Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

I'm writing this post today because I always get so annoyed when individuals say how bad and damaging a vegetarian diet is for you when they have no idea what they are talking about. I have overheard this being said multiple times and it just makes me so mad at how ignorant people are. Not because they are not on a vegetarian diet but because they are saying bad stuff about someone else's diet without having any information to back up their claim. I always want to hand them a paper I wrote on the benefits of a vegetarian diet and let them read it. I wanted to share it with everyone today. 
                  An Omnivore is defined as one who eats all things, but is used to describe those people or communities whose diet is not restricted to either animal or vegetable sources (webster dictionary). This would describe the majority of the population, or those individuals who get their protein from animal flesh sources or animal by products. A vegetarian would be described as a herbivore which is someone who just eats plants. However not all vegetarians are herbivores because some still eat diary, eggs, and even fish. 
The typical American diet is referred to as the SAD diet or the Standard American Diet. The average American does not eat much actual food. They rely too much on processed food products that can’t really be categorized as food at all. This is showing in the current health status of our population. For the first time it is estimated that children will have a shorter life expectancy then there parents. Our country spends more money on health care than any other society in the world but two-thirds of Americans are overweight and more than 15 million Americans have diabetes (Campbell). Half of all Americans are taking prescription drugs for health problems and more than 100 million Americans have high cholesterol (Campbell). One-third of children are obese and adult onset diabetes can no longer be called that because children are developing it at a high rate (Campbell). 
The average American consumes double the amount of protein they need for a healthy diet much coming from red meat the most unhealthy form of protein you can consume. The average American eats over 200 pounds of meat a year ( Food Inc.) .Choosing protein from beans and grains is much healthier for you body (57 health benefits of going vegan). Cow’s milk  is another product that is not necessary to consume to have a healthy diet. The human body is not meant to digest cows milk it is meant to digest humans milk while you are a baby. However, milk is constantly being advertised as being healthy by the diary industry with their got milk campaigns. As many as 75% of people has some form of lactose intolerance which means your body has a hard time digesting milk and milk products (57 health benefits of going vegan). Try eliminating milk from your diet for two weeks and you will have dramatic results and then have a glass of milk and see what the reaction your body has is.  
Sugar is the other downfall of the American diet, high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, cane sugar its all sugar and its hard to avoid. Americans consume way to much sugar. Switching to sweeteners that are not processed or synthetic are the healthiest options. Some options are fruit juice, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, molasses, and 100% real maple syrup (57 health benefits of going vegan). 
There are a wide range of different classifications and levels of  vegetarianism. A vegan, “The strictest vegetarian. They eat only plant foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts. They shun all animal foods: red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, milk, cheese, and eggs” (Castleman 1996).  Vegans also abstain from eating honey. Vegans use nothing from animals, such as leather, wool, and silk. A ovo-lacto vegetarian eats eggs, milk and other dairy products along with all the foods found in a vegan diet.  A Lacto vegetarian will include dairy into their vegetarian diet. A pollo-vegetarian will eat poultry which includes chicken, turkey, and duck. A pescatarian is a vegetarian who eats fish and other seafood. Finally a flexitarian sometimes will eat meat and sometimes will not (Castlemen, 1996). 
In the past twenty years there has been a rise in the number of people who classify themselves has vegetarians. In the survey, 3 percent of U.S. adults indicated they never eat meat, poultry, and fish/seafood (2008 VRG Poll). 1% classify themselves as true vegans. There is a higher incidence of vegetarianism among females than males. Five percent of females 18-34 being vegetarian and 12 percent of females 18-34 not eating meat (2008 VRG Poll). When people were asked if they order a dish without meat, fish, or fowl while eating out, more than 50 percent said sometimes, often, or always (2008 VRG Poll). People choose to become vegetarians or vegans for a variety of different reasons including for health benefits, ethical reasons, the treatment of animals, to become more green, or to stop supporting factory farming. 
