From the beginning of creation, man has been hunting his meat and gathering from the abundance of the land. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains, and seafood had been the main staple sustaining millions of people even until present times.
These days, divisions exist with regards to eating preferences as people select from certain food groups while eliminating other food sources from their diets. Man was made to eat pretty much everything within sight, so we have to ponder on the overall benefit of eliminating meat and following strict vegetarian and vegan diets.
What can be compared to a deliciously prepared piece of meat? Not only is animal protein essential in maintaining muscle mass and bones, it is necessary for protecting the immune system and preventing osteoporosis and fractures as we age. Meat is a good source of Zinc, Iron, Vitamin B12, B3, B6, and B12, Selenium, Creatine, Carnosine, Omega-3 Fatty Acid etc. It is also important to note that consuming large quantities of protein without a balance of carbohydrates and other food groups can harm the kidneys, lead to dehydration, and result in muscle and joint pains (ketosis). Meat is high in saturated fat and can increase the cholesterol level, blood pressure (especially processed meat that is high in sodium) and lead to weight gain. Research also shows that meat-eaters tend to drink more alcohol and smoke excessively.
Without eating meat, fish or poultry products, the vegetarian diet is largely based on the consumption of carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, grain, nuts and legumes. This diet is touted to be very healthy and sustainable long term, as it helps in maintaining healthy body weights (BMI), reducing hypertension, cholesterol etc. However, vegetarians have to get supplements for nutrients and vitamins from other sources as they are not obtainable from their meal preferences. The most common nutrients needed are Protein, Iron, Zinc, Calcium, Vitamin D, B12 and Omega-3 Fatty Acid. The excessive consumption of carbohydrates and starchy meals could lead to weight gain over time.
Some variations to the typical vegetarian diet are:
- OVO-VEGETARIANS: Typical vegetarian that consumes eggs but not dairy products.
- LACTO-VEGETARIANS: Typical vegetarian that consumes dairy products but not eggs
- OVO-LACTO-VEGETARIANS: Typical vegetarian that does not consume eggs or dairy products.
Vegetarians are not heavy drinkers and smoke tobacco sparingly. They also do not agree with the inhumane way animals are slaughtered to appease growing appetites, and would rather go without meat (for personal, religious or health reasons) to preserve nature and wildlife.
On a whole, the vegetarian diet is not efficient enough to maintain the human body, as over time, the exclusion of meat and other food groups alongside naturally occurring nutrients and vitamins would result in poorer health and health related complications.
Veganism is the most rigid form of the vegetarian diet as it completely excludes all forms of animal products (all meat) and animal by-products (milk, eggs, honey, yeast). They are compassionate about all life forms to the point that some people do not use any product made from animal skin and hair (fur, leather, wool, silk, down) or use makeup that had been tested on animals. Due to its extreme nature, people with this dietary preference lack a lot of nutrients (B3, B6, B12, calcium, iron, zinc, Vitamin A & D etc.) necessary for growth and development.
THE HEALTHY CHOICE
Vegans and vegetarians are not necessarily healthier than meat-eaters. A lot of research has been carried out on this topic and differing opinions and conclusions exist. You can get higher doses of protein from animal than from plant sources. Some essential vitamins cannot be obtained from plants and hence, dietary supplements (drugs) are recommended. The advantages of eating from every food group [fruits, legumes, grains, vegetables, meat (yum!) and sea food] is that a healthy combination provides the body with essential nutrients, energy and strength necessary to work, for longevity, and for carrying out daily activities.
Before selecting a dietary preference, take time to understand the risks. As we age, we have to ensure that nutrients and vitamins are readily available for the body’s use. Deficiencies of any kind can result in a weaker immune system and health problems.
So what’s your preference? Are you a Vegan? Vegetarian? Or the all-round Meat-Eater?