Vegetarian diet, in the last twenty years, has become a way of life for millions of people around the world. This paper, based on secondary research, describes history and discusses aspects of vegetarian diet. Particularly, three aspects are mentioned, including a brief history of vegetarianism, benefits and drawbacks of vegetarian diet. The findings of this research indicate that vegetarian diet has positive impacts to health, environment and animal life; however, it also brings negative effects such as nutritional deficiencies and changing in lifestyle. Overall, based on the findings, the paper draws conclusion that vegetarians should build a balanced diet to keep a healthy body.
Albert Einstein was a vegetarian in the last years of his life, in the letter written to Hans Muehsam on March 30 1954, he wrote: “So I am living without fats, without meat, without fish, but am feeling quite well this way. It always seems to me that man was not born to be a carnivore” and vegetarian diet is believed that to be good for health. Vegetarianism, as stated in ‘Medical Dictionary Online’, “the voluntary abstinence from eating meat” and the term “vegetarian” is used to show diets that include essential plant foods and avoid animal foods. According to the Vegetarianism (Uttara, 2011), there are five main kinds of vegetarian diet: lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (includes eggs, honey, dairy products and plant foods), lacto vegetarian diet (includes honey, dairy products and plant foods), ovo vegetarian diet (includes eggs, honey and plant foods), vegan diet (includes only plant foods) and fruitarian diet (includes fruits, nuts and seeds). There are many kinds of vegetarian now that vegetarianism becomes more and more popular in over the world. A recent study (Thich 2007) found that from 1970, the number of vegetarians increases about 30%. The survey of The Vegetarian Times in the State of Illinois in the United States in 1992 among 12.4 million people, there were 8 million vegetarians. In Vietnam, W&S Company about research information online made a quick survey on 659 people in August, 2012, as a result, the popularity of vegetarians accounted for 59%. The reason why the number of vegetarians is increasing is that they believe vegetarian diet helps prevent them from diseases such as obesity, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and other diseases. However, vegetarian diets also bring us some of drawbacks. Thus, this paper updates a brief history of vegetarianism and discusses about some advantages and disadvantages of vegetarian diet.
2. Discussion of finding
2.1. A brief history of vegetarianism
According to Wikipedia, based on the earliest documents, historical development of vegetarianism started at the 6th century BC in ancient India and ancient Greece. The diet was closely hooked up to the idea of unharmed animals and was encouraged by religious groups and philosophers in both instances. During the ancient time, vegetarian diet was sprawled along over India, South East Asia and other areas, the overwhelming majority of vegetarians were Hindu, Jain and Buddhist. Nordqvist (2004) stated that “The conversion to Christianity of the Roman Empire virtually eliminated all traces of vegetarianism from Europe”. To the Renaissance, vegetarianism re-emerged and became more popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Spencer pointed out that the Vegetarian Society was first set up in England in 1847 and German, Netherlands and other European countries followed equivalent societies. The establishment of the International Vegetarian Union in 1908 made the wide development of vegetarian in Europe. Many people have changed their lifestyle by selecting vegetarian diet because of the rise in health consciousness (Null, 1996). The number of vegetarians keeps rising although it is small in comparison to the citizens in the world.
2.2. Advantages of vegetarian diet
There are many different reasons for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. Almost people believe in benefits of vegetarian diet, this section will show health and environmental advantages. First of all, it brings some positive impacts about health. In the article ‘Health benefits of a vegetarian diet’, the author, Mary Krane Derr, supports advantages of vegetarian diet on reducing disease risk. There are more “phytochemicals”, “plant compounds with many known antioxidant and other cancer-reducing properties” in vegetarian diet. Moreover, vegetarian diet “reduces risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, reduces rates of overweight, obesity and less dementia and other serious diseases”, which make people become healthier and live for a longer time. With much scientific information, Derr’s statements make it extremely clear about benefits when becoming a vegetarian. Changing in vegetarian lifestyle is a good way to keep health and avoid serious diseases.
