Being a vegetarian is generally a simple life choice. People adopt this lifestyle for a variety of reasons, and they practice it to varying degrees. For people who aren’t vegetarians though it may seem strange or confusing; after all, why would someone give up eating meat? How can that be healthy? What should you eat instead?
There are a lot of different ways to define being a vegetarian, but the simplest is that being vegetarian means you eat vegetables. A vegetarian diet consists largely of fruit, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, and it cuts out meat, fish, and poultry. Some vegetarians take a hard line on their diet, others include milk, dairy and/or eggs, while some will indulge in a chicken salad occasionally. Many people call themselves vegetarian and then eat a diet of primarily grains, processed foods, and junk food. Technically it is vegetarian but it is a terrible diet and must be avoided. A healthy vegetarian actually eats primarily fresh, raw or lightly cooked vegetables and fruits with about 25% cooked starchy vegetables and grains. Notice that list didn’t include processed foods, processed flours, or processed oils.
Why Do People Become Vegetarians?
There is no one reason that people choose to adopt this lifestyle. Some people may feel that by being a vegetarian they are contributing less to the problems inherent in the slaughtering industry, and preserving the life of animals by decreasing the demand for their meat. Others may become vegetarians for health reasons, particularly since vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease as well as lowered risk for cancer or diabetes. Some people become vegetarians for spiritual reasons, and others because it may be an easier and less-expensive lifestyle. More often than not someone becomes a vegetarian for different degrees of all of these reasons; rarely is there only a single factor.
What Are The Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?
There are a lot of benefits that come with being a vegetarian (otherwise why would anyone do it?). As previously mentioned some people prefer the spiritual or moral aspects that come with this lifestyle, but others take up vegetarianism specifically for the health benefits it offers.
– Lowered cholesterol
– Lower blood pressure
– Lessened risk of obesity
– Lessened heart disease risk
– Lessened risk of diabetes and stroke
– Longer overall lifespan
While there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat–provided it is grass fed and free of hormones and antibiotics–, studies have shown that those who get their nutrition from sources from other than meat, fish, and poultry have better health long term.
Are There Any Downsides of Being Vegetarian?
Aside from the social issues of not eating meat, fish, and poultry, there are some downsides that come with taking on a vegetarian lifestyle, particularly if someone isn’t used to it. For starters, vegetarians need to monitor the amount of protein they’re taking in. There are alternative sources, such as soy, but that must be organic and not overly processed. Don’t fall for the fake meats and products made from highly processed soy. There is plenty of easily bioavailable protein in green veggies, nuts, and seeds. After all the biggest mammals on the planet are all vegetarians: elephants, giraffes, and rhinoceros–they get their protein and calcium from greens. The same is true of certain vitamins, such as vitamin B-12, calcium, zinc, and riboflavin. These necessities aren’t always found in a vegetarian’s diet, particularly if the diet has too little real vegetables and too many processed or commercially prepared foods. Eating real food will make sure they’re still getting all of the vitamins and minerals their bodies need to keep going. If you are very strict then add a B-12 supplement to be sure.
Small Changes and A Balanced Diet
Going “cold turkey” from meat, fish, and poultry can be a hard and uncomfortable experience. As with any major changes in one’s diet though, it’s a good idea to make these changes gradually so that the body (and just as importantly the mind) can get used to them. If someone starts by eating less meat per day, perhaps limiting meat to a single meal, then it can gradually be cut down to every other day, once a week, and then never at all. It’s the same for people who are trying to quit smoking, give up on soda, or who want to stop drinking coffee; sudden, drastic changes are more difficult, and can often lead to giving up.
Lastly it’s important to remember that the human body has nutritional needs but they are not exactly the same for every person or even at all times. Different body types thrive on a vegetarian diet while others thrive with a little meat. It is a matter of listening to the body and eating what your body requires. That may change with age, circumstances, illness, activity level, and emotional upset. A vegetarian lifestyle suits many needs and provides a healing environment to overcome our typical North American challenges of too much processed, sugared, chemical-laced food that causes diseases. Getting back to a mostly organic vegetable base will heal many of our modern diseases.
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