Vegetarianism, with its pluses and minuses, is the most widespread alternative to the traditional food system. Millions of people in the world consider themselves vegetarians and make a choice in favor of products of vegetable origin, as well as certain components of the animal kingdom such as eggs, milk, etc. In this regard, one should not confuse vegetarianism with veganism; the first concept implies the rejection of meat and most animal organisms, while vegans do not eat absolutely any animal products and prefer exclusively plant foods.
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Vegetarianism is widespread, and it is required to not only consider its features but also to determine whether such a diet has benefits and disadvantages. The analysis of the effectiveness of such a nutritional principle for the body can confirm, or, on the contrary, refute the theory about the advantages of vegetarianism and its beneficial effect on body functions.
Peculiarities of Vegetarian Diets
Almost all diets that are based on the principles of vegetarianism have similar rules of nutrition. Thus, for example, different products of animal origin are replaced by vegetable ones in the form of legumes, cabbage, nuts, etc. The liquid is used in sufficient quantity since the danger of dehydration can emerge; in this case, at least two liters of water should be consumed daily (Nordqvist, 2017).
Any sweet foods are usually excluded from the diet as they contain various impurities and oils, which are considered unacceptable in vegetarianism. As Wells (2015) remarks, the replacement of flour confectionery products is usually made up of dried fruits. On the whole, according to Wells (2015), virtually any vegetarian diet provides meals in the standard model, that is, four to five times a day, and does not imply any starvation as some people suppose.
Reasons for Refusing Meat
The roots of the so-called ideological vegetarianism, which implies the refusal to consume meat for moral reasons, lie in the matters of ecology or animal protection. The idea of stopping eating meat is also often received by people who have some health problems and are forced to abandon animal protein for practical reasons. Also, a vegetarian diet is typical for a number of Eastern religions, including world beliefs, and all their new adherents, even those living on the other side of the world, prefer to consume such food.
Based on a variety of reasons, it is necessary to consider the merits and demerits of such a principle of nutrition in detail and pay attention to some significant facts that are scientifically confirmed. Certain arguments can be cited in favor of vegetarianism and against it. Thus, it is essential to pay attention to all possible and evident pluses and minuses. According to the analysis, competent conclusions can be made about the benefits or harm of such diets.
Advantages of Vegetarian Diets
Today, vegetarian diets are very popular all over the world and are preferred by people from different countries. Many adherents of vegetarianism claim that this food system is the source of health and youth and helps to prevent and treat many diseases. Some organizations, fighting for animal rights, advocate the refusal to eat meat, fish, and poultry. If it is about the health benefits, it is possible to highlight several essential benefits that the use of products of vegetable origin gives.
Reducing the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
The set of products of any vegetarian diet contains a very small amount of fats with a high content of saturated fatty acids. As a result, such a type of nutrition minimizes the risk of gaining excess weight (Nordqvist, 2017). It, in its turn, minimizes the possibility of developing diseases associated with the cardiovascular system because excess fat mass often leads to heart problems, increased blood pressure, and other related factors. Nordqvist (2017) also notes that, based on the studies conducted in 2016, people who often consume red meat have a slightly higher risk of death from excess calories than those who completely abandoned such a product. Accordingly, vegetarianism has a beneficial effect on the general tone of the body and the cardiovascular system.
Prevention of Heart Attacks and Strokes
Vegetarian food normalizes the level of cholesterol, strengthens the immune system, and also supplies the body with a very important fiber. Earlier, it was supposed that the reduction of animal fats in the diet was insignificant but still led to a drop in the level of cholesterol. However, the situation is more optimistic than it seemed, and the more radical the rejection of meat and meat products is, the more benefits for heart and brain vessels it brings. According to Wells (2015), this type of nutrition contributes to normalizing the level of cholesterol in the blood, which has a positive effect on the prevention of heart attacks and strokes. Therefore, this advantage is undoubtedly very significant.
High Content of Antioxidants for Recovery from Injuries and Diseases
Vegetables and fruits are known to provide the body with vitamins and minerals that are necessary for the normal operation of all systems. Beans and seeds are good sources of protein. Vegetables consist of phytochemical combinations that prevent some chronic diseases. Green vegetables are rich in antioxidants. Also, plant products are suppliers of natural sugars, various useful enzymes, and microelements.
As Coleman (n.d.) notes, many useful substances that are found in green vegetables are almost the best regenerating elements that stimulate the recovery of the body after severe injuries or illnesses. Moreover, as Lamuye (2018) remarks, the increased content of antioxidants in a diet is natural prevention against intoxication of the body, for example, through the polluted air or an increased level of radiation background. Therefore, such a type of nutrition deserves particular attention.
