The Pros and Cons of Going Vegetarian or Vegan

Ten years ago, a study showed that 7.3 million Americans or nearly 3% of the population followed a vegetarian diet. About 1 million, or 0.5% of the population, followed a vegan diet. As the United States tackles its obesity problem, and as more people understand the benefits of good nutrition, these numbers are on the rise. If you’re considering a plant-based diet, look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.

What are vegetarianism and veganism?

A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat, such as beef, lamb, poultry, or fish. A vegan is someone who does not eat animal products, which includes meat, dairy, eggs, and sometimes honey. Strict vegetarians and vegans will also use cruelty-free products or products that have not been tested on animals (i.e., soaps and makeup).

There are a few variations of this practice. Pescatarians only eat fish. Lacto-vegetarians abstain from eating meat and eggs, but they will consume dairy products. Ovo-vegetarians abstain from eating meat and dairy, but they will consume eggs.

Vegetarianism and veganism exist for several reasons. In some religions or cultures, certain animals are sacred and therefore cannot be consumed. Advocates for animal rights go vegetarian or vegan as a stand against animal cruelty. Other reasons can include dietary restrictions, allergies/sensitivities, or even weight loss.

Pros

Better for the Environment

It’s no surprise eating plant foods can benefit the environment. You will reduce your harmful impact, also known as your carbon footprint, by adopting a plant-based diet. You will also help conserve water because producing a pound of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing a pound of grain protein. Furthermore, by not contributing to animal agriculture, you will help save animal habitats, reduce dead zones, and help have cleaner air.

More Nutrients

Creating your diet around fruits and vegetables means an abundance of vitamins and minerals. A great nutrient found in plant foods is fiber, which will keep you full. Most Americans don’t meet the quota for sufficient vitamins and minerals, so you’ll already be at an advantage.

Plant-based diets are also full of phytochemicals, defined as compounds that help keep several of your body’s systems running smoothly. Specific examples include the isothiocyanates found in brussels sprouts that neutralize cell-damaging free radicals and the flavonoids in apples that help control inflammation.

Reduces Risks of Diseases

A specific study claimed that women over 50 who ate a mostly plant-based diet were 34% more likely to be free of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These women would develop these diseases 15 years later than the women who ate more meat. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower may protect against some types of cancers. Along with this same vein, foods that are high in antioxidants like blueberries and blackberries can help prevent many chronic oxidative stress diseases.

Cons

Limited Options

A majority of the American diet revolves around meat. From bacon at breakfast to steak at night, U.S. citizens eat more meat than any other country. According to the USDA, the average consumer will eat nearly 200 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018.

Eating out may be a struggle. Restaurants are becoming health-conscious, but still, meat options rule out vegetarian options. Navigating the menu for vegans may be even harder since most vegetarian options include cheese or eggs.

Special events revolve around meals. Carnivals serve corn-dogs, chicken nuggets, and skewers, whereas the main dish during holidays is ham or turkey. It’s especially hard to keep up a no-meat diet when there’s lots of meat on the menu.

Ask your server if you the chef can prepare a special dish. Considering food allergies and other special diets, the restaurant staff will usually be accommodating. Opt for the salad bar or try to create a plate out of side-dishes, since those are usually vegetable based.

Not Always Healthy

While you may initially associate kale with vegetarians, think of all the junk food that can fit into a vegetarian diet. Pizza, ice cream, and cheese fries qualify as vegetarian. On that same note, Oreos, potato chips, and Twizzlers are all vegan.

Additionally, many vegetarian and vegan meals are centered around pasta. Start adding cheese and creamy sauce, and it’ll be hard to call healthy. Pasta is easy to disproportion as well, and it’s easy to fill the plate rather than the one cup serving.

There’s a reason these are called plant-based diets. No matter what your diet, avoid junk food, and make sure to focus on fruits and vegetables for a nutritious lifestyle. With these temptations, going vegetarian or vegan is not the magic cure for weight-loss.

Protein Issues

A common question is: how do vegetarians and vegans get their protein? If you’re going by the numbers, animal sources of protein contain more than non-animal sources. A serving of cheese offers seven to ten grams of protein, whereas a serving of broiled top sirloin boasts thirty-five grams of protein.

It’s vital to get enough protein in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Any lack of nutrient can be harmful to the body. Protein deficiency can lead to infections, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, low heart rate, and other unfavorable symptoms. You may even get a disease related to the lack of protein.

For vegetarians, eggs are an optimal source of protein and fat. Beans, nuts, and even vegetables work for both vegetarians and vegans. Don’t fall for imitation meats that may be processed, not to mention contain loads of sodium and fat.

It’s never too early or late to start a healthier lifestyle such as a vegetarian or vegan diet. See if your library or bookstore has a vegetarian or vegan cookbook full of new recipes to try. Like with any major change to your health, consult your doctor. Discuss these pros and cons to see if vegetarianism or veganism is right for you, especially if you have dietary restrictions or are on certain medication.