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Vegetarianism and veganism
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Vegetarianism is a diet or life-style choice that excludes the consumption of meat, seafood, poultry, and other animals. People may implement this to varying degrees of strictness (see #Occasional meat eaters). Many vegetarians will still eat eggs and/or dairy, sometimes restricting these to free-range or organic products. (Organic certification often includes a greater emphasis on animal welfare than conventional factory farming).
Veganism is a type of stringent vegetarianism, where even animal derived products, including dairy and eggs are not consumed. Many vegans avoid all animal products, such as leathers, furs, feathers, bone, etc.
Raw veganists, fruitarians, su vegetarians, Jain vegetarians, Buddhist vegetarians, and followers of macrobiotic or Sattvic diets are other types of vegetarians.
Motivation for adopting a vegetarian/vegan diet
Some of the common reasons for vegetarianism include:
- moral reasons (animal welfare) - sometimes rejecting all meat-eating, sometimes rejecting the cruelty of modern farming practices.
- environmental reasons ("green living") - the greater resource use required to produce meat in many cases; depletion of fishing stocks.
- personal health - some people have conditions that are made worse by the eating of some kinds of meat; some people feel better after adopting different vegetarian diets.
- religion - some religions or belief systems forbid eating animals or certain animals.
Ocasional meat eaters
True vegetarianism/veganism is best avoided as there will always be some meat production. For example, old dairy cattle need to be slaughtered at some point (when they are old and their milk production is falling). "Occasional meat eaters" can then consume this meat, reducing the need to grow extra food. Also, "occasional meat eaters" may consume meat on communal gatherings (ie at special occasions such as birthdays, holidays), avoiding the need of other people to make a meal especially for just one (or a few) people. As people tend to prepare even more food when making 2 separate meals, it allows to save some food and thus decrease the environmental impact.
A properly planned vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate and meet current recommendations for all proteins, vitamins, and minerals that are necessary for all stages of a person’s life, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer a number of health benefits: lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, prostate and colon cancer, renal disease, osteoporosis, and lower rates of death from heart disease and obesity (Vegetarian Diets, 2003).
A vegetarian diet can have so many health benefits because it cuts out the negative health risks associated with consuming meat. For example, the consumption of meat has been correlated with an increased risk of getting many types of cancer. According to one study, “Both red and processed meat intakes were positively associated with cancers of the colorectum and lung; furthermore, red meat intake was associated with an elevated risk for cancers of the esophagus and liver” (Cross, 2007). A vegetarian diet also avoids other risks from eating meat. For example, a vegetarian diet avoids fish that are contaminated with high levels of mercury, as well as avoiding high concentrations of dioxins, artificial growth hormones, and antibiotics that are often found in factory-farmed animal protein. However, a vegetarian diet may also pose the risk of eating fruit and vegetables that are coated with pesticide residue (Nierenberg, 2006).
Some critics of vegetarianism say that a vegetarian diet doesn’t provide enough protein in the diet. However, while protein can be a concern for some diets if not planned properly, all 9 essential amino acids can be obtained by eating a variety of complementary plant sources and this is just as adequate and sustaining as protein from animal sources. Vegetarian sources of protein include rice, beans, hummus, grains, legumes, eggs, and dairy products (Young, 1994).
While a vegetarian diet can meet all requirements for a healthy diet and be beneficial to ones overall health, a bit more time and planning may be necessary to ensure all nutrient needs are met. A healthy vegan or vegetarian diet, or any diet low in animal products, hence requires additional intake of some nutritional elements:
Vitamin B12W is an issue in vegetarian and vegan diets (and often even in non-vegetarian diets) and a supplement is often required. Lack of B12 leads to fatigue, impairment of mental functioning and other serious effects.
B12 in the typical modern diet is generally found only in animal products. Actually B12 is produced only by certain types of bacteria, never directly by plants, animals or fungi, and it is found in animal products because those bacteria grow inside animals. Unfortunately there are not enough of such bacteria in the human digestive system to meet our needs (or the bacteria are too low in our digestive system) and we must get our B12 from elsewhere. B12 for supplements is produced by bacteria[verification needed] and so such supplements should be vegan (assuming there are no other animal products added - check the label).
