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Health is a sensitive topic in today’s world in which new strains of diseases are discovered day in day out. Experts suggest, and indeed food consumed by a subject has a lot to say about the subject’s health status. Diet change and watching the government, stakeholders and health professionals in a bid to minimize food-related health complications, preach healthy diet. The response by the public has been encouraging, even though diet is a matter of personal choice. Long ago, vegetarians were rare, and people who did not eat animal products were rare to find. However, the trend is slowly but surely gaining momentum with more people embracing animal product-free diets (Davis 2000). A vegetarian is a person who does not consume animal meat or related products. This essay analyzes vegetarianism and associated pros and cons.
“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.” This statement released by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) has been phenomenal in enlightening people about veganism and vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is diverse, and people practice it to various extents. There are people who feed on plants strictly, and there are those who feed on plants majorly, although their diets may include some animal products or by-products. This gives way for different types of vegetarians. Vegans are strict vegetarians who, not only do not consume animal products, but also do not eat products that come from animals including honey, eggs, milk and meat. They strictly feed on plant-derived products. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians are a type of vegetarians who can only consume dairy products and eggs, but cannot consume other animal products including fish and chicken. In essence, they consume animal by-products only in a diet dominated by vegetables and plant-based foods. Lacto-vegetarians, on the other hand, consume dairy products but do not consume eggs. Ovo-vegetarians feed on eggs only and have nothing to do with dairy products or any other animal product for that matter. Other types of vegetarians include semi-vegetarians and Pesci-vegetarians. Semi-vegetarians are not too strict about what they consume as the vegans are. They consume fish and chicken, in a diet largely consisting of plant-derived foods. Pesci-vegetarians, as the name suggests (the word Pesci comes from Pisces, which is the scientific name for fish) feed on fish. However, they do not get involved with poultry (Mangels 2011).
Since diet is a matter of choice and largely depends on an individual, people become vegetarians or lack of thereof, for a wide range of reasons. Firstly, there are certain religions that prohibit consumption of certain animal products. Islam is one particular religion that prohibits its followers from consuming pork and any other products derived from pork or pigs. Most Muslims are, therefore, vegetarians as a matter of religious calling. Other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism consider the cow a sacred animal, almost a deity. They, as a result, do not consume meat or any other meat products, as it is considered a taboo in such religions (Mangels 2011). For some vegetarians, it is all about economy. Animal products and meat in particular, is relatively expensive in comparison to other types of food, for instance beans. This pushes people to go for the affordable food types like beans. With the economy getting shakier the world over, more people are throwing caution to the wind and adapting more pocket-friendly diets. They always end up thinking more or less in the direction of vegetarianism. Others become vegetarians, not as a matter of choice, but because of the necessity. For humble families, there are usually few options of the food types available, and vegetables and plant-based foods are usually the only available options.
Due to health reasons, some people need to adopt to vegetarianism. Meat has been associated with a high risk of suffering from a number of diseases including cancer, stroke, and heart diseases. Fatty meat in particular has a close association with coronary artery blockage, an effect that may lead to myocardial infarction (death of heart muscles) and ultimately death (Mangels 2011). The relationship between the deadly cancer and processed and refined foods has been widely publicized. Recent studies show that cancer relates to industrially processed foods and continuous and consistent consumption of meat. .Eggs also has a negative effect on health if consumed in large quantities. Raw eggs have glycoproteins called avidins that bind biotin in the body leading to a deficiency. Eggs also contain high levels of cholesterol, which is not good for the heart as it also causes coronary blockage and other related complications. Other people, yet, turn into vegetarians with a goal of championing and upholding animal rights. Such people believe that by undertaking such a venture, they would bring more attention to the plight of animals and lead the whole world on the road to vegetarianism. In certain families, the parents, guardians or heads of the family prefer consumption of plant-based products to animal products. In such families, the members may adopt vegetarianism simply because of influence from the parents, in other words, they become vegetarians because of the upbringing. A few more people adopt the practice for the reasons stated.
In spite of the benefits that accrue to vegetarianism, vegetarians are also at a high risk of suffering from certain illnesses due to lack or deficiency of certain essential nutrients curiously lacking in strict vegetarian diets. If vegetarians to obtain nutrients such as proteins, iron, vitamin B12, calcium, among others, do not put measures in place, they are likely to suffer from diseases related to such nutrients. For instance, research has shown that strict vegetarians who lack calcium in their diets are more likely to suffer from weak bones (osteoporosis) and other bone related complications including rickets (Davis 2000). Calcium is an essential nutrient in formation of bones and teeth and its deficiency may result into weak bones and gums of the teeth. Iron, on the other hand, is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin in blood while protein is necessary in the healing of wounds and for general body growth.
Being a vegetarian requires proper and careful planning. Sometimes, professional help may come in handy for people seeking to be vegetarians yet still want to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. The nutrients mentioned missing in vegetarians’ diets is available in other food types. Vitamin B12 is rich in animal products. This may pose a challenge to vegans, those who strictly rely on plant-based foods. However, such people can obtain the nutrient through pills and dietary supplements. For those who have trouble-getting iron in their diet, a number of plant-based foods are rich in iron and would be useful in boosting the diet in terms of iron supply. Such foods include cereals, soya beans and legumes (Mangels 2011). If taken in the required amounts, these foods are able to provide the body with enough iron supply. For girls and women who are vegetarians, they need to play close attention to the iron supply in their diets. Girls and women lose a lot of iron through blood during menstruation. Therefore, they need to get more iron in their food. The foods mentioned above, when taken in appropriate quantities, go a long way in restoring their bodies’ iron reserves. The right supply of peas and beans protein requirements in vegetarians’ diets can adequately come, which are plant-derived foods rich in proteins (Davis 2000). For calcium, yoghurt would do and if the subject is a vegan or an Ovo-vegetarian, green leafy vegetables can replace the yoghurt.
A balanced diet should consist of the principal foods carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins, together with the minor nutrients such as phosphorous, calcium, iron and metallic ions (Davis 2000). Most of these foods come from plants, and proper care is necessary to ensure that at least most, if not all of them are in the diet. A diet consisting of most wheat products, beans or peas (generally legumes) green vegetables, cereals and fruits (especially citrus fruits) forms a complete and comprehensive diet that is plant-based. Wheat products are rich in carbohydrates, legumes in proteins and iron, citrus fruits in vitamins and green vegetables in phosphorous and calcium. With such a diet, all vegetarians are well on their way of meeting their dietary needs without posing a challenge to their resolve of living on an animal product-free diet.