Vegetarianism isn’t some new fad. In fact, the first vegetarian society was formed in England in the mid-1800s, and the practice dates back to Pythagoras — or perhaps even further.
People who choose a vegetarian diet do so for myriad reasons. Some don’t even have a reason other than the fact that they simply prefer fruits and vegetables to chicken breasts and filet mignon.
Regardless, vegetarianism has become a polarizing topic in today’s culture, and we’d like to break down some of the myths about this dietary preference and explain why it might be best for your health and well-being.
What Does Vegetarianism Mean?
Vegetarianism is a diet that refrains from consuming the meat of any animal (poultry, red meat, fish, seafood, or any other animal that was killed for its meat). Vegetarians also generally abstain from consuming animal by-products like gelatin or other animal parts that are processed and used in food. That’s the most basic definition of vegetarianism. However, in practice, a vegetarian might have more specific rules.
Everyone approaches their diet differently. A vegetarian, for instance, might make a distinction between fish and meat, preferring to consume the former and not the latter. But we’ll dive into those details further in a second.
For now, you need to know that vegetarianism involves removing meat from your diet. No more steaks, fried chicken, or surf-n-turf.
But that doesn’t mean vegetarianism creates a sense of deprivation. Quite the opposite, in fact, When your diet consists primarily of animal products, you might miss out on some of the amazing flavors that come from other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
Vegetarianism vs. Veganism
Many people use the terms vegetarianism and veganism interchangeable. They’re not the same thing. A vegan doesn’t consume or use animal products at all.
For instance, a vegetarian might have scrambled eggs for breakfast and pasta with a cream sauce for dinner. A vegan wouldn’t touch either food.
Why? Because eggs and dairy come from animals. Veganism means eschewing any foods or products that have animal origins.
Further, vegans don’t use consumer products made from animal products. Leather belts, wool coats, and similar products don’t appeal to vegans.
In some ways, it’s a question of labels. A vegetarian might avoid eggs and dairy but still wear leather boots, for instance. There are no clear lines. You have to decide what types of foods and products you’re willing to consume based on your beliefs, moral compass, and health considerations.
Types of Vegetarianism
We mentioned above that vegetarianism can be broken down into lots of little parts. Some vegetarians eliminate or add foods to their diets based on their personal preference.
Remember, a true vegetarian who goes by the strict definition doesn’t consume meat or fish. Everything else is on the table.
However, if you want to further refine your diet and set your own rules, you might find one of the following types of vegetarianism more appealing.
Lacto vegetarianism — also called lactarianism — describes a diet in which the person doesn’t eat meat, fish, or eggs, but consumes dairy. The person might add butter or ghee to a baked potato, for instance, but won’t scarf down an omelette.
Some lacto vegetarians adopt the diet for religious or spiritual reasons. Many faiths require their members to avoid any food or product that comes from violence. When you eat an egg, you destroy the life that grows inside. Dairy products, when sourced ethically, don’t cause the animal any harm.
Pay careful attention to that caveat, though: “when sourced ethically.”
Many factory farming operations create dismal conditions for the animals inside and cause serious harm. If you decide you want to eat dairy, but you want to ensure non-violence, consider finding a local source that takes animal welfare into account.
If you struggle to remember the naming conventions, associate lacto with lactation — the production of milk. Lacto vegetarianism allows you to eat dairy.
Just as lacto means milk, ovo means egg. An ovo vegetarian eats eggs, but doesn’t consume any dairy products. You might hear them referred to as eggetarians.
Just like lacto vegetarianism, ovo vegetarianism often comes from ethics. Many ovo vegetarians recognize the unethical ways in which factory farmers source dairy products, so they only consume eggs that come from free-range chickens.
The idea here is that an egg is not yet an animal. Ovo vegetarianism allows the practitioner to avoid dairy products, but still consume eggs as long as they’re sourced ethically.
There’s that word again.
Regardless of your dietary habits, if you’re concerned about animal welfare, you must make sure that you know where your food comes from. That way, you can eat without guilt.
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism combines the last two practices into one. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you’ll eat eggs and dairy, but no meat products. The term can go both ways. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism means the same as ovo-lacto vegetarianism.
Many vegetarians don’t use the term lacto-ovo at all. That’s because it’s the most common type of vegetarianism. These vegetarians eat eggs, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, roots, fungi, and more.
A pescatarian is a vegetarian who eats seafood, but no other forms of meat. These vegetarians might fill their plates with tuna, salmon, lobster, shrimp, and other cooked creatures of the sea, but they don’t consume beef, poultry, or animal organs.
Also called “flexitarians,” semivegetarians eat mostly plant-based diets, but occasionally consume meat. They prefer fruits, vegetables, and other non-meat foods.
Think of a flexitarian as a teetotaler who enjoys a glass of champagne to ring in the New Year with friends. He or she doesn’t normally drink alcohol but will make exceptions for special occasions.
Many semivegetarians adopt this diet for convenience. If they go out to eat with family or friends, they don’t have to pick apart the menu with a fine-toothed comb. Instead, they can feel free to eat what they want, then return to their normal diet afterward.
