What is a vegetarian?
Why would someone choose to be a vegetarian?
I'm concerned about my health. How could a vegetarian diet benefit me?
What about lean meat?
But aren't chicken, turkey and fish healthful?
While poultry and fish have somewhat less saturated fat than beef and pork, they are still high in animal protein and cholesterol. These foods pose additional health risks. Contaminated chicken is a major source of Salmonella bacteria, which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections. The United States Department of Agriculture has acknowledged that a significant percentage of all poultry is contaminated with Salmonella, Campylobacter, or Staphylococcus bacteria. Salmonella bacteria are also commonly found in eggs, even those with undamaged shells.
Fish contain substantially more heavy metals (such as lead, mercury, and cadmium) and industrial pollutants (such PCBs, DDT and dioxins) than land animals. Because fish dine on other fish, those that are caught for food show significant toxic buildup. Shellfish also contain high levels of toxins because of their feeding habits. Toxic chemicals in fish may accumulate to several thousand times the levels present in the surrounding water. Farm-raised fish aren't the answer because these fish often become ill from their overcrowded conditions and are given antibiotics, which are passed along to those who eat them. They also may be given toxic feed; farm-raised fish can contain as much as or more toxins than wild fish. The FDA warns pregnant women against eating too much fish due to risks of birth defects from mercury.
I've heard that certain foods and nutrition supplements can protect your health. Can't I just eat more of these, rather than cutting out meat?
Where will I get protein if I don't eat meat? Isn't it complicated to make sure you're getting enough of the various amino acids?
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are found in all plant foods, including the nine essential amino acids humans must obtain from food. Concentrated sources of plant protein include peas, beans, lentils, soy products (tofu, tempeh, and meat analogs), and nuts. Contrary to what many people believe, vegetarians do not need to carefully combine foods to meet their protein needs, and no particular meal planning approach is required. Just consume enough calories to maintain your ideal weight and include a variety of plant foods in your diet.
Where do vegetarians get vitamins and minerals?
Because B12 is not readily available in plant foods, health professionals recommend that vegans either consume B12 fortified foods or take B12 supplements on a regular basis. Many breakfast cereals, meat analogs, and milk alternatives are fortified with vitamin B12 from non-animal sources. These foods are readily available and are excellent sources of B12 (check the labels). Certain brands of nutritional yeast, which can be sprinkled on prepared foods or added to recipes, are also excellent B12 sources.
Most documented cases of B12 deficiency are caused by the inability of a person to properly absorb or process the vitamin, as opposed to an incomplete diet. As such, B12 deficiency is found in both non-vegetarians and vegetarians. Older people have an increased risk of B12 deficiencies because B12 is absorbed less efficiently as we age.
Symptoms of B12 deficiency may be subtle to severe, ranging from neurological problems to memory impairment, and these symptoms may be irreversible. Thus, vegans (who don't consume dairy products and eggs, which contain B12) are strongly encouraged to include a daily reliable source of vitamin B12.
Dairy products are low in iron and may inhibit iron absorption. Other foods that can reduce iron absorption include coffee and teas, which contain tannin, and foods that are very high in fiber, like isolated wheat bran. Vitamin C and organic acids in fruits and vegetables enhance iron absorption.
Calcium is abundant in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cooked dried beans, soy products, blackstrap molasses, certain nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and fortified beverages such as soy milk, rice milk and orange juice. Calcium found in some of these and other plant foods is actually better absorbed than calcium from cow's milk. Those who are concerned about calcium intake can also take supplements.
If I switch to a vegetarian diet, will I have to eat more dairy products and eggs?
A vegetarian diet may be OK for adults, but is it safe for children?
Aren't people physically designed to eat meat?
I am concerned about the environment. How would becoming a vegetarian help?
The demand for cheap beef has driven the scope of environmental destruction to the Central American rainforests where ranching has contributed to deforestation, species extinction, and more loss of biodiversity than any other activity in this part of the world. The tropical rainforests provide a substantial part of the Earth's oxygen, house the majority of the planet's land vegetation, and are home to more species of plant and animal life than anywhere else on Earth. With every acre destroyed, more species are threatened with extinction and carbon dioxide pollution increases, adding to the global warming problem. At the same time, the atmosphere is robbed of oxygen that would have been generated by that vegetation.
Animal agriculture guzzles huge amounts of water, particularly for irrigation used to grow feed crops. In addition, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide and livestock waste runoffs all severely pollute our nations waterways. Animal excrement and fertilizer have been blamed for a large percentage of the nitrogen and phosphorus released into U.S. rivers. Furthermore, the millions of tons of non-recycled waste produced by livestock each year - which is substantially more concentrated than domestic raw sewage - generally ends up untreated in both surface and ground water. By simply changing our food choices, we can have a significant positive impact on our environmental future.
Weren't animals put here for food?
Why should we be concerned about animals when there's so much human suffering?
Aren't there more pressing animal concerns than meat production?
Almost 10 times as many animals die for human consumption than for all other causes combined. In the United States alone, about 10 billion animals are killed each year to be turned into meat. This translates into about 34 animals per person that are needlessly killed each year to appease the human appetite.
Aren't farm animals raised humanely?
For example, laying hens are typically housed in bare wire cages stacked several rows deep in huge, stifling warehouses. Four to five birds are crammed into each cage making it impossible for them to walk, stretch their wings or roost. Excrement drops onto the birds below creating a cesspool of squalor and a choking stench that damages the hens' delicate lungs. These crowded conditions lead to stress-related fighting, pecking cannibalism, illness and disease, including the development of harmful pathogens, such as salmonella, that infect both the chicken and her eggs. At the slaughterhouse, the chickens are either boiled alive or bled to death while fully conscious.
Similar harsh treatment is pervasive among all farm animals. Hence, the rearing of animals for food can never be considered humane.
Will a vegetarian diet be more expensive?
In addition, price is not the only factor to consider. There are a number of hidden costs in a meat-centered diet. Among them are medical expenses for people suffering from diet-related diseases and the growing hazards of food-borne illnesses. Everyone's tax dollars are used by the government to subsidize animal agriculture, which also takes its toll on our environment. Hidden in the cost of meat and dairy products is the cost of cleaning up extensive water, air and land pollution.
Don't people tire of eating only salad and vegetables?
Won't vegetarian foods take longer to prepare?
Is it hard to shop for vegetarian foods?
What about eating out?
How do I get started?
New vegetarians are often excited about the information they are learning and the changes they are making and want to share their experiences. Often their family and friends are supportive - but sometimes they are not. If this happens, don't let it discourage you. Be cheerful about your new adventure and remember to let others come to their own dietary conclusions.
A vegetarian diet is fun, healthful and exciting, and the culinary possibilities are endless. Know that you are embarking on a compassionate, health-supporting and environmentally sound way of eating - so enjoy the experience!