The term vegetarian generally means a person who does not consume animal products; this includes land and sea animals. Most vegetarians generally do consume eggs and dairy products (milk products). Somebody who does not consume any animal protein at all, not even eggs, dairy, or honey, is a vegan.
The four main types of vegetarians are:
- Lacto-vegetarians – they consume dairy products, but no eggs. Most do consume honey.
- Ovo-vegetarians – they consume eggs, but no dairy. Most do consume honey.
- Lacto-ovovegetarians – they consume eggs and dairy. Most do consume honey.
- Vegans – only consume plant-based foods (no dairy, eggs or honey)
Scientists from Italy and Japan reported in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry that vegans and vegetarians have a higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency compared to people who consume animal-based products. They showed that the human body is unable to absorb the plant-based form of the vitamin.
The earliest records of vegetarianism come from the 6th century B.C., in India and Greece. It was closely linked to a desire not to harm animals. In India this peace towards animals was called ahimsa and was a common lifestyle among religious people and philosophers.
The conversion to Christianity of the Roman Empire virtually eliminated all traces of vegetarianism from Europe. Many orders of monks in medieval Europe either banned or limited meat consumption as a gesture of personal sacrifice or abstinence – however, non of them shunned fish. It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that vegetarianism started to get a foothold again in Western society.
The Vegetarian Society was formed in England in 1847; equivalent societies soon followed in Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries. During the 20th century vegetarianism caught on swiftly throughout Western society. People’s motivations were for ethical, environmental, or economic reasons – and sometimes a combination of two or three reasons. Approximately 70% of the world’s lacto-vegetarians are in India. Approximately 20% to 42% of India’s population is vegetarian.
What are the benefits of being a vegetarian?
- Have a lower body weight
- Have better cholesterol levels
- Live longer
- Have a lower risk of developing cancer (except for cancer of the colon)
- Have a lower risk of developing several diseases
An article published in Food Technology in October 2012 documented that plant-based diets either reduce or completely eliminated people’s genetic propensity to develop long-term diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
The American Dietetic Association has these tips for people who want to adopt vegetarianism:
- Select whole grain products – whole wheat bread, wild/brown rice, whole grain cereals
- Make sure your diet is varied
- Choose low or non-fat dairy products (If you wish to consume diary)
- Do not eat more than 3 or 4 eggs yolks per week (some studies dispute this)
- Plan ahead when you go shopping
- Read the food labels carefully
- Find out where your specialist stores are located
The Bottom Line:
A vegetarian diet can be healthy but it takes a lot of work both shopping and in preparation. You will need to supplement B12 (use bioavailable methylcobalamin). It is difficult to obtain enough protein as most plant proteins are incomplete. Be careful with the grains, even whole grains are simple carbohydrates and can create insulin resistance. If you eat dairy products choose organic and preferably raw dairy products, not the low fat or non-fat garbage noted above. Finally, there is no limit on eggs. They are a complete protein and make being a vegetarian a lot easier.