In traditional diets, soil (which may contain B12-producting bacteria) insect parts and droppings of insects and other animals were likely to "contaminate" food, providing essential vitamin B12.
Today, vitamin B12 deficiency is serious and widespread. A Tufts University study found that, of the individuals of the general population they studied, "nearly 40 percent had levels of B12 that were low enough to cause neurological symptoms", making this a widespread issue, not only a vegan one.
In modern times with less "dirt" in our diets, vegan diets contain little B12. Small amounts are contained in mushrooms that are grown in manure, and may be contained in fermented drinks such as kombucha (if it is produced with a culture containing B12-producting bacteria).
It is also worth noting that different people have different requirements for B12. Nursing babies are particularly sensitive to vitamin B12 deficiency - in rare cases, where vegan and vegetarian mothers have had inadequate B12 in their diet and/or were not taking proper B12 supplements, the babies have suffered brain damage and even death.[verification needed]
Zinc and O3FA
In some vegetarian diets, people may consume too little zinc and omega 3 fatty acides (O3FA). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarian_nutrition
There is some controversy over the quality and quantity of protein available to vegans.
The nutritional value of plant-based diets in relation to human amino acid and protein requirements, Millward DJ. (Proc Nutr Soc. 1999) - PubMed Result] - This study suggests that "high-lysine maize supports similar weight and height growth to that of casein. Inadequate amino acid supply is not an issue with most cereal-based diets."
Human adult amino acid requirements: (1-13C) leucine balance evaluation of the efficiency of utilization and apparent requirements for wheat protein and lysine compared with those for milk protein in healthy adults, Millward et al. concluded that "The results show that adaptive mechanisms of lysine conservation allow wheat protein to be utilized more efficiently than expected."
Suitability of the diet
for children and babies
One extreme case of neglect ("a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice") in providing a proper diet resulted in the death of a 6-week-old baby. This led to claims in some quarters that veganism is unsuitable for children - however no conclusions about the suitability of a carefully planned diet can be drawn from such a case. It should also be noted that breastfeedingW is strongly advisedplease expand for such a young child and in the absence af human milk, a special formula is needed. Cow's milk is not ideal, but soy milk and apple juice are clearly unsuitable. (See Response to NY Times Story: Death by Veganism for one rebuttal.)
- Wikipedia: Protein combining - protein in vegan diets
- Wikipedia: Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score - protein in vegan diets
- Vegetarian is the New Prius - on CommonDreams.org, by Kathy Freston, January 20, 2007 the Huffington Post.
- Vegetarianism and the Environment, Animal Liberation Inc. (South Australia) - includes interesting graphs of the relative impacts of various human activities.
- Environmental aspects of Animal Liberation: Real conservationists don't eat meat, Animal Liberation Inc. (South Australia) - a talk by by Geoff Russell, prepared for a vegetarian conference, Adelaide, March 1997.
- Scientifically-credible info on plant-based human diets
- Note that being a vegetarian alone is not sufficient to be environmentally conscious. Other factors too play a role into one’s environmental impact - such how much you drive, the products you buy, and how much resources, such as water, you consume (Oliver, 2008). However, becoming a vegetarian or adopting another ecologic diet can already have a great impact.
- Note that although occasional meat eating sounds less ecologic than true vegetarianism/veganism, it really isn't, as long as meat is only consumed on communal gatherings, and not at any other occasions. See Green_living#Reducing_meat_consumption
- Stalking the elusive b12, Rawdawg Rory
- Getting Enough B12?
- Based on a conversation with a vegetarian physician and mother, based on her research on Medline. Specific references welcome.
This section is meant only to gloss over the general topic of vegetarianism and be an informative resource. It is not meant to provide anyone with a set plan on how to be a healthy vegetarian. If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian do not let this be the only resource you look at. There are hundreds of books, journal articles, videos, and websites that can give you further information. Finally, be sure to talk to your doctor to ensure that a vegetarian diet is tailored to properly fit you and your body.