It is much easier to be a vegetarian now than it was 10 years ago. You can go into most regular supermarkets and find soy milk and tofu. You can even order a veggie burger at Burger King. Most restaurants you go into now have a vegetarian option. There are even vegetarian food festivals that you can go to. Any food that you can think of has a vegan substitute you can even find vegan chinese food. You can find vegan ice cream, yogurt, macaroni and cheese, cake, and any fake meat substitute you can imagine. There are a countless amount of resources available to individuals who want to explore the idea of being a vegetarian. The cookbook options are endless and almost any recipe can be veganized. 
There are many myths that surround a vegetarian diet. Most people think that when an individual makes the decision to become a vegan or vegetarian that they will develop severe deficiencies. However, this is not true. I know this from experience that the main question everyone asks you when they find out that your a vegetarian is how do you get enough protein? However, most Americans are getting too much protein and when that protein comes from meat it also comes along with unhealthy fat. Plant foods contain plenty of protein. Vegetarians can meet their protein requirements through soy products, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and beans. For example, a cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and a cup of pasta has 7 grams of protein ( Castleman, 1996). Most of the protein sources that vegetarians can eat are incomplete of all the 9 essential amino acids. However, most are only missing one or two amino acids and can be combine with another protein source to create a complete protein. This can be done for example with wheat bread and peanut butter, or brown rice and beans. Some of the protein sources are complete including soy products and quinoa. 
The next argument is that vegetarians can’t get enough iron. Although meat is high in iron so are many plant based foods. “In the Child Health Project, Dr. Campbell discovered that even Chinese who consume little or no meat have healthy iron levels.” It is of course important to get your iron levels checked by your doctor. Most meat eaters have too much iron which is linked to an increased risk for heart attack. Its also been debated that vegetarians can’t get enough calcium. But vegetarians are better off because according to Dr. Neal Bernard, “Diets high in protein, especially animal protein, increase calcium excretion in the urine.” Plant foods can also be good sources of calcium, 1 cup of mustard greens has 104 mg , 1 cup of tofu has 517 mg, and 1 cup of kale has 170 mg (Castleman, 1996). 
One nutrient that vegetarians who don’t eat dairy and eggs need to supplement is vitamin B12 . This is because B12 is found primarily in meats and animal foods. Taking a multi vitamin will do the trick or sprinkling some nutritional yeast on your food (Castleman, 1996). A vegetarian or vegan diet can be healthy at any life stage including pregnancy and breastfeeding as long as the individual eats a varied plant based diet. Even the food guidelines for Americans support a vegetarian diet. They have soy options as a choice for a substitute for milk products. They also say to include protein food with the options of beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Also, following a vegetarian diet will make it easier to follow the guideline of consuming less than 10% of calories from saturated fatty acids. 
There are many arguments that promote vegetarianism. Choosing vegetarianism comes with a countless number of benefits not only for you as a person but the plant also. One major one is the world hunger argument. For example, 100 million people could be adequately fed by the land freed if Americans reduced their intake of meat by just 10%. Over 80% of the corn grown in the U.S. is eaten by livestock and only 20% by people. The most profound is that it takes 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce only 1 pound of edible flesh from beef (Robbins, 2009). All that food going to feed the animals could be going to feed the hungry.
You can reduce your carbon footprint dramatically by choosing vegetarianism over meat consumption. Three times more fossil fuels are needed to produce a meat centered diet when compared to a vegetarian diet. Also over 260 million acres have been used to produce the feed for animals (Robbins, 2009). Livestock production used more than half of all the water used for all purposes in the United States. It only takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat compared to 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of California beef (Robbins, 2009).
Being a vegetarian also lowers your risk for getting cancer. Women who eat meat everyday have a 3.8 times higher risk of breast cancer than women who eat meat less than once per week. There is also an increase risk associated with prostate cancer for men who eat meat and dairy (Robbins, 2009). Every 45 seconds someone in the U.S. dies from a heart attack (Robbins, 2009). There is a 50% risk of death from a heart attack for men who eat meat. This is dramatically reduced to 15% in men who eat no meat and even lower to 4% in men who eat no meat, dairy, or eggs. By eliminating meat, dairy and eggs from you diet you can reduce your risk for heart attack by 90% (Robbins, 2009). This is because the saturated fats and cholesterol from meat and dairy are to blame for the increased risk when following the traditional American diet (Dworkin). Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants that protect the heart and contain no saturated fat or cholesterol and vegetarians are more likely than meat and dairy eaters to consume a high number of fruits and vegetables (Dworkin). 
