The debate of being a vegetarian vs non vegetarian has been going on since one can remember. Both sides claim that their way of eating is better. But which one is better? Today we’ll try to answer the question.
Vegetarianism may be embraced for different reasons. Some people object to eating of meat out of respect for cognizant life. Such principled motivations have been summarised under different religious beliefs, as well as animal rights advocacy. Other motivations for vegetarianism are health-related, political, environmental, cultural, aesthetic, economic, or personal preference. Some may opt for vegetarianism due to packaged and processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, candies, chocolate, often contain unfamiliar animal ingredients.
There are broadly two types of vegetarian diets-
1) Ovo-vegetarian diet: which included eggs but no dairy products.
2) Lacto-vegetarian diet: includes dairy products but no eggs.
People who eat both dairy as well as eggs, but no meat are called ovo-lacto vegetarians.
3) Vegans: There is also a section called Vegan- excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy.
There are a number of vegetarian diets that exclude or include various foods:
1) Buddhist vegetarianism: this differes country to country. Some believe not to kill any life, but some as in Taiwan su vegetarianism includes all the animal products.
2) Fruitarianism and Jain vegetarianism permit only fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant. Jain vegetarianism also includes dairy.
3) Macrobiotic diet consist mostly of whole grains and beans.
4) Sattvic diet (also known as yogic diet), a plant-based diet which may also include dairy and honey, but excludes eggs, red lentils, durian, mushrooms, alliums (onions, garlics etc), blue cheese, fermented foods or sauces, and alcoholic drinks.
Studies on the effects are mostly mixed. On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (especially saturated fatty acids), fewer overall calories, more fiber and vitamin C, than do non-vegetarians. Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index.
The American Diabetic association has stated that a balanced vegetarian diet provides a healthy and nutritionally adequate food and also lowers risk for certain diseases like cardiovascular and diabetes etc.
2) Eating disorder:
Vegetarian diet may be more common among adolescents with eating disorders, to mask the disorder, but as such vegetarian diet does not cause any eating disorder.
A 2019 review found that vegetarians on average have lower bone density which can be associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
It is shown in some studies that being a vegetarian lowers the risk of developing arthritis compared to a non vegetarian.
A 2015 review found that that vegetarian diets “effectively lower blood concentrations of total cholesterol, low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol, high‐density lipoprotein cholesterol, and non–high‐density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Vegetarians on average have lower incidences of cancer. For example there is lower incidence of Colon cancer due to high fibre content in vegetarian diet compared to a fat rich diet in meat eaters.
t is now scientifically proven that vegetarians have lower incidences of digestion problems compared to meat eaters. There are lower incidences of constipation, indigestion and gastric relfux in people consuming pure vegetarian diets.
There have been many studies on the relationship between diet and longevity.
A 1999 metastudy combined data from five studies from western countries. The metastudy reported mortality data, where lower numbers indicated fewer deaths, for fish eaters to be 0.82, vegetarians to be 0.84, occasional meat eaters (eat meat less than once per week) to be 0.84. Regular meat eaters had the base mortality rate of 1.0, while the number for vegans was very uncertain (anywhere between 0.7 and 1.44) due to too few data points. In the study it was found that vegetarians had 24% less mortality compared to meat eaters due to ischaemic Heart disease.
A study by the Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine, and Institute of Physiological Chemistry looked at a group of 19 vegetarians (lacto-ovo) and used as a comparison a group of 19 omnivorous subjects recruited from the same region. The study found that this group of vegetarians (lacto-ovo) have a significantly higher amount of plasma Carboxymethyllysine and advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) compared to this group of non-vegetarians. Carboxymethyllysine is a glycation product which represents “a general marker of oxidative stress and long-term damage of proteins in aging, atherosclerosis and diabetes” and “dvanced glycation end products (AGEs) may play an important adverse role in process of atherosclerosis, diabetes, aging and chronic renal failure”.
Vegetarians in general compared to meat eaters consume less of protein and Vit B12. Western vegetarian diet usually have high carotenoids, but low omega 3 fats and vit b12. Vegans have low intake of Vit B and calcium. High levels of dietary fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and magnesium, and low consumption of saturated fat are all considered to be beneficial aspects of a vegetarian diet, but iron is less in vegetarian diet compared to non vegetarian. The iron quantity in the diet is very similar but the availability of iron to be absorbed is very less in vegetarian diet. A well planned vegetarian diet is comparable to a meat eaters diet and all the nutrition is also similar.
Religion and diet
In Hinduism and Jainism vegetarianism is promoted and meat is prohibited. In contrast to above, in Buddhism although meat eating is not prohibited being a vegetarian is promoted. In Modern Christianity there is as such no restrictions or promotion of any one type of diet. The tenets of Sikhism also do not advocate a particular stance on either vegetarianism or the consumption of meat, but leave the decision of diet to the individual.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, “Massive reductions in meat consumption in industrial nations will ease their health care burden while improving public health; declining livestock herds will take pressure off rangelands and grainlands, allowing the agricultural resource base to rejuvenate. As populations grow, lowering meat consumption worldwide will allow more efficient use of declining per capita land and water resources, while at the same time making grain more affordable to the world’s chronically hungry.”
In the end,
I would like to say that I myself is not promoting or degrading any type of diet. If we talk about numbers more people in the world eat meat compared to non meat eaters. Eating meat was a need of time when humans didn’t know about agriculture. But now the trend is changing. More people are becoming vegetarian now. Although there are benefits to eat both, but in the end until more research is done on our bodies to find out whether we are built to eat a non vegetarian or a vegetarian diet, we cannot say with certainty that one type of diet is better. It’s upto an individual to decide.