Whenever my mom and I order lunch from BRUG Bakery at Ala Moana, one of the foods I get is a sausage roll. While eating it, I always joke that I’d make a terrible vegetarian. But vegetarians aren’t so out-of-the-ordinary. Celebrities like Carrie Underwood, Russell Brand, Mayim Bialik, and Paul McCartney have embraced either vegan or vegetarian diets.
A vegetarian simply doesn’t eat meat, poultry, or fish. However, there are subcategories to vegetarian diets, depending on the animal products they consume.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians, for instance, eat both eggs and dairy products. On the other hand, lacto vegetarians eat dairy products, but avoid eggs. Ovo vegetarians eat eggs, but no dairy products. Like a regular vegetarian, all of these types of diets avoid meat, poultry, and fish.
Vegans are more strict than vegetarians. In addition to avoiding meat, poultry, and fish, vegans also avoid dairy products, eggs, and other products that come from animals, such as honey. Then, there are the diets that don’t really commit to a vegetarian lifestyle all the way, like partial vegetarians and flexitarians.
Partial vegetarians, such as pescatarians and pollo-vegetarians, don’t eat meat, but they do eat some animal foods. Pescatarians eat fish, but they avoid all other meat. Pollo-vegetarians eat poultry, but they avoid fish and other types of meat.
Flexitarians mostly follow a plant-based diet, but they may occasionally include meat, dairy, eggs, poultry, and fish in their diets.
The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
The general opinion is that vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters. But there are multiple other reasons why people switch to vegetarianism. Some of them include health purposes, religious beliefs, concerns about animal welfare, and avoiding foods that contain excessive use from environmental resources. According to Harvard Health Publishing, another reason why people become vegetarians is that they can’t afford meat.
Adopting a vegetarian diet has become more accessible thanks to the availability of fresh produce, restaurants and takeout places offering vegetarian options, and the rising popularity of plant-based diets.
Remember when Burger King debuted the Impossible Whopper, a burger made with a plant-based patty, in August 2019? It wasn’t exactly vegetarian all the way, but hey, at least they tried!
However, other restaurants/fast-food chains were a little more successful in having vegetarian food options available on their menu.
Chipotle added sofritas to their menu in 2014, which contains shredded tofu, chilies, peppers, onions, and a blend of spices. Taco Bell offers a “Veggie Cravings” menu, which includes a veggie version of the Power Menu Bowl that contains ingredients like black beans, reduced-fat sour cream, cheese, seasoned rice, lettuce, and tomatoes.
If you are in the mood for pizza, Pieology Pizzeria, founded in California, now offers a gluten-free crust, vegan sauce options, a vegan cheese option, and plant-based protein toppings.
There are also restaurant chains dedicated to vegans and vegetarians, like Veggie Grill. Located in California, Washington, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon, the place serves yummy sandwiches (like the Tuna Melt), salads, and bowls.
There are many benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet if done correctly. These benefits include living a longer life, reducing cancer risk, saving the planet, and protecting animals. Stay tuned to read more about the benefits of a vegetarian diet!
Fighting Off Diseases and Cancers
According to Vegetarian Times, a vegetarian diet reduces the risk for chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancers such as colon, breast, prostate, stomach, and lung cancer.
A vegetarian diet is much healthier than a standard diet because vegetarians consume less animal fat and cholesterol and more fiber and antioxidant-rich produce, the source continues.
Reducing the Risk of Being Overweight
Another one of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet is that it helps you maintain a healthy weight. Switching to a plant-based diet reduces the risk of being overweight and gaining weight-related health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. The standard American diet includes a lot of foods that are processed and contain high saturated fats, but also lack the carbohydrates our bodies need.
A study conducted from 1986 to 1992 by Dean Ornish, MD, found that overweight people who followed a low-fat vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off the weight five years later.
Living a Longer Life
Michael F. Roizen, MD, says that adopting a vegetarian lifestyle can add 13 years to your life! “People who consume saturated, four-legged fat have a shorter life span and more disability at the end of their lives.
Animal products clog your arteries, zap your energy, and slow down your immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age.” In other words, vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters.
A healthy diet can play a huge role in living a longer life. Studies have proven that having a plant-based diet can add more years to your life. One study done by a team of researchers at Loma Linda University found that vegetarian men live about 10 years longer than non-vegetarian men (83-years-old versus 73-years-old). The same study found that vegetarian women were given six extra lives versus non-vegetarian women.
A similar study done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the five key factors to living a longer life include eating a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and not drinking alcohol (or only doing moderate drinking). The factor that drew the most emphasis was eating a healthy diet, particularly a plant-based diet, because of their nutrients.
Building Stronger Bones
This is tricky because studies have proven that vegans and vegetarians have a higher risk of bone fractures. But with the right supplements and eating the right foods, switching to a plant-based diet can make your bones stronger. The five key nutrients our bodies need are calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium.
Our bodies need calcium because they help build and protect our bones. For calcium, eating plants such as leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale provide higher rates of calcium versus drinking cow milk. Calcium can also be found in beans and plant milk. These foods contain magnesium as well, which is another essential mineral for strong bones.
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Fortified cereals, grains, breads, and soy or almond milk are good options for providing vitamin D. There are vegan supplements that are just as effective.
Vitamin C is important for making collagen, the protein that binds connective tissue in our bones. People can get vitamin C from citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin K stimulates bone formation. Foods such as beans, leafy greens, and soy products provide good sources of vitamin K. They’re basically the same foods you would eat for calcium.
Potassium keeps our heartbeat going and helps to regulate the bone-building process. Foods such as oranges, bananas, potatoes, other fruits and vegetables, and beans provide the right source of potassium.
Fighting Climate Change
The meat industry causes enormous damage to the environment from the greenhouse gasses emitted through production to the animal waste that pollutes the rivers and streams. The meat industry also takes away our everyday resources such as water and land. Some of the products we eat may contain pesticides, carcinogens, steroids, hormones, and heavy metals.
Here are a few alarming statistics from an article by The Guardian posted in 2018 that show the adverse effects of the meat and dairy industry:
- While meat and dairy provide 18 percent of the calories and 37 percent of the protein we consume, the production uses 83 percent of farmland and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- Beef results in up to 105 kilograms of greenhouse gases per 100 grams of protein, unlike tofu, which produces less than 3.5 kilograms.
- Global farmland could be reduced by over 75 percent without meat and dairy consumption.
Saving the Animals
Many people become vegetarian because of the torture done to the animals on the farms. Billions of animals are slaughtered for human consumption every year. They are confined in small spaces where they can barely move and fed diets containing pesticides and antibiotics. So, in other words, the animals are living in hell!
Considering Adopting a Vegetarian Diet?
There is no specific reason why people switch to vegetarianism, but there are many health benefits when making the switch. There are different types of vegetarians that are based on the animal products you choose to eat. Plus, it’s easier to adopt a no-meat diet these days thanks to the accessibility of fresh produce, and restaurants and takeout places having vegetarian food options available.
Vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters, but this diet isn’t for everyone, so it’s really up to you! If you do plan to go down this route, you can take it one step at a time by first giving up meat, then poultry, and finally fish. Or you can try going vegetarian once or twice a week to see how you like it and build up from there.
This type of lifestyle is challenging, but the benefits of a vegetarian diet usually pay off in the long run. Plus, plenty of available resources provide meal ideas and tips on living a vegetarian lifestyle!