A Vegetarian is an individual whose diet does not include meat, fish, poultry and other slaughter-by products. To what degree does he/she avoids meet distinguishes vegetarians into these further categories.
Pescatarian – An individual whose diet excludes all animal flesh except fish
Semi-Vegetarian or Flexitarian – Mostly vegetarian diet but rarely includes meat
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian – No animal flesh, but diet includes milk and eggs
Vegan – No animal flesh. Excludes all animal by-products like dairy, eggs. Vegans also refrain from products that may include animal products in its production cycle.
Raw Food/ Raw Vegans – Vegans who consume food in its uncooked or unprocessed form. The food is not heated over 115F
In addition to these, we have Macrobiotic, Fruitarianism and Freeganism. But before confusing you with facts, lets take a step back and explore vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism is a growing movement in modern society. Many world cultures have adopted vegetarianism centuries back. Surprisingly, it is still misunderstood by many, as there are quite a few unanswered questions. Lets take a closer look at the facts.
Becoming a vegetarian is a personal and individual decision, for ethical, environmental, health or religious reasons.
1. Some consider raising livestock for subsequent slaughtering and production of meat for human consumption is against their values. Reasons are many and vary from inhumane treatment of animals, unnecessary killing of other living organisms etc.
“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.“(page 22 of 408)
3. A well-balanced vegetarian food is effective in curbing health problems like Obesity, cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.
4. While many religions promote a meat free lifestyle, some mandate a meat-free and cruelty-free living. So a vegetarian lifestyle is a means by which many people around the world fulfill their spiritual beliefs.
Is a well-balanced vegetarian diet possible?
Yes. Just cutting out meat doesn’t automatically translate to eating healthy. To achieve maximum benefits, various different food groups must be included for daily consumption. Refer to this vegetarian pyramid by Arizona State University, which gives an idea on how the meals are to be planned.
Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean going hungry. Carbohydrates, proteins and fiber can keep you full, while nuts can be good for snacking. Be creative to include the food groups in your meals appropriately.
Do vegetarians have trouble getting enough proteins?
No. There is a popular misconception that meat is the only source of complete protein and therefore, a vegetarian diet is incomplete. But there are many good vegetarian and vegan sources of protein like nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy grains and vegetables, which contain many of the essential amino acids. According, to Institute of Medicine, the guidelines for protein intake is 10 to 35 percent of total calories. This can be easily met by consuming protein-rich plant foods.
Is food combining necessary?
The complaint with plant proteins is, these foods don’t contain all the essential amino acids in one food source like animal proteins do. This is easily overcome by eating combination of proteins to get the complete protein. However, several plant sources like soy, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, spirulina and hempseed provide complete proteins. Nutritional yeast, eggs and dairy are other sources of complete protein.
Is vegetarian food bland and boring?
Of course not. Just look at the countless number of food blogs that offer a feast of delicious, healthy vegetarian dishes. Also, online and retail bookstores carry umpteen number of cookbooks that teaches to prepare and enjoy vegetarian meals in a jiffy.
Is eating out hard for a vegetarian?
No. Few years back this may have been a problem. But now-a-days, most of the restaurants carry few vegetarian options in their menu. Even if they don’t, when requested, they usually are willing to make something for you. Also, be open to different food cultures. Cuisines like Indian, Asian, Italian, Thai and Mexican are often very vegetarian friendly. So when you are traveling, locate nearby restaurants that offer these cuisines.
Do vegetarians need to take supplements?
A well-balanced vegetarian diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy provides the essential nutrients like complex-carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals required for a good health.
Where do I get vegetarian foods?
In the same places where you shop for food. Supermarkets, farmer’s market, grocery stores, all carry vegetarian foods.
How do I transition to vegetarianism?
Gradually. Start with fewer meat-free meals in a week and increase the frequency. Also, talk to your friends and family that being/becoming a vegetarian is important to you. Making them understand avoids arguments or disdain. In fact, treat your family with a delicious meat-free dish to convince ‘em.
Despite several advantages, vegetarianism is not without its controversies. Not everyone likes the idea of a vegetarian lifestyle. Some even consider it weird and distasteful. Some of the common arguments against this lifestyle include
a) Human beings were meant to be omnivorous. And so, vegetarianism is not the ‘natural diet’ for us. Human consumption of meat is not only natural, but is mandatory.
b) Vegetarian diet is not a wholesome diet as it does not include enough complete proteins. Use of plant proteins like soy, as an alternative to meat proteins is also highly controversial.
c) An omnivorous diet with lean meats is also healthy. So the notion that meats are unhealthy is not only misleading but also wrong.
d) Meat consuming individuals are not necessarily cruel to animals. The ethical argument posed by vegetarians is hypocritical. Several so called vegetarians use several animal products including leather, wool, silk etc.
e) With choices like organic/free-range meat and poultry, one can respect the environment whilst still consuming a meat based diet.
No matter which side of the table you are, one thing is for certain, vegetarianism is here to stay. In life, we all like to have our choices, from everyday mundane things to more complex and important ones. So why should food habits be any exception?
Though bought up as a vegetarian by my parents, I continue to remain so by choice and honestly, very happy with it. But the choice of becoming a vegetarian or not, should be a conscious decision made by an individual in their right minds in a manner that suits their taste and lifestyle.