Vegetarianism is adiet lifestyle that evolves around vegetables and consumption of any non-meatproducts but there are a few types of vegetarians. They can be generally classified into lacto-ovo vegetarians where they eat bothdairy products and eggs or lacto-vegetarians who eatdairy products but avoid eggs. There are also ovo-vegetarians who are people whoeat eggs but not dairy products and vegans who do not eat dairy products, eggsor any other products which are derived from animals. According to a HarrisNational Interactive poll commissioned by Vegetarian Resource Group (2016),vegetarian diets are increasing in popularity and more and more people arereducing their meat intake. So, why is there a global shift towards vegetarianism?People become vegetarians for various reasons, it couldbe because of parental preferences, religious or other beliefs, health issues,concern over animal rights or even to be economical because meat usually cost alot more than vegetables. In conjunction to the raise in the amount ofpeople embracing vegetarian lifestyles, the number ofrestaurants and companies that offers vegetarian and vegan meals have also significantlyraised in the recent years providing more eating options for vegetariansand the benefits of vegetarianism is getting more recognition by the day. Theinternational Vegetarian Union (IVU) endorsed the International Vegetarian Weekwhich consists of 7 days annually from 1st to 7th ofOctober since 1977 as a movement to support vegetarianism.
It promoted in about13 countries worldwide in 2008 and the number has steadily increased in thefollowing years. Thus, a key reason for the importance of understanding thebenefits of vegetarian diet is the increasing popularity and acceptance of thepublic towards the lifestyle. The purpose of this essayis to state that vegetarian diet is a better choice from the environmental,health care and animal rights perspective. The environmentalperspective of benefits on vegetarianism is that it is vital to maintain thesustainability of earth’s resources.
Based on reports from United NationsEnvironmental Programme’s international panel of sustainable resourcemanagement, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products areunsustainable as the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billionpeople by the year 2050. This is because factors like water resources, energyconsumption, chemical fertilizer application, land degradation and pesticideapplication contribute to environmental pollution and waste of earth’s naturalresources just to accommodate food demands from agriculture production. Livestockbuildings used for mass production of meat emits contaminant gases thatpollutes and creates greenhouse gases. According to the Food and AgricultureOrganization of the United Nations, agriculture is responsible for 18 percentof the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide. This is more than the wholetransportation sector which is one of the most significant contributors totoday’s most serious environmental problems. Besides, 30 percent of the earth’sentire land surface is used by livestock and another 33 percent of land that isstill capable of growing crops is used to produce feed for livestock globally. Newpastures are created through deforestation, for example, 70 percent of formerforests in the Amazon have been turned over to provide grazing grounds forlivestock.
With that being said, it is important for us to stop eating meat oreven take dairy products as this is one of the most effective way to reduce ourpersonal carbon footprint and reduce our personal negative impact on theenvironment. Vegetarianism is alsoa route to a healthier lifestyle from the health point of view. There were manyresearches done on this matter and it has proven that vegetarian diets reducerisks of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetesand some cancers. In the medical journal Diabetes Care published in the January2010 issue, researches reportedly have found a strong correlation between theamount of animal protein consumed and the risk of developing diabetes. Highferritin, low glycine and altered hepatic-derived lipid concentrations wereassociated with total red meat consumption and, independent of red meat, withdiabetes risk according to a study done by American Society for Nutrition(2015). Sodium nitrate compounds in processed meat are cancer-causingsubstances believed to be responsible for some adverse effects of processedmeat consumption.
These compounds are used to preserve the red or pink colourof meat, improve flavour by suppressing fat oxidation and prevent growth ofbacteria to extend shelf life of processed meat products. On the contrary, vegandiets are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat levels, high in fibre and aidsin gastrointestinal functions which prevents constipation. Other benefits ofvegan diets are also stated in the Journal of the American Dietic Association(2010), researches found that consumption of yellow and cruciferous vegetableslike cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in particular contributed to longersurvival, while consumption of dairy products and red and processed meatsshortened lifespan. The authors concluded that low-fat, plant-based diets arenot only helpful for cancer prevention but can also increase survival time inpeople diagnosed with cancer.
