The Vegetarian Diet – Is It Healthy?

curious cows
Cows in support of vegetarianism :: Via George Thomas, Creative Commons

Nutrition.

Few words draw more controversy.

You can get a master’s degree in nutrition from a top university, become a registered dietician, and get paid to help people eat better — but still be ridiculed by “health food” proponents who say you’ve been indoctrinated by the mega-corporations that have take the food industry and food education hostage.

Did I say nutrition is controversial? You know it is. Nutrition, politics, and religion form a trilogy of topics sure to start an argument.

This month on the FIT Academy blog, we’re going to jump right into the middle of the nutritional mud-slinging. We’re not going to take sides, though. Our job is to simply report the best information we can find.

Each week, we’ll cover one of the most talked-about diets being championed today.

Deal?

Let’s talk first about vegetarianism.

What are the types of vegetarianism?

Vegetarians shun animal products, choosing to opt for a plant-based diet. Some take that more seriously than others, though. Here are the most popular classifications of vegetarianism:

  • Vegans are purists. No meat, eggs, or other products derived from animals.
  • Ovo vegetarians say eggs are permissible, but no dairy.
  • Pesco pollo vegetarians include chicken and fish in their diets, but avoid red meat.
  • Lacto vegetarians are okay with dairy-based products, but not with eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians are okay with dairy products and eggs both — most vegetarians are in this group.

Many others consider themselves semi or partial vegetarians. They eat animal-sourced products, but limit their intake. Some people are motivated by a love of animals to become vegetarian. Others say there’s a huge health benefit to putting down the steak knife.

Is there?

Why choose vegetarianism?

Those who find fault with vegetarianism often claim you can’t get sufficient protein without eating meat. Not many years ago, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find a mainstream health-focused organization that endorsed the no-meat agenda. Times have changed, though.

Here’s a look at current statistics about vegetarians:

  • About 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian. Another 22.8 million are “vegetarian-inclined.”
  • About 1 million follow the strictest protocol and are vegan.
  • 57.1 percent of vegetarians surveyed have followed the diet for more than 10 years.
  • 53 percent embrace vegetarianism for health reasons.
  • 47 percent of vegetarians cite environmental concerns as a driving factor.
  • 54 percent cite animal welfare as a primary reason to avoid meat.
  • 49 percent are concerned about weight loss or weight maintenance.

And … get ready for it … the city with more vegetarian restaurants than any other is … Portland, Oregon!

Here’s a look at claims of substance (research-backed) concerning vegetarianism:

  • Vegetarianism may lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases by up to 25 percent
  • Vegetarianism may (slightly) lower your risk of cancer
  • Dropping the meat can protect against Type 2 diabetes, reducing risk by up to 40 percent

Vegetarians claim their diet of choice gives them more energy, clearer thinking, and helps keep weight under control. Many also point to the wisdom of vegetarianism to the global economy and say violence to animals is cruel and unnecessary.

RESOURCE: Harvard Health Special Report

What’s wrong with vegetarianism?

In addition to the “not enough protein” argument, opponents of vegetarianism point to a recent study indicating vegetarianism may be linked to a gene mutation that can actually CAUSE heart disease and cancer IF the vegetarian isn’t careful to maintain omega-6 and omega-3 intakes.

Here’s an overview of that story in Science Daily: Vegetarianism and Gene Mutation.

As for animal cruelty, few are in favor of deplorable conditions and factory farms, but many say something must die for something else to live. Let’s face it, you may be killing a carrot instead of a chicken when you go vegetarian … but you’re still killing something.

Another argument is that vegetarians miss out on more than sufficient protein. Their diets are low in zinc, vitamin D, and iron as well. They also point to studies that suggest vegetarianism may make you 18 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety, 14 percent more likely to become depressed, and four times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder.

RESOURCE: Vegetarianism Linked to Depression

The Vegetarian Diet – Is It Healthy?

Some people swear by vegetarianism as the door to health, others say it’s the door to sickness. What should you do?

Every dietary change should begin with a trip to the doctor. Get a checkup, go over your plans, and make sure there’s no physical reason why you shouldn’t experiment with a specific eating plan.

You’ll never know until you try. If you’ve been wanting to give vegetarianism a whirl, do your homework to find out how to avoid deficiencies and go for it…

The best diet is the one that makes YOU feel and perform best.

That’s the bottom line.