“You are what you eat”, goes a famous saying. And if that is truly the case, then a lot of Americans would appear to be unhealthy, chemically treated, commercially raised slabs of animal flesh. And while that is not a particularly pleasant thought, it is nonetheless an description of the typical American omnivore who survives on the consumption of Big Macs and steak fajitas. But there are individuals who do not follow this American norm and have altered their diets so that they do not consume any meat.
These people are vegetarians and they are the new breed of healthy Americans who refuse to poison themselves with fats, holesterol, and the other harmful additives that come from meat. And while once thought to be a movement that would never gain much momentum, it has nonetheless moved itself to the forefront of Americans healthy diets. The word vegetarian, used to describe the diets of people who do not consume animal flesh, was not used until around the mid-1800s. The concept of vegetarianism, however, dates back much further.
The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, considered by many to be the father of vegetarianism, encouraged a non-meat diet among his followers as a diet that was the most natural and healthful. A vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat and can be exercised by people for a number of reasons. The largest majority of individuals choosing vegetarianism related to heath reasons. For example, someone with an ulcer might be prescribed a strict diet of vegetables in order to promote the healing process, or someone with a dangerously high level of cholesterol might be advised to follow a vegetarian diet to lower his or her fat and cholesterol intake.
The immorality of consuming animal flesh is another argument touted by a smaller group of vegetarians. This oral argument for vegetarianism and the effect of what meat eating might have on the character of humans; some people have come to believe and fear that in the suffering and killing which occurs in commercial farming, we demean ourselves, coarsen our sensitivities and dull our feelings of sympathy with our fellow creatures. Almost to a point where it becomes easier for us to contemplate and carry out the torture and killing of human beings.
Whatever the reasons behind a persons choice to be a vegetarian, it is important to understand the different diets that individual vegetarians can choose. In the widest sense of the word, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is made up of grains, vegetables and fruit, but does not include any animal meat, such as fish, pork, poultry, or beef. Beyond these standards, there are many variations of diets that occur within the world of vegetarianism. The first, and most common category of vegetarianism is a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
This a person who includes dairy products and eggs but no animal meat. This means that there is consumption of animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, and cheese. Another variation is the lacto-vegetarian diet that allows the onsumption of milk and other milk products, but does not include the consumption of eggs. Like all vegetarians, these two groups do not consume fish, poultry, or meat. The third category that vegetarians can fall into are vegans. The vegan diet is by far the most strict of all the vegetarian diets. Vegans shun all animal products.
Foods that involve animal processing to any degree are often avoided. This means that vegans can consume no foods containing any animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or cheese. Being a vegan often dictates an “animal friendly” lifestyle that, aside rom not eating anything that came from an animal, also abstains from buying or using products that were tested on animals or are made from animal hairs or skin, such as leather shoes or belts. A common misconception of vegetarians is that they are all a bunch of skinny, malnourished idealists who live on plants and soy milk.
Another common misconception is that a diet of protein is a diet that builds strength and muscle. Professor Irving Fisher of Yale designed a series of tests in which he compared the strength and stamina of meat-eaters against vegetarians, with three groups of individuals epresented: meat-eating athletes, vegetarian athletes, and sedentary vegetarians. His studies showed that the average score of the two vegetarian groups was over double the average score of the carnivores, even though half of the vegetarians were sedentary people and all of the carnivores were athletes.
Fisher concluded that, “…. the difference in endurance between the flesh-eaters and the abstainers (was due) entirely to the difference in their diet… There is strong evidence that a … non-flesh … diet is conducive to endurance. ” A comparable study was done in 1968 by a Danish group f researchers that tested a group of men on a variety of diets, using a stationary bicycle to measure their strength and endurance.
The scientists fed their test subjects a diet that was comprised of mixed amounts of vegetables and meats for a period of time before testing the men on the stationary bicycle. The average time that they could pedal before muscle failure was 114 minutes. The very same group of subjects was then fed a diet that consisted of only meat, eggs, and milk for an equal amount of time. They were then re-tested on the bikes. On normal “well balanced” diet, it seemed their pedaling time before muscle ailure dropped dramatically to an average of only 57 minutes.
That same group of men were again fed a diet that this time was made of entirely of grains, vegetables, and fruits before they were once again tested on exercise bikes. The lack of animal byproducts didnt seem to hamper their performance, as many people would have thought, and the men were able to pedal an average of 167 minutes before muscle failure. A considerable longer amount then when they ate animal products. Yet still, vegetarians are still often criticized by people who feel that they do not get enough minerals and vitamins as a esult of their limited diet.
