From the Mouth of an Editor: Food Talk

Ashleigh Hollowell, Editor

“I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made. I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Author of Eating Animals

“Where do you get your protein from?” “I had a friend who went vegetarian and ended up in the hospital with an iron deficiency problem.” “You don’t get essential nutrients like B12, Omega 3 or enough Calcium being a vegetarian. It’s really unhealthy.”

These are all things I have heard repeatedly over the past four and a half years that I have been a vegetarian. I used to just roll my eyes and tell them I had never had any problems with my diet and therefore did not plan on changing it anytime soon. However, a better route would have been to inform them of the benefits of being a vegetarian and explain the diet to them so they could see how healthy it really is.

It is true that iron deficiency and lack of protein are common problems among those who identify as being vegetarians, but not all vegetarians have those problems. If a vegetarian diet is followed correctly, it brings an enormous amounts of health benefits, many that I have witnessed firsthand myself.

Protein, B12, Iron, Omega 3 and Calcium do not just come from meat, fish and meat products. It is not even remotely difficult to keep these nutrients in your diet as a vegetarian, because there are so many sources to get them from. Protein can be found in all nuts, beans, seeds, and lentils. B12 is found in milk, cheese, eggs, some breakfast cereals, veggie burgers and yeast. Iron plant sources include tofu, lentils, soybeans, brown rice, oatmeal, pumpkin, squash and tomato sauce. Omega 3 can be obtained from olive oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, mustard oil, seaweed and mangos. Calcium is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, soy milk, tofu and kale.

Being informed about the diet and which foods to obtain these essential nutrients from is the best way to ensure maximum benefit from a vegetarian diet.

The health benefits from a plant based diet are enormous as are the environmental benefits. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, are at lower risk of developing diabetes, obesity, hypertension, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, renal disease and coronary artery disease compared to those who do eat meat. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that studies show certain plant proteins may possibly increase survival rates and decrease proteinuria, glomerular filtration rate, renal blood flow, and histologic renal damage compared with a non-vegetarian diet. It has also been proven that vegetarians maintain a lower average weight than meat eaters.   Vegetarian.ProCon.org states that, “According to a peer-reviewed 2003 Oxford University study of 37,875 healthy men and women aged 20-97, 5.4% of meat eaters were obese compared to 3% of vegetarians. Meat eaters had an average Body Mass Index  8.3% higher than vegetarians.”  The site also states that a 1994 study by Harvard Researchers found that eating meat five or more times a week increased risk of certain cancers such as colon cancer significantly and claimed that vegetarians were 40% less likely to develop these cancers than meat eaters .

Personally, in the time I have been vegetarian I have gotten sick less, and if I do get sick it is for a shorter duration than those around me with the same virus/cold. My once severe seasonal allergies have become significantly reduced to where they are almost not noticeable or of any note/annoyance at all. My skin has improved significantly and does not breakout as much as it once did, it also  is softer and brighter. I have long lasting energy throughout the day and hardly ever experience fatigue like I once did.

Environmentally, vegetarian diets are of extreme benefit as well. Eating at a lower trophic level (level of the food chain) conserves energy, fuel and can feed a vastly larger  abundance of people. How this works is through energy. Sunlight energy directly grows the plants, but as they are eaten by herbivores and the herbivores are eaten by carnivores, 10% of the energy is lost as it passes through each trophic level. By the time you eat a steak, you are getting about 40% less energy efficiency  than you could if you ate plants due to The Second Law of Thermodynamics. In addition, it takes a large amount of plants and carbon to produce the steak on your plate.

According to chooseveg.com, to produce one pound of animal protein versus one pound of soy/plant protein takes twelve times as much land, thirteen times as much fossil fuel and fifteen times as much water. Over ten pounds of plant protein are used to produce one pound of beef. If the amount of grains fed to animals to produce meat were fed to humans instead, it is estimated by research from Cornell University that the grain fed to livestock alone just in the United States, could feed 800 million people.  Less energy would be used to produce the food, therefore reducing pollution and fossil fuels from agriculture, transportation and processing of the foods and increasing energy efficiency. It is a more sustainable food system for the large and growing population of the earth.  According to The New York Times, if everyone on Earth consumed as much meat as Americans do every day which is on average eight ounces, it would require around 550 million tons of meat to be produced each year. This would demand the resources and land of two Earths instead of one. Worldwatch.org says if we continue to eat meat at the same rate we currently do, our choice to eat meat or plant-based diets will ultimately determine just how much of the Earth’s forests will continue to remain. The Environmental News Service reports that The Center for International Forestry Research projects  that rapid growth in the sales of Brazilian beef has led to accelerated destruction of the Amazon rainforest. “In a nutshell, cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil’s Amazon rainforests.” Meat diets may have certain advantages, but they are not a sustainable way to feed the human population.

The American Dietetic Association states that vegetarian diets are healthy for most everyone regardless of  various  lifestyles and ages. There is no wrong stage of life to become a vegetarian. “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

In the end, whether or not you choose to eat meat is a personal choice and no one should tell you what is right and wrong about your choice of diet. Criticism of my vegetarian diet choice often seems to come from misinformation about the diet and the benefits it holds if followed correctly. I have closely examined the facts of a vegetarian diet as well as a meat-based diet and based on the information I have found I made the choice to become a vegetarian. As a result I have experienced remarkable health results. Yes, I highly recommend vegetarianism, but I do not criticise and degrade those who choose a different diet because I recognize and am aware of the benefits of a meat-based diet. In my experience, many people are just not aware of the facts, statistics, health and environmental benefits of my diet and they base their judgements off of things they have only heard from peers. My purpose in writing this piece is to put the rumors and judgements to rest and replace them with reliable facts so critics can either reform or stick by their previous opinion, but now have the opposing facts.

There are numerous benefits to both diets, but one thing is for sure, whether you are a meat eater or a vegetarian, we all need our vegetables.