Vegetarianism isn’t just a passing craze; people and cultures around the world have gone meat-free throughout history, for many different reasons. If you’re considering cutting the corndogs and rejecting the roast beef, then these 10 facts may answer some questions that you didn’t even know you should be asking!
- What do those words actually mean?
A vegetarian is someone who does not eat any animal, whether it is a fish, mammal or bird. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy, but no eggs, ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy, while lacto-ovo vegetarians
A vegan is someone who does not eat any animal or animal product. That means they also exclude dairy, eggs and even honey from their diets.
A pescetarian is someone who does not eat meat our poultry, but does eat fish. They probably also eat dairy, eggs and honey.
- Is a vegetarian diet safe?
Yes! Many cultures throughout the world embrace vegetarianism and those people live healthy, long lives. It is important to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes and to ask your doctor if you need to add any supplements to your diet. Here is a food pyramid designed just for vegetarians that will give you a clear idea what a balanced vegetarian diet looks like.
- What do they eat?!
Times they are a-changing. Nearly every restaurant offers a wide variety of vegetarian options to its customers and rarely will a chef turn up their nose at this now common request. Go to your local library and find a few vegetarian cookbooks f or try ordering the vegetarian option next time you eat out. You’d be surprised how many meat substitutes are also now available to those wishing to pursue a vegetarian diet.
- I don’t get it—why would a vegetarian eat a meat substitute?
Many people adhere to vegetarian diets or cut back on the meat in their diets to reduce their cholesterol and certain kinds of fats. These people may be looking for a substitute for the foods they love that won’t risk their health.
Many vegetarians are opposed to eating meat for moral reasons, but still like the taste or texture of a meat substitute or are looking for an easily accessible form of protein.
Many vegetarians find that there is a great difference between the taste of a meat substitute and real meat and enjoy meat substitutes. Conversely, many meat-eaters can’t tell the difference between a fake meat product and the real deal. Everyone makes these choices for different reasons.
- Is there actually any benefit to a vegetarian diet?
According to Medical News Today, vegetarians often have lower body weight, better cholesterol levels, lower chances of developing cancer and other diseases and have greater longevity. The key, however, as this article from Harvard Health explains, is that you need to have a good understanding of what a balanced vegetarian diet actually entails and a plan of how to make that shift. If you don’t have a good understanding of these things and replace your usual proteins with cheese or bread or soda, you’re not going to see any improvement in your weight or health.
- Are there any other benefits to vegetarianism?
Quite apart from affecting the animals that are processed for meat, all living creatures are actually affected by meat production—because it effects the environment around us. Cattle farms produce high volumes of methane, especially where the cattle are fed corn products to cut on production costs. Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that traps CO2 into our atmosphere. According to the EPA, it is the second most prevalent green house gas released in the United States, the main sources being industry and agriculture.
Factory farming also leads to exhausting the soil of a given area, which depletes that location of nutrients and causes erosion. The runoff from factory farms and the medications that are needed to treat animals living in such close contact with one another also find their way into our water systems, affecting both humans and wildlife (think recalled E. coli spinach from dirty washing water!) A vegetarian diet eliminates your contribution to these practices and, if enough people cut back on meat, it could radically change the way we produce animal products as a nation.
The vegetarian diet is just like any diet; it needs to be balanced in order to work. But, unlike the typical, meat-and-potatoes diet many of us live on, cutting down on animal products actually has some great benefits for both you and the environment that are worth looking into.