But vegetarian food is among some of the healthiest foods available to mankind and while there is no easy way to determine the extent to which a vegetarian diet can influence the health of those that follow its guidelines, the evidence is very indicative that it may be an important contributing factor. Evidence is good that risks for hypertension, coronary artery disease, type II diabetes, and gallstones are lower. Data seems to show that the risks of breast cancer, diverticular disease of the colon, colonic cancer, calcium kidney stones, osteoporosis, dental rosion, and dental caries are lower among vegetarians.
Vegetarian diets contain less total fat and less saturated fat, which are linked to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In comparing the diets of vegetarians to omnivores, we see that the American omnivore consumes a diet that is 34% to 36% fat, lacto-ovo vegetarians eat a 30% to 36% fat diet, and vegans eat a diet that is about 30% fat, which is the recommend amount of fat intake for whatever ones diet consists of. This means that vegetarians also consume less cholesterol, which has been linked to an increase in the risk f heart disease and possibly even cancer.
The amount of cholesterol of a lacto-ovo vegetarian is about 150 to 300 mg of cholesterol per day compared to the 400 mg of cholesterol that an omnivore consumes. Vegans, who exclude the intake of any food that contains animal byproducts, do not consume foods that contain significant amounts of cholesterol. The US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have created a Food Guide to better advise Americans on how to eat healthier, more balanced meals, and which “advises using fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. ” Vegetarians as a group also onsume higher amounts of fiber.
Fiber, found mainly in grain products, is essential to healthy bowels and colons, lowers the risk for diabetes, helps control blood glucose levels, and also lowers the risk for cancer and heart disease. It is grain products that form the base of the Food Guide Pyramid, which recommends servings of bread, rice, cereal, and pasta 6 to 11 times per day. The typical intake of fiber for an average omnivore is about 12g of fiber each day, with vegetarians eating 50% to 100% more fiber than non-vegetarians. That is a considerably higher amount.
A vegetarian diet also includes consumption of more antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and possibly arthritis and cataracts. Dietary antioxidants include such vitamins as vitamin E and vitamin C. While vegetarians consume less total protein, they do consume adequate amounts to maintain a healthy balance, as demonstrated by modern nutritional science. Excess protein, and in particular excess animal protein, is linked to the increased risk for osteoporosis, kidney stone formation, kidney disease, and an increase in blood cholesterol levels.
The nutritional benefits of a vegetarian diet very clearly appear to be beneficial to human health. But a vegetarian diet can also be healthy to the lives of our planets other inhabitants, the very animals that are being eaten or the way they are being raised to meet our mass consumption of animal products. Due to the increased demand for food, livestock farmers have had to keep up by devising new and more efficient ways to raise more animals, giving way to the industrialization of meat farming. Hormones, chemicals, and steroids are all used to aid in the quicker process of animal growth and production.
Chickens, as we grew up believing, were farmyard animals that were free to roam the yards. Due to the industrialization of chicken farming in the past forty years, all this has changed. The days of the barnyard chicken are over, replaced instead with the assembly-line chicken. But the poultry farmers are not alone in its industrialization. The beef, turkey, pork and other meat industries have also had to adapt their methods of production in order to keep up with the demands of omnivores. This includes the use of growth hormones in the animals to produce more eggs and fatter animals, which are hen passed on to their human consumers.
A chemical called XLP-30, is designed to boost pigs per litter, though it has a name that sounds like it should be added to motor oil instead of animal food. Incredibly, Officials acknowledge they dont know why it works. This is just one example of the chemical tampering that the meat industry is forced to do with its animals in order to fight off the diseases that the animals cramped, unsanitary living conditions bring with them. Leonardo Da Vinci said “the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on he murder of men. While the cruelty of murdering animals for their flesh is a moral argument in favor of vegetarianism, it seems rather unlikely that Americans could ever be swayed by its message. However, many Americans are interested in preserving their own health and well-being, and that should lead many people towards a vegetarian lifestyle since a vegetarian diet includes the necessary vitamins and minerals to sustain human life, without any of the negative byproducts of animal consumption, such as cholesterol, excessive fat, and excessive protein.
A healthy lifestyle is something benefits us all, and yet most people are unwilling to give up the meat-filled diets. If the phrase “You are what you eat” has any amount of truth to it, then Americans need to realize what they are ingesting every time they enjoy a Big Mac, some Whoppers, or a filet mignon. There are healthier alternatives to the meat eating that nearly every member of our society has been weaned on, and those alternatives all include the consumption of more vegetables and the absence of meats. It is now up to them to realize this and make the necessary adjustments.