Sometimes, when the word “vegetarian” is mentioned, some people may start to think of such a person as a sort of weirdo. Many cannot imagine going without meat in any day. So to see someone choosing to do without same for the long term may be thought abnormal. However, perception about vegetarians has improved in recent years. More people are now turning to vegetarianism for different reasons, mainly on health grounds. We present to you detailed information on virtually everything you need to know about vegetarianism and vegetarians.
Vegetarianism refers to the practice of abstaining or keeping away from the consumption of animal flesh in any form. It could also include abstention from any food product that is associated with animal slaughter. This is no new phenomenon having been practiced in some places for thousands of years. The earliest record of vegetarian practice has been traced to Indus Valley Civilization, dating as far back as the 7th Century BCE. It was also practiced in India, Egypt and Europe.
In Europe, vegetarianism gradually faded into obscurity following the introduction of Christianity to the Roman Empire. Certain monasteries in medieval Europe, however, continued to practice abstinence from meat, although consumption of fish – the definition of which covered animals such as seals and dolphins – was allowed. Resurgence in the practice of vegetarianism was witnessed during the Renaissance, leading to formation of vegetarian societies in different countries (starting in the United Kingdom). It was not until 1839 that the use of the word 'vegetarian' was recorded and later popularized by the UK's Vegetarian Society. Before then, vegetarianism was merely described as "vegetable diet."
All vegetarians are not the same. They are classified into different types based on what is included in their diets. Here are the more popular ones you may consider if you are contemplating going vegetarian:
Lacto-vegetarian – This describes a vegetarian who takes dairy products, but who do not eat eggs. They can consume food products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Ovo-vegetarian – This is the reverse of a lacto-vegetarian. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs, but he or she does not take dairy products. This is in addition to the diet excluding meat and seafood.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian – This type of vegetarian combines the benefits of both lacto- and ovo-vegetarianism – that is, in terms of food that can be eaten. A lacto-ovo vegetarian can eat both eggs and dairy products.
Vegan – Veganism is a stricter form of vegetarianism. The diet of those practicing it excludes both meat and animal by-products. This means vegans do not even consume eggs, milk and honey, which are by-products of animals. Furthermore, these individuals will also not take any food that is processed using ingredients that are obtained from animals. A sub-category of veganism is raw veganism which involves consumption of only fresh and unprocessed foods – those ones not subject to heat above about 46 degrees Celsius.
Pescatarian – This term describes a vegetarian that abstains from meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products, but who eats fish. Monks in medieval Europe fell into this category. Pescatarians may also consume other forms of seafood in addition to fish.
Macrobiotic – A vegetarian on macrobiotic diet eats only unprocessed vegan foods and occasional fish. The diet comprises mainly whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. This diet is highly regarded for its health benefits.
Semi-vegetarian – Also known as a "flexitarian," a vegetarian of this type is probably the easiest to be. Flexitarians' diet is, to a great extent, like those of other vegetarians. The major difference is that meat is eaten occasionally or in small amount. They can also take eggs, dairy, fish and poultry.
There are still other varieties of vegetarianism, including fruitarianism and pollotarianism.
Given the total absence of meat in the diet of many vegetarians, this means they could potentially be low on nutrients derived mainly from animal sources. Western vegetarian diets, for instance, are said to be low in vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. The amount of protein obtained from a vegetarian diet may not be sufficient for the daily requirements of many people. With good planning, however, experts say vegetarians can maintain a diet that will meet their needs for all life stages.
Essential nutrients may be obtained from plant-based sources. Soy, walnuts, chia seed, purslane, cabbage and spinach are some good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seed, hempseed, soy, amaranth, quinoa, lupin beans and pumpkin seeds are among plant-based sources of all eight essential amino acids. It is believed you should not have a problem of nutrition if you choose the vegetarian lifestyle so long proper guidance is sought.
Vegetarianism is greatly valued these days mainly because of its health benefits. Diets maintained by vegetarians are usually very rich in dietary fiber, vitamins C and E, and folic acid among others. They also have low amount of saturated fat. All these combine to make vegetarianism highly beneficial, health wise. Some people become vegetarians to lose weight, improve physical fitness or reduce susceptibility to certain medical conditions among other reasons. This practice has been shown to be highly effective for the mentioned purposes.
A well-planned vegetarian diet helps to improve plasma lipid profile and reduce body mass. It is useful for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and arteriosclerosis. By becoming a vegetarian, you can improve your insulin sensitivity, with this helping to lower risk of diabetes. Vegetarianism also reduces the risk of most forms of cancer.
It is thought that childhood obesity can lead to a person becoming overweight as an adult. This can have possible grave consequences on cardiovascular health. Grant et al. studied the effect of a vegetarian diet on some important markers of health among 215 adolescents (aged between 14 and 15) in Australia drawn from five Adventist secondary schools. In the study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they observed that those young people placed on vegetarian diet scored better on cardiovascular health markers, such as body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels and waist circumference. It was noted that diet was more influential than exercise in promoting good health among this age group.
