As the amount of vegetarians in the world climbs higher, it is important to know the true health benefits to the diet, as well as the health risks. Before someone jumps into the new fad of vegetarianism, they must do so being fully aware of the benefits and risks and how it can affect them personally. Since each person is different with different dietary needs, one must be very careful about choosing a diet that is right for them. Therefore, no matter how passionate one may be about the vegetarian diet, it may not be the best option for them and their dietary needs. Becoming knowledgeable about this diet before becoming a vegetarian is the first step to success when becoming a vegetarian.
In order to get basics out of the way it is important to explain what this diet even consists of. "Vegetarianism refers to the practice of excluding meat, poultry, and fish from the diet" (Frey, par. 1). There are many different kinds of vegetarianism, some with stricter 'rules' than others and some that are more lenient. The first type is vegans. Vegans are the strictest type of vegetarians. They exclude eating all meat, poultry, and fish while also excluding any animal produced food such as eggs and milk. Semi-Vegetarians refer to vegetarians who will occasionally eat fish or chicken, but will try to limit their meat consumption as much as it is possible. Fruitarians will only eat fruits, nuts, seeds, etc that can come from plants that will not be harmed during the process. There are even more kinds of vegetarians, ranging with all different types of 'rules' to their diet. There is also just the plain vegetarian. They will stil eat animal products such as eggs and milk but will completely refrain from eating any animal. Most of these diets also refuse to buy animal products that are not food. These products include fur clothing, animal skins, and heads of elk. However, these few are the most basic and popular types of vegetarianism.
People become vegetarians for many different reasons. The most basic reasoning for vegetarianism is because people believe that the killing of animals for human consumption is wrong and should not be done. There is the belief that animals are first abused before getting produced into meat. Many people believe that this is animal cruelty and therefore refuse to eat any meat from these companies. Also, some people are just plain animal lovers and cannot stand the thought of eating animals. They find it horrendous and disgusting, as much so as cannibalism to them. Another reason is the religious aspect. This is one of the oldest reasons for vegetarianism with Hinduism being one of the first religions to encourage the diet of vegetarianism (Frey, par. 4). The basis of the religious belief is that the killing of an animal is as sinful and horrific as the killing of a human. With Hinduism being the top religion to practice vegetarianism, their 'mantra' to follow is, "Those who desire to possess good memory, beauty, long life with perfect health, and physical, moral, and spiritual strength, should abstain from animal foods," (Dupler, par 2.). This religion believes that eating meat with make their soul filthy and their hearts filthy. The last reason is for heath reason. Since a large portion of meat that people consume is fried or breaded, and most people cannot give up that, they decide to be 'healthy' and go with the vegetarian diet. No matter what the specific reasoning for becoming a vegetarian, people who are passionate about vegetarianism will stay strong to their beliefs.
People consider vegetarianism to be a healthy diet. However, there are risks and benefits to the vegetarian diet and the diet must be done correctly or else, it can have significant health defects. There are many common benefits to being a vegetarian. Naming just a few, having a vegetarian diet helps reduce ones risk of heart disease. This diet also reduces the risk of cancer. It lowers blood pressure, also meaning, straying away from the risk of high blood pressure. It helps prevent obesity; this is mainly because most vegetarian options do not consist of fried food which is a huge factor in obesity. With America being the leading country in obesity, it is very important to have a healthy diet. Many restaurants and shops sell unhealthy food that will lead to obesity and with straying from meat, which often comes fried and breaded; the vegetarian diet helps to prevent obesity. There is a whole list of diseases and illnesses that vegetarianism can help prevent: high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis, allergies, asthma, environmental illness, hyper tension, gout, gallstones, hemorrhoids, kidney stones, ulcers, colitis, premenstrual syndrome, anxiety, and depression (Dupler, par. 4). Eliminating all these diseases can be very helpful to the average person. However, all these benefits may not be true for everyone, especially if any of these diseases run in the family. Becoming a vegetarian does not just 'eliminate all risk'. It is important before becoming a vegetarian to consult with a doctor. Someone with specific medical conditions may be advised that vegetarianism is not the healthiest way to live in reference to their personal diet.