Reducing the Risk of Cancer Development
Any diet with high-fat content, namely meat, increases the secretion of bile in the intestine, which leads to the emergence of cancer tumors. It is also such food that causes the risk of breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancer. As Heid (2016) claims, vegetarians have a lower level of secondary bile acids than non-vegetarians. Differences in the microflora of vegetarians’ intestines and meat-eaters are also significant. The bacterial flora of vegetarians has a much lesser ability to convert bile into a potential carcinogen. In general, scientists agree that the possibility of forming a cancerous tumor depends on nutrition by 50-70% (Heid, 2016).
Fresh fruits and vegetables contain substances that protect the body from dangerous neoplasms. Moreover, the human digestive tract is poorly adapted to digesting meat because this food is too heavy and high-calorie. Accordingly, vegetables and fruits are not only useful but also compulsory products that should be present in the diet to prevent cancer in various forms of its manifestation and protect the body from other severe diseases.
Shortcomings of Vegetarian Diets
Despite the advantages mentioned above, vegetarian diets can sometimes harm the body. Essential shortcomings can be caused by different reasons; although different people individually perceive certain diets, some principles of vegetarian nutrition are rather controversial. Therefore, these disadvantages should be considered in more detail.
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Lack of Useful Vitamins and Minerals
Despite the fact that a vegetarian diet provides the body with all the necessary nutrients, some of them can be obtained in larger quantities only from meat or fish. The vegetarian principle of nutrition does not fully meet the human needs for protein, calcium, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. For instance, the shortage of B12, as Fetters (2014) notes, is fraught with fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, and depression.
Vitamin B12 is abundant in soy, grain products, as well as in food of animal origin. Meat is considered the basic source of this useful element. Milk and dairy products are generally rich in vitamin D. Meat, chicken, fish, and poultry contain large amounts of iron and zinc. Milk, cheese, yogurt are valuable sources of calcium. Meat contains protein, and it is also the source of essential amino acids that the body needs. The phosphorus that meat contains is digested more easily than that found in legumes and cereals. All these nutrients are not contained in large quantities in a vegetarian diet; therefore, health problems can arise in case of the lack of them.
Contraindications to Pregnant and Lactating Women
During pregnancy, the need for nutrients and useful elements increases. According to Illmatical (2016), pregnant women should constantly monitor whether they receive enough protein. Different fatty acids and other useful elements are the basis of the baby’s nutrition both in the womb and during breastfeeding. Therefore, a vegetarian diet is extremely undesirable in such cases as it can harm children.
Meat and Other Animal Products Are Delicious
Perhaps, the factor of pleasant and rich taste is not a significant argument in favor of an anti-vegetarian diet. Nevertheless, many lovers of meat and fish dishes confirm that they feel a surge of energy when they feel the smell of their favorite product and then taste it. According to Morris (2013), a huge number of people around the world confirm the fact that the presence of meat in the ration makes eating not only more diverse but also tasty, and many supporters of meat diets cannot give up eating animal products. Also, in addition to taste, consistency plays a significant role; the body gets used to receiving food in the form of animal fiber and eventually adapts so much that people experience not only a psychological but also a physiological need for meat. Therefore, such a factor as taste should also be considered.
Thus, a proper analysis of the effectiveness of vegetarian diets can confirm that it has both specific advantages and disadvantages, and various arguments for and against such a diet can be cited. The principles of healthy eating do not necessarily have to provide for a complete rejection of a particular diet. It is essential for the body to receive a certain amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It especially applies to pregnant women, as well as those who need recovery from injuries and illnesses. Vegetarian diets have a number of advantages, but it is important to keep a balance in the diet in order for the body not to feel the necessity of certain substances.
Coleman, E. (n.d.). Advantages of vegetarianism. Web.
Fetters, K. A. (2014). 12 things you need to know before going vegan. Web.
Heid, M. (2016). You asked: Is a vegan diet better? TIME Health. Web.
Lamuye, A. (2018). 10 health benefits of a vegetarian diet, according to a nutritionist. Evening Standard. Web.
Morris, M. (2013). 9 reasons to reject vegetarianism. Web.
Nordqvist, C. (2017). What’s to know about eating vegan? Web.
Illmatical, C. (2016). Pros and cons of eating vegan during pregnancy. Web.
Wells, C. (2015). 5 reasons a vegetarian diet is good for you. Independent. Web.