Photo by: Beatrice Murch (Flickr)
A couple of decades ago, the thought of a vegetarian diet conjured up images of bland foods and deprivation; however, one look at some of today’s fabulous vegetarian recipes and you will probably change your mind. They certainly made my mouth water, and I have made it a goal to eat at least two vegetarian meals a week, which won’t be hard to do with these scrumptious recipes. It is important to realize that there are different types of vegetarians — typically, a vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat or products containing meat. However, some vegetarians eat fish (pesco-vegetarians), some eat dairy (lacto-vegetarians), and some eat eggs (ovo-vegetarians). Some people who eat meat in limited quantities consider themselves semi-vegetarians. Vegans do not eat or use any animal products at all — for example, they do not wear leather or fur. A vegetarian diet has a variety of benefits as well as some disadvantages. Of course, the ethical benefits of eating a vegetarian diet are obvious to the animal lovers out there. Some people are vegetarians for religious reasons. A less obvious ethical benefit of being a vegetarian is the benefit to the environment: Raising animals for food creates a lot of waste, which some experts say contributes to global warming. The majority of agricultural land is used to raise animals, and animal farming is alleged to be a big cause of destruction of the world’s forests. Also, it takes much larger amounts of fossil fuels and water to produce meat than it does to produce plant-based foods. I guess you could say that eating your greens is a way to support the green movement!
There can be economic benefits to being a vegetarian as well. Meat and dairy products tend to be expensive compared to other foods. The prices of meat alone almost give me a heart attack sometimes! Beans, on the other hand, contain protein and many other nutrients similar to meat, and they are extremely cheap and versatile. Pasta is another inexpensive and filling main dish. Of course, if you buy a lot of specialty and prepared vegetarian foods, it can be expensive, but there are many inexpensive food options for vegetarians. In summer, I grow my own vegetables — it is extremely cheap, fun, and extremely delicious! Nothing beats the taste of a tomato freshly picked from the vine. Some of most inexpensive meals to make are vegan recipes. Today, plant-based recipes can be as quick and easy as traditional recipes.
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There are health benefits associated with eating a plant-based diet, too. The American Dietetic Association states that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of certain diseases. Studies have shown that vegetarians have lower blood pressure, lower body mass indexes, a lower risk of heart disease, and a lower risk of diabetes. However, it can be argued that it is not the restriction of meat that leads to health benefits but the increased amount of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and grains eaten. It can also be argued that vegetarians tend to have overall healthier lifestyles than other people. A big part of healthy eating for vegetarians is diet planning; they have to make sure they take supplements or eat specific foods that include fatty acids, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12, generally found in meat or animal products. Some may consider the time and planning required for eating a healthy vegetarian diet to be a disadvantage. Overall, mortality rates after the age of 60 are the same for both vegetarians and omnivores.
So what can we learn from all of this information? If the ethical treatment of animals and taking care of the environment are important to you, a plant-based diet may be right for you. Reducing meat intake even a little can help animals, the environment, and your health, although diets that include meat can be just as healthy if done right. The disadvantages of a vegetarian diet are that sometimes it can be hard to get all of the vitamins and nutrients the body needs, and it requires extra planning and thought to make sure that you are getting them. But I know one thing for certain — today, there are a number of plant-based foods, products, and vegetarian recipes that make being a vegetarian a pleasure rather than a deprivation.
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