slimmer and healthier than those who eat meat. Therefore it can be said that vegetarian diet really contributes to losing weight.
- Weight loss
- Saves money: Meat and meat products are expensive forms of food as compared to plant based foods
Reasons why people become vegetarian
People choose to become vegetarian due to many reasons. Among these reasons are
- Health: Some believe that being a vegetarian will improve their health because diets rich in plant foods as grains, beans, fruits and vegetables will reduce the risk of diseases as stroke, heart diseases and certain cancers.
- Compassion for animals: People realizing that thousands of innocent animals are being killed for food not only quit eating meat, but also call other to save lives of animals.
- Religious beliefs: Another common reason of starting the plant foods consumption is religious beliefs. Vegetarianism supporters switch to this type of food because their religion does not allow them eating meat.
- Economics reason: Some people are vegetarians because they cannot afford buying meat. They think animal products are expensive as compared to plants foods, also fruits, vegetables, grains and pastas can be found in virtually every corner of the world.
- Weight loss: It is believed that vegetarians weigh less than meat eaters because eating meat comes with a lot of extra unhealthy fats and cholesterol which causes excess weight.
- Parental and peer influence.
- Environmental issues: it is believed that resources for animal food production have a higher environmental impact than those for growing food from plant sources. With world food security as issue, this inefficient use of land may be viewed as non-sustainable. The impact on the environment also encompasses quantity of greenhouse gases produced by animals, damage to ecosystem, water contamination and higher carbon footprint.
Despite the benefits associated with being a vegan, vegetarianism comes with challenges which includes, inadequate amount of protein, challenges with eating outside, social issues especially during social gatherings and micronutrient deficiencies (zinc, iron, Vitamin B12, iodine and selenium). All these challenges can be resolved if diet is carefully planned and prepared by incorporating the appropriate meal planning principle which includes variety, moderation, adequacy, Kcals, balance.
To ensure that nutritional requirements are met, vegetarians have to:
- Eat from variety of the foods from plant source.
- Eat soy foods, beans, nuts and seeds to meet their protein requirement.
- Always consult a health care provider before taking food supplements.
- Read food labels before purchasing.
British Dietetic Association
Factsheet ‘Vegetarian Diets –Keeping a Healthy Balance’ www.bda .uk.com/foodfacts/vegetarianfoodfacts.pdf
Vegan Society (UK) www.vegansociety.com
Vegetarian Society (UK) www.vegsoc.org
Vegetarian for Life www.vegetarianforlife.org.uk