Vegetarians are likely to live longer than meat-eaters, according to research. In the Oxford Vegetarian Study, researchers studied 6000 vegetarians and 5000 meat-eaters in the UK to ascertain what health difference exist between the two groups. They observed that the vegetarians had lower levels of both the so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. Death rates among the vegans – after adjustment for body mass index, smoking and social class – were lower than among their meat-eating counterparts. Higher total and saturated animal fat intakes as well as elevated dietary cholesterol intake were associated with greater risk of death from ischemic heart disease. In addition, the researchers noted the vegetarians had just about half the risk of needing emergency appendectomy, compared to meat eaters.
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine also indicated vegetarianism promotes longevity. The research was carried out at the California-based Loma Linda University, an institution belonging to the Seventh-day Adventist. Based on a survey of mortality rates among over 73,000 individuals belonging to the Christian denomination, the researchers say evidence shows that vegetarianism could reduce mortality risk. They were, however, not able firmly establish the relationship between the two variables. Mortality rate observed among vegetarians was 19% lower than that of meat-eaters during the course of the study.
Mayo Clinic has put a figure to how much longer vegetarians may expect to live, compared to meat-eaters: four years. This was the conclusion from a new study by the Arizonan clinic which was reported by Yahoo Lifestyle. Around 1.5 million individuals were said to have been studied before coming out with this figure. Meat-eaters are reported to be more susceptible to death from all causes.
You may be tempted to think being a vegetarian is without risks – safe for non-consumption of meat, if you view that a risk. This may appear so when you consider all the associated health benefits. This is not true. Vegetarianism has been shown capable of causing adverse changes in the body. Just as it was mentioned earlier on, you may find yourself lacking in essential nutrients if your diet is not well-planned. Deficiency of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium, zinc and iron may be experienced. You can expect serious health implications if these deficiencies are severe. Adverse effects that may come up as a result of maintaining a vegetarian diet includes anemia, menstrual disruption in women and hyperhomocysteinemia. It could cause a drop in the creatinine level in the muscles – this can impact negatively on a person’s level of physical activity.
It has been said that being a vegetarian is a decision that can keep heart health and cancer issues away. Researchers from Cornell University have come out to state this might not be entirely true. In a recent study carried out in Pune, India and published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, they noted vegetarianism may lead to genetic mutations. This, in turn, can elevate risk of heart disease and cancer. The DNA mutations are believed to occur as a way of making it easier for essential fatty acids to be absorbed from the plant-based foods vegetarians eat. However, this can bring about an increase in the levels of arachidonic acid when a vegetarian diet is high in vegetable oils. Arachidonic acid is hazardous and has been linked to cancer and inflammatory diseases.
If you are addicted to bacon and other animal products, you may wonder how it is possible for some vegetarians to survive without them. You wonder if they enjoy their food preferences at all or merely endure them for whatever reasons that might be their driving force. Family and friends often get worried, at least some years back, when a loved one expresses the desire to go vegetarian. Things have changed. Unlike in the past when non-meat eaters have to make do with very limited menu option, restaurants now offer a wider variety of foods. This has made it possible for vegetarians to better enjoy what they eat. The increased options have even made more meat-eaters to consider becoming vegetarians. Besides, you will be surprised to find that many of those practicing vegetarianism have developed strong predilection for what they eat.
However, many meat lovers still find it hard to go without their favorite animal-based food products. Some who dabble into vegetarianism soon retrace their steps and return to meat eating. About 10 percent of those aged 17 and over in the U.S. are former vegetarians while more than 88 percent have never been vegetarians, according to Faunalytics. A spokesperson for the Vegetarian Society in the UK once said most of those now taking interest in vegetarianism are mainly meat-reducers.
Your goal will greatly determine whether a vegetarian diet is worth giving a shot at all. Since we have focused mainly on the health benefits in this article, it may well be a good idea to try a vegetarian diet from that perspective. While it has been linked to several benefits and also risks, the benefits exceed the adverse effects when both are compared. There are also more veggie restaurants these days offering better food options, contrary to what obtained in the past.
You may be interested in knowing if becoming a vegetarian can affect the level of human growth hormone in your body, especially if you are interested in bodybuilding or slowing down aging. There is no clear link between the hormone and this eating preference. However, being a protein-based hormone, HGH amount might be adversely impacted when on a vegetarian diet which is often lower in proteins than a meat-eater's diet. Natural HGH supplements, or secretagogues, made using plant-based ingredients could be helpful to vegetarians concerned about HGH levels.
Vegetarianism is a good path to follow if you are interested in good health and longevity. Restaurants now offer better food options for vegetarians. There are diverse types of vegetarianism to consider, so you have more room to wiggle as regards how far you can go. Be aware that a poorly-planned diet could lead to certain health risks. It will be helpful to seek the advice of your doctor if looking to become a vegetarian.
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