Now, of course, there is a downside to every upside. Vegetarian risks must be looked at as closely as the benefits. While being a vegetarian, you must substitute the things you would normally eat (grilled chicken, steak, and tilapia) for things that follow the specific guidelines of vegetarianism. These substitutions can cause multiple problems to arise. Some of these problems may consist of; most vegetarians have a higher intake of refined grains. Also, some people tend to eat more processed foods than they would have been eating. There are also things you will start to lack if you are not making up for them in other ways. If you are following the 'vegan' diet, there are no eggs, milk, or true dairy in your diet and this could begin to cause low calcium levels. Following any basic vegetarian diet, there is going to also be a shortage of protein. Now, protein is easy to find in other places such as nuts and beans so if this diet is done 'right', the protein can be not even an issue. "However, due to the spectrum of vegetarians and the fact that a teenager's brand of vegetarianism can be soda, fries, and macaroni and cheese, it is quite clear that certain approaches to vegetarianism do not equate with optimal health and can in fact be fraught with nutritional deficiencies," (Panebianco, par. 3). This is how the unhealthiness really plays an effect. There are many foods that do not consist of meat. And many of these foods can be healthy. However, a large portion of what people eat, especially in America is fried food. When humans are eating fried food, there are lots of carbs and fat involved in the mix. And with the vegetarian diet, they are not even getting the fundamental need of protein. The fat intake will then increase rapidly and cause problems to arise with health because the food that they are now putting in their stomach, instead of meat, is incredibly unhealthy and not beneficial to their diet at all. Other than just protein, vegetarians lack in other nutrients as well. Meat can give the human a lot of good vitamins and nutrients that help make their diet sufficient and without meat, they be slacking greatly in these areas. Some of these nutrients are: amino acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and essential fatty acids (Dupler). Protein is easy to get in places other than meat such as beans, rice, and nuts. Another place where protein can be found is in something called tofu. Tofu is made from mashed soybeans. Soy being the main benefit in this product being high in protein, tofu is used as a replacement meat. People eat it with rice and noodles, acting just as chicken. While tofu does not taste as chicken, the consistency and benefits reflect greatly to those of meat. The other nutrients may be harder to find in other places. With the vegan diet, milk is not allowed to drink or consume in any other form. However, if the diet is not vegan, just plain vegetarian, milk can be consumed in order to gain calcium. The other missing nutrients can be found in random foods or in a pill that can be taken. There are can be great health risks if the diet of a vegetarian is not done 'right'. Cholesterol and saturated fat can increase greatly and cause health risks and vegetarians should be very cautious of these two intakes.
There is no clear cut answer as to how healthy, unhealthy, risky or not risky vegetarianism. Every single person reacts to different things in different ways. What is one person's healthy may be another person's unhealthy. It is important to take with a doctor before become a vegetarian because no matter how passionate one can be, sometimes it just not in the cards for them. It is most important to maintain a healthy diet than to give up something that will significantly change one's health. Vegetarianism is a healthy diet but it must be done right and the vegetarian needs to be knowledgeable about the diet. These risks of vegetarianism are dangerous risks but will only arise if one is not participating in the diet in a healthy way. Since they are lacking certain vitamins and nutrients they must be knowledgeable and attack the diet in the best way possible for their health needs. The diet of a vegetarian is healthy but must be done right, or else it can have consequences.
Dupler, Douglas. "Vegetarianism." The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health. Ed. Brigham Narins. 3rd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 2013. 3471-3475. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Frey, Rebecca J. "Vegetarianism." The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Ed. Jacqueline L. Longe. 5th ed. Vol. 8. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2015. 5300-5306. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 14 April 2016.
Panebianco, Stephen M. "The Merits and Pitfalls of Vegetarianism." Science Direct. Elsevier, Jan. 2007. Web.