Definition and Variety

Vegetarianism is a broad term for a form of dieting which involves various types and degrees of abstention from eating the flesh of animals. However, vegetarianism is of many kinds and degrees and some groups who whose claim to being vegetarians are not recognized by the main body of vegetarians. For instance there are the vegans who favour a strict abstention from all animal products. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs but abstains from dairy products while a lacto-vegetarian does the opposite. An ovo-lacto vegetarian eats both eggs and dairy products but eats no meat. There are those who practice semi-vegetarianism in that their diet includes meat, fish and dairy products though on an irregular basis. Pescetarianism is the practice of including fish but no other flesh in one’s diet. This particular form of vegetarianism has been denounced by vegetarian societies as not being vegetarian because fish is equally animal flesh.

Why Vegetarianism?

There are a variety of reasons why people adopt and maintain vegetarian diets. The reasons range from ethical and health considerations to adherence to religious code. Those who cite ethical considerations are of the opinion that violence and cruelty to animal life is fundamentally wrong and that humans ought not to eat animals. Notable among these are those who advocate animal rights as well as teachings of several religious groups who teach that animal life is sacred as well as that of humans. Some object to eating flesh on health grounds, believing that a vegetarian diet is ultimately healthier and ensures greater longevity. There are people who practice vegetarianism as a result of other motivations such as cultural reasons, political, aesthetic or environmental considerations.

It is claimed that vegetarian diets have distinct health benefits such as being less susceptible to certain diseases such as cancer; except cancer of the breast, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It has also been observed that vegetarians tend to live longer on the average than those who maintain ‘normal’ diets. A collaborative study carried out by Oxford University, Cornell University and the Chinese government showed that consumption of meat is directly linked to incidