Vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular today with more convenient options being available. It’s hard to not have heard of it when it is estimated that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians and 22.8 million follow one of many types of vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism isn’t new. Pythagoreans were one of the first self-proclaimed vegetarians who adopted what they believed the Greek philosopher Pythagoras ate, though it is unknown if he really was vegetarian. Pythagoras’ supposed diet was mentioned in Greek philosopher Porphyry’s book On Abstinence from Killing Animals, which was written in the third century.
In 1847 the first vegetarian society was formed in England and then a few years later the American Vegetarian Society was formed in New York City. Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, exposed the unsanitary meat-packing industry in the early 1900’s. He was not vegetarian for long, but his work contributed to a decrease in animal consumption and the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Benjamin Franklin was even a vegetarian for a small portion of his life.
Some of the earliest vegetarian cookbooks were published in the 19th century. In the mid 20th century the vegan diet emerged. The diet itself had been around but it wasn’t until then that it finally got its name “vegan.”
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
The basic idea of a vegetarian diet is a plant-based diet that eliminates all animal proteins.
This idea is the base of vegetarianism but there are many different diets within the diet itself.
- Vegetarian– plant based diet, eliminates all animal proteins
- Lacto vegetarian– consumes plants and dairy products
- Ovo-vegetarians– consumes plants and eggs
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarian– consumes plants, dairy products, and eggs
- Partial vegetarian– consumes plants, dairy products, eggs, and may eat seafood or chicken, but not red meats
- Vegan– consumes only plant-based products, avoids all animal products
Often times recipes are categorized as either vegetarian or vegan. May recipes are either geared towards Lacto-Ovo vegetarians, as most vegetarian diet options are grouped together as one, or vegan as it is so different from the rest of the vegetarian options. Vegan is a subcategory of vegetarianism but is often seen as a completely different diet.
Why do people choose vegetarianism?
There are many reasons why people choose to go vegetarian or vegan.
- To improve health
- Environmental concerns
- Ethical concerns regarding animals
- Religious beliefs
- Food safety concerns
- To lose weight
- Health reasons
A study done by Vegetarian Times found that over half of those participating in a vegetarian based diet are female and choose this diet to improve their overall health.
A vegetarian diet has the chance to
- Reduce chance of obesity
- Reduce chance of heart disease
- Reduce chance of type 2 diabetes
- Possibly reduce risk of cancer
Compared to many other diets, vegetarians consume
- Less calories
- More fiber, potassium, and vitamin C
Being on a vegetarian based diet can make it hard to get the proper nutrition we need.
Here are some of the nutrients that vegetarians and vegans are often lacking:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fatty acids
A lack of protein is a big concern for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Here’s a list of common proteins:
- Legumes (Black beans, garbanzo[chick peas] beans, peanuts, etc)
- Tofu (which is made from soy)
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, etc)
- Seeds (hemp, flax, sunflower, etc)
- Grains (buckwheat, quinoa, oats, rice, etc)
Another way to get sufficient protein is to add protein powders into your diet. You can add protein powder to water, milkshakes, smoothies, and even baked goods. Naked Nutrition has a great line of protein powder. They have whey protein from both grass fed cows and goats, peas, rice, and more. None of their products have added ingredients and none of their powders contain soy.
It is important to make sure that you get efficient amounts of nutrients that you would otherwise get from meat. In a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, they found that 8.9% of the vegetarians and 8.7% of the vegans in the study were underweight. Proper nutrition can help prevent this.
The vegan diet is the most “extreme” of the vegetarian diet. Not only are animal proteins eliminated, but all animal products are as well. This includes avoiding products made with:
- Products with real feathers
- Fur products
- Beeswax (often found in cosmetics, candles, and crayons)
Any products that contain animal products are not considered vegan.
Pets and Vegetarianism
Some vegetarians and vegans feel uncomfortable feeding meat to their pets. There are some vegetarian options for dogs and cats but not every cat and dog can handle this kind of diet. Talk with your veterinarian before switching your pet over as it can be dangerous for the animal. A better option could be getting a pet that naturally doesn’t eat meat.
There are pros and cons to every diet but it ultimately comes down to your own personal choice. No one knows your body like you do. Don’t hesitate to consult a doctor or trained dietitian to work with you on your meal plans.