Vegetarians also live longer. On average vegetarians live about 7 years longer and vegans who do not include any animal products in their diet live about 15 years longer than meat eaters (Dworkin). Not only will you live longer by being on a vegetarian diet you will also save money on your grocery bill. When you replace meat, chicken and fish with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains you are estimated to cut your food bills by an average of $4,000 every year (Dworkin). To see this compare the price of a pound of beans to a pound of steak. You will also naturally detox your body when you give up meat. Meat is full of pesticides, environmental pollutants, preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics so when you stop eating meat those things leave your body. When in your system they can cause illness. When you first decide to make the transition to a vegetarian diet it is important to replace meat and dairy with fruit, vegetables, and juices because they contain phytochemical s that help to detox the body (Dworkin). 
Another benefit to being vegetarian and especially one who avoids dairy and eggs is that your body will naturally lose weight until it reaches the perfect weight. The average vegetarians are slimmer than meat eaters. When your replacing meat and dairy with low fat vegetable proteins, whole grains and fruits and vegetables the weight just falls off without putting much effort into it. You can eat much more food because whole grains, fruits and vegetables are low in calories so you can eat a lot and feel full without consuming a ton of calories (Dworkin). People who avoid meat have lower body mass index’s which is an indicator of healthy weight and a low body fat percentage ( 57 benefits of going vegan). Also when an individual follows a vegan diet generally a healthy weight loss will occur. When you follow a vegan diet you are typically eliminating most of the foods that cause weight gain issues (57 benefits of going vegan). 
An increase in energy can also results from this diet change. You will feel lighter and less heaviness because the meat that sits in your intestine will no longer be there. If you have a problem with acne going vegan may be the answer to the problem. A lot of people when switching to a vegan diet notice a large reduction in blemishes. Many notice that their skin starts to glow after a few weeks on a vegan diet. The nuts and vitamins A and E that are found in vegetables make your skin very healthy ( 57 benefits of going vegan). Going vegan can also mean healthier hair and nails. Your hair will become stronger, have more body, and look much healthier. Your nails will also be stronger and healthier which is a good indication of how your overall health is (57 benefits of going vegan). 
Some common ailments that many people experience frequently can also be reduced by following a vegan diet. PMS symptoms because less severe or can stop completely. Dairy is what has to be eliminated in the case of PMS. Individuals who follow a vegan diet also notice a decline in the number of migraines they experience. When you reduce your dairy, meat and egg intake you can also reduce your allergies. When you stop consuming dairy you will also notice a reduction in runny noses and congestion because dairy produces mucous (57 benefits of going vegan).  
Some of the most common and harmful food poisoning agents are most common in meat and eggs. When you avoid consuming these foods you lower your risk of developing a foodborn disease. E.coli for example is caused by consuming red meat and can cause bloody diarrhea. Young children and the elderly are at increased risk for dying from complications from E.coli (57 benefits of a vegan diet). E.coli didn’t not become such a problem until the development of factory farming and feeding cows with corn. “Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn. They’re designed by evolution to eat grass. And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly ... The industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency. But each new step in efficiency leads to problems. If you take feedlot cattle off their corn diet, give them grass for five days, they will shed eighty percent of the E. coli in their gut. (Food Inc.)” Salmonella is also common in chicken and eggs. Mad cow disease has gotten a lot of attention because of the severity of the human form Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease which is incurable. This can be avoided by not eating red meat (57 benefits of a vegan diet). 