Thus, we can conclude that vegetarianism doesbring benefits to human health. Animal rights isanother aspect that needs to be looked into when we talk about vegetarianism.All use of animals for food, clothing materials, pleasure, as pets or animaltesting involves utilising animals against their will and very so often,involves their suffering and deaths. This violates their rights as livingbeings on earth and should not be seen as inferior nor just solely as resourcesor tools for human use. In modern factory farms, animals are injected withhormones or stimulants to make them grow faster and bigger and deprived ofveterinary care, exercise, sunlight and more. As producers, factory farms seekto supply whatever consumer demands and it is apparent that the demand for meatand dairy products have increased in this modern era. According to the FAOCorporate Document Repository, consumption of meat has been growing at 5 to 6percent per annum and that of milk and dairy products at 3.4 to 3.
8 percent perannum in the last few decades especially in developing countries, where almostall world population increases take place. In conjunction of the unhealthy trend,some countries have taken action to minimise the adverse effects of intenseanimal farming. For example, “Foie Gras” – fattened bird liver which is awell-known delicacy in French cuisine, was banned in California in the year2012 because it was discovered that many ducks died due to overfeeding andabuse. Conclusively, ethics that are against eating animals should be enforcedand vegan diets should be highly promoted to the public. However, there arearguments on the lack of nutrients in vegan diets. Deficiencies of vitamin B12,calcium, iron and zinc are the most stated essential nutrients that are potentiallymissing in vegan diets. Vitamin B12 only available from animal products and themost common outcomes of very low levels of this vitamin is anaemia, blindness,muscle weakness, tingling and numbness.
Other than that, high levels of zinc inred meat is believed to be easier to be broken down by the body compared tothan that found in grains and legumes as well. Studies show that phytic acid whichis common in plant food can reduce zinc absorption by attaching to zinc in thedigestive system and preventing absorption (Barbro, Brittmarie & AKE,2008). On top of that, although lacto-ovovegetarians generally consume adequateamounts of calcium, vegans typically fall short of the recommended daily intakefor calcium.
Inadequate protein and calcium intake has been shown to beassociated with bone loss and fractures at the hip and spine in the elderly(Chan, Lau, Woo, Lin, Sham & Leong, 1996; Lau, Donnan, Barker & Cooper,1988). All these factors have caused many to question the downside of goingvegetarian and worries especially parents who intend to make their children govegan. Nevertheless, nutritionalbalance can still be achieved with properly planned vegetarian diets. Especiallyfor children who are still growing, dietitians must provide adequate andrealistic meal-planning guidelines for parents with vegan children. Accordingto both The American Dietetic Association (1997) and The American Academy ofPediatrics (1998), well-planned vegan diets can support normal growth anddevelopment in children.
Essential but potentially lacking minerals in vegandiets like zinc can be found in beans, whole grains and nuts. Eating fermentedsoy or soaking grains and legumes in water or in an acid medium at a warmtemperature will eliminate most of the phytic acid. Furthermore, nutrientintakes of vegan children are generally sufficient and sometimes exceed thoseof omnivore children.
According to the study on the growth and development ofvegan children, Sanders and Manning found that British vegan school-agedchildren had higher intakes of fibre and all vitamins and minerals exceptcalcium compared to omnivore children. To make up for the deficiency ofcalcium, which is important to build bones in children, vegan diets shouldcontain adequate amount of calcium-rich food like cheese, yoghurt, milk, tofu,calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages like soy and dark green leafy vegetableslike spinach and bok choy. Hence, the statement saying that vegan diets arenutritionally deficient is untrue. As we have seen,vegetarianism brings more benefits than drawbacks. Vegetarian diets promoteefficient use of earth resources and reduce pollution from waste produced bylivestock from farm factories. This diet also creates a healthy lifestyle, buta strict regime must be followed to ensure nutrients needed daily is obtainedin sufficient amounts. Moreover, animals have emotions just like humans do andjust because they do not have a speaking voice, their rights are very so oftenviolated and changing to a vegetarian diet can reduce market demands andsubsequently decrease the existence of farm factories.
With all the above aspects,we can conclude that vegetarian diet is a good food choice that not onlyensures our health but also the ecosystem. Despite vegetarianism being apositive choice, it takes time to encourage more people to join the movementthus authorities with information on related field should widely educate thepublic on the benefits of embracing a vegetarian lifestyle.