Another benefit of vegetarian diet is conserving environment. According to a 2009 Californian study comparing the environmental impacts of vegetarian versus non-vegetarian diet, the researchers found that non-vegetarian diet consumed 2.9 times more water (Mach, 2000), 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticide than a vegetarian diet (Marlow et al. 2009). Another Italian study presented in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluating the environmental effects of omnivorous and vegetarian diets gave the same results. They concluded that meat diets strain the environment too much and pointed out that water-consuming, in particular, plays the most essential role by accounting for 41-46% of the overall effect. As a result, it is very clear that vegetarian diet contributes to reduce amount of water, energy, fertilizer and pesticide, which tends to protect our environment.
Besides, vegetarian diet also tends to protect animal life, unfortunately, most of animals suffer horribly due to factory farming nowadays. Dworkin (1999) states that 22 million animals are slaughtered to support the American need for meat every year. It is pointed out that in a seven-year lifetime, the average American has 11 cows, a calf, three lambs and sheep, 23 hogs, 45 turkeys, 1097 chickens and 861 pounds of fish (Null, 1996). The enormous amount of animals killed each year for people’ demands are very surprised, as a result, the more people there are, the more amount of animals killed for food there are. Vegetarians are someone reducing their intake of animal products, they eats much less amount of meat even there is no meat in their diets, which leads to the decreasing of animal consumption and saving thousands of animal life.
2.3. Disadvantages of vegetarian diet
On the other hand, vegetarian diet also brings us some certain disadvantages. The serious impact of vegetarian diet is effecting to health. John Michelle (2009) in his article entitled Health risk of vegetarian diets states that though vegetarian diet provides all the essential nutrients and is generally healthy, there are lacks of nutritional deficiencies such as protein, mineral and vitamin from eliminating almost food groups. Because of the high possibility in the risk of nutritional deficiencies, vegetarians find it hard to build balanced diets which provide all important nutrients while almost these nutrients mainly come from animal foods. According to research of Rebecca J. Frey, vegetarian diet includes basic five food groups such as grains; vegetables and fruits; legumes, nuts and other protein-rich foods; fats and calcium-rich foods. The minimum amount of energy which a food group provides for person per day is about 1400-1500 calories. Setting up balanced diet with these food groups requires vegetarians order flexibly and make menu of foods suitably. It is difficult and usually gets trouble if they do not have experiences or high accountable ability when making menu.
When being a vegetarian, moreover, their lifestyles differ from that of their family and friends. If friends and family do not understand deeply about vegetarianism, they can make life become harder. For instance, they will stimulate vegetarians eat animal foods or prepare dishes without caring for vegetarian’s demand, which can lead to a rift between vegetarians and them. In the traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas, according to Jones, vegans will get troubles when almost meals were made from meat. And they even break from their vegetarian routine for these holidays or bring their own food to holiday to remove any pressure from host. In another situation, when eating out, vegetarians sometimes are in the real challenge. Almost restaurant menus fulfill requests of meat eaters, as a result, there is a limitation in dishes for vegetarians. A statement in the Bodybuilding Forum revealed that there are vegetarian menus which are available in vegetarian restaurants, however, “some foods may not be prepared in a vegetarian way (for instance food fried in animal oils) or may not contain vegetarian ingredients (such as rennet based cheese)”. Stricter vegetarians are unacceptable when cooking utensils and food preparation equipment are contaminated by meat products.
The findings above show historical vegetarianism and give general information and details about both positive and negative impacts of vegetarian diet. Moreover, we can realize that vegetarian diet is not completely good. In spite of benefits about health, environment and animal life, it also has drawback about lack of main nutrients and changing in lifestyle. As a result, nutritionists advise vegetarians should build a suitable diet which includes all essential nutrients. With any diet, the key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to eat a variety of foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes and to limit intake of refined foods, sweets, and fat. Dieters can check out The American Dietetic Association’s food guide pyramid for vegetarian meal planning that will help you meet all your daily nutritional requirements. Adopting vegetarian diet with balance among essential nutrients can help avoid the disadvantage so as to have a healthy body.