By choosing a vegan diet you will also avoid all the hormones and antibiotics that are pumped into animals and found in both meat and dairy. Hormones are given to all non organic animals to speed up their growth. In 1935 it would take 17 weeks to raise a bird and it would take 5 pounds of food to produce one pound of meat. Then in 1960 it only took nine weeks to raise a bird and 2.5 pounds of food to produce one pound of meat (Class lecture 4/27/2011). This is because of the growth hormones they are being fed. The breasts on the chickens are so huge because of all the growth hormones that chickens are barley able to walk without falling over from the weight. These hormones then go into your body and disrupt the natural balance of hormones that are in your body some have even been shown to cause tumor growth in humans (57 benefits of a vegan diet). Antibiotics are fed daily to animals to prevent them from getting sick. However this leads to bacterial resistance. Many of the antibiotics that go into the animals are the same ones that are used to treat human infections (57 benefits of a vegan diet). 
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said, “ 70 percent of all Americans are dying from diseases that are directly tied to their eating habits. Stacks of studies confirm that a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and soy is your best bet for living a longer, healthier, and more enjoyable life” (Dworkin). Two Dr’s are widely known and admired in the Vegetarian world for showing the link between a vegan diet and health benefits and they are Dr. Esselstyns and Dr. Colin Campbell. Dr. Esselstyn is famous for showing that a vegetarian diet can help to prevent and reverse heart disease. His plant based diet has helped his patients avoid major heart surgery. There were 17 individuals who were in the research study that adhered and were compliant to the diet. After five years of being on a plant based diet the average total cholesterol level from Dr. Esselstyn’s diet dropped from 246 to 137. Before beginning a plant based diet the 17 patients combine had 49 cardiac events. Several had multiple bypass operations. No more cardiac events occurred after the plant based diet began for 12 years. “Angiograms taken of the participants in the study show a widening of the coronary arteries, and thus a reversal of the heart disease” (Esselstyn). It is possible to reverse heart disease on a plant based diet. 
The China study written by Dr. Colin Campbell takes a similar approach and looks at the relationship between eating animal products and different illnesses including cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease, obesity, autoimmune disease, and osteoporosis (Campbell). The study takes place in China and took place over a twenty year period. This study looked at the relationship between mortality rates and dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors. In the end the study showed that individuals who eat a whole foods plant based diet can minimize or reverse chronic disease development (Campbell). The China study shows that a low protein diet can turn off cancer growth in rats. But this is only with the protein in milk known as casein and does not have to same results with soy protein or gluten which is wheat protein (Campbell). 
Most studies besides the China study cannot show the long term benefits of a vegetarian diet because it is hard to follow people over a long period of time and track their dietary patterns. However, there is one group of individuals known as Seventh-day Adventists who avoid eating meat for religious reasons. So there health outcomes are studied as a way to determine the true benefits of not eating meat. They have followed a vegetarian diet for more than 130 years because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. “They believe that whatever is done in eating or drinking should honor and glorify God and preserve the health of the body, mind and spirit”(Seventh-Day Adventist Dietetic Association). “The vegetarian diet recommended by Seventh-day Adventists includes the generous use of whole grain breads, cereals and pastas, a liberal use of fresh vegetables and fruits, a moderate use of legumes, nuts, seeds. It can also include low fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheeses and eggs.  It is best to avoid high saturated fat and cholesterol foods such as: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish and seafood. Coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages provide few nutrients and may interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients” (Seventh-Day Adventist Dietetic Association).
The results of following this diet show that Seventh-day Adventists in general, have 50% less risk of heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, and diabetes. The data has also shown that vegetarian men under 40 can expect to live more than eight years longer and women more than seven years longer then the general population. Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian men live more than three years longer than Seventh-Day Adventist men who eat meat (Seventh-Day Adventist Dietetic Association).
With all the information about the benefits and amazing results of a plant based diet there is no denying that it is a healthier diet then the traditional American diet that many individuals are currently following that is centered around processed and fast food. Obesity is at epidemic proportions and our diets are to blame. There are is no physical need in your body to consume either meat or dairy products and there are healthier plant based options available for all the major nutrients your body needs. 

Does anyone else have experiences similar to mine with ignorant people? Do you ignore it or do you say something?

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