“Everyone should be vegetarian” – Do you agree?
We heard your opinion!
26 september '22
Reading time: 7 minutes
Diet culture is constantly telling us which new fad food plans are best for us, but not all of them are actually healthy. Of the many different lifestyles, how can we choose a diet that is fully sustainable for our minds, bodies and the earth? Let’s explore how a plant-based, vegetarian lifestyle can impact you and the environment.
Words by Rebekah Smith
Here at Staiy, we want to hear your opinion and give you the knowledge you deserve. In this column, we’ll be publishing articles about controversial topics of some sort and we want to know: do you agree? Help us help you and the planet by contributing to the conversation of sustainability.
This month’s controversial statement is about something that we often hear: “Everyone should be vegetarian.” So, let’s take a look at some of the facts.
What is vegetarianism?
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, vegetarianism is “the theory or practice of living solely upon vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts – with or without the addition of milk products and eggs – generally for ethical, ascetic, environmental or nutritional reasons.” All forms of meat, including fowl and seafood, are excluded from a vegetarian diet.
Whether you choose to eat dairy or eggs, basing your nutrition around plants means the required nutrients may vary. For example, a vegetarian diet pyramid shows that vegetarians should eat roughly 6-11 servings of grains, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruit, 2-3 servings of dairy or fortified dairy substitutes, and 2-3 servings of legumes, seeds, nuts and meat alternatives. Fats, added sugars and eggs (if you choose) should be eaten sparingly.
There are also several different types of vegetarians:
Lacto-ovo vegetarians – Excludes all meat, but includes dairy and eggs
Ovo vegetarians – Excludes all meat and dairy, but includes eggs
Lacto vegetarians – Excludes all meat and eggs, but includes dairy
Pescatarian – Excludes meat, includes seafood, may include dairy and/or eggs
Flexitarian – Mostly plant-based, but may include meat, dairy and/or eggs
Veganism – Excludes all animal products, dairy and eggs
Benefits of vegetarianism
Becoming a vegetarian has many benefits – for you and the environment. Whether you’re interested in animal welfare, avoiding the use of excess environmental resources, or simply can’t afford to keep meat in your diet, there are plenty of reasons for choosing to become a vegetarian.
Although many dieticians once believed a plant-based diet lacked sufficient nutrition, it has been found over the last few years that a vegetarian diet is nutrition-dense and can aid in protecting against some chronic illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. According to a study published by Harvard University, researchers found that vegetarians consume less saturated fat and cholesterol than meat eaters. They also have a greater intake of vitamins C and E, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium and other plant chemicals. As a result, vegetarians are likely to have lower bad cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI).
Besides benefiting your health, a vegetarian diet also positively impacts the environment. Livestock takes up about 80% of agricultural land across the globe, and it causes an increase in energy expenditure and greenhouse gas emissions, including nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide. The industry ultimately impacts climate change, as the increased carbon dioxide is absorbed by forests which are cut down to provide pasture and crop land for livestock. This decreases oxygen production while increasing the amount of emissions produced through animal gasses and feces. So, a vegetarian diet can help the earth because it requires less land for meat and animal by-product production, reduces emissions from animals and the packaging process, minimizes non-atmospheric pollution, protects marine ecosystems and conserves water.
Downsides of vegetarianism
Of course, a fad diet isn’t a fad diet without some sort of risks involved. Ironically, a vegetarian diet can come with as many health risks as it does benefits. The primary concerns of doctors and dieticians is that a plant-based diet lacks a number of key nutrients, including protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Of course, the easy way around this today is to invest in plant-based protein such as meat alternatives and vegan protein powders, as well as vitamin supplements. Still, the question remains if you can get enough of these nutrients in your diet to maintain a healthy balance.
People who participate in a vegetarian diet are also at a higher risk for strokes, hair loss, depression and decreased brain health. Some studies also find that relying on a starchy, carb-heavy diet (as you would with a plant-based diet) causes your blood pressure to quickly increase then drop, which could aid in the development of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, researchers have found that if your vegetarian diet is “junk-based”, it can actually lead to those chronic illnesses a plant-based diet is supposed to help you avoid.
Although adopting a vegetarian diet can benefit the environment in many ways, it may not be the most eco-friendly option. According to PETA, the most helpful step toward protecting the environment is not only cutting out meat but eggs and dairy as well. For whatever reason you may decide to adopt a vegetarian diet, it is helpful to know that maintaining a diet with any type of meat, seafood, dairy, eggs and by-products means that you are still contributing to climate change through your food choices.
When considering a vegetarian diet, understand that there are health benefits and risks for you and the environment with either option. So, we want to know: should everyone be a vegetarian? Do the benefits outweigh the risks, or vice versa? Let us know what you decide!