The root word pollo means chicken. Consequently, pollotarians eat chicken but don’t eat any other meat products. The reasons behind this dietary choice can vary. Some do it because of the free-range movement, while others consume chicken for health reasons.
Benefits of Vegetarianism
Now that we have defined vegetarianism, why would you want to try it? Many people talk about vegetarianism with such persuasive fervor that they turn off people who might want to try it.
First, let’s concede a few points. Our bodies can consume meat. Beef, poultry, and other animal products provide macro and micronutrients your body can use.
There’s no disputing those facts.
However, your body doesn’t need animal products to survive — or even to thrive. Vegetarianism won’t keep you from pursuing goals, such as physical fitness, or from getting the nutrients you need.
In fact, many world-class athletes follow vegetarianism or veganism.
So why do so many people adopt vegetarian diets? Let’s look at some of the most prominent benefits of cutting meat from your diet.
Let’s start with our feathered and furred friends. Animal welfare is one of the chief reasons people turn to vegetarianism. They don’t want to contribute to animal abuse, which runs rampant in the farming industry.
You might have heard the phrase “vote with your dollars.” When you don’t financially support an industry you oppose, you help cripple it.
Animals that go through factory farms often suffer serious and painful injuries due to cramped living conditions. They don’t get fresh air or proper nutrition, and they’re often fed hormones to make them larger than they’re designed to be.
Vegetarianism makes a statement. It lets people know you don’t support animal abuse in service of human food.
Every animal on this planet has a purpose. It’s here for a reason, whether it’s to produce manure for agricultural purposes, improve pest control, or something else. Furthermore, they deserve to live independently of human needs.
Factory farming and similar operations can severely damage the environment apart from the animal welfare side of the equation. The manure from the animals can seep into our groundwater, the operation itself uses equipment that contributes to carbon emissions, and the factories themselves consume land that could be used for other purposes.
Reduced Heart Disease Risks
Let’s talk about red meat specifically. Numerous studies have linked it to increased heart disease risks due to high levels of saturated fat. Additionally, some people even have red meat allergies.
One-quarter of deaths result from heart disease. Reducing or eliminating your intake of red meat can help preserve your heart health and improve your chances of living longer.
Red meat isn’t the only culprit, though. Chicken, for instance, has high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids and low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6s are linked to inflammation in the body, which could include your heart.
Lower Risk of Cancer
According to MD Anderson, perhaps the most credible source of information about cancer, meat consumption has long been associated with an increased risk for cancer. In fact, the organization specifically recommends plant-based proteins over those derived from meat.
Additionally, MD Anderson recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of meat per week.
What does that look like on your plate? Four tennis balls.
You can cut meat entirely and reap additional benefits, including reduced cancer risk.
Prevent and Control Diabetes
According to the most recent statistics from the American Diabetes Association, which date back to 2015, 30.3 million Americans have diabetes. That’s nearly 10 percent of our population.
Even more worrisome, about 1.5 million Americans get diagnosed with diabetes every year. So what do we do about this?
You can reduce your risk of diabetes in numerous ways:
- Stop smoking
- Avoid sugary snacks
- Exercise at least 30 minutes per day
- Get more sleep
- Drink less alcohol
You can also cut down on or eliminate red meat from your diet. Red meat contributes to insulin resistance, which makes managing and preventing diabetes more difficult. The high sodium content combined with the risk of high blood pressure don’t help.
You’ve probably heard that vegetarianism costs more than eating meat. In some ways, you’re not wrong.
Stocking up on fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes can put a dent in your wallet. Over time, however, you save money.
Perhaps you skip the grocery store altogether. Instead, shop local at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. You can often save hundreds of dollars on fresh, organically grown produce.
You can also grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs more easily than you can raise cattle or chickens for food. Consider setting up a garden or greenhouse if you have space.
Additionally, remember that meat is expensive. You might spend between $3 and $8 per pound, depending on the cut, and you’ll often have significant waste. Trimming the fat, cutting the meat into the desired shape for a dish, and other culinary tasks increase the cost of meat significantly.
Why Should You Embrace Vegetarianism?
If the prospect of never eating meat again makes you break out in hives, don’t make that commitment yet. Consider converting to vegetarianism for 30 days.
That’s easy, right? Adjust your diet for a month and see how you feel.
You might experience greater mental clarity, more energy, boosted motivation, and even increased satiety. After all, if you’re eating a healthy plant-based diet, you can consume greater portion sizes without packing on the pounds.
Here’s the thing: You can control more of your environment and your diet as a vegetarian or vegan. Furthermore, you reduce the dollars flowing toward factory farms and other operations that impact animal and environmental welfare.
A healthier diet never hurt anyone. And if, after 30 days, you want to go back to eating meat, maybe you’ll cut back and eat more plants. It’s entirely up to you.
Vegetarianism is one of the healthiest diets in the world. It introduces more flavors to your plate via fresh fruits and vegetables, and it reduces your impact on the environment.
Some vegetarians have been eating this way since they were children, while others adopted a vegetarian diet as adults. It doesn’t matter how you come to vegetarianism. What matters is how you control your diet so it ensures the health of both animals and humans.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll even take the leap to veganism.
Are you a vegetarian? What tips or advice would you have for people who haven’t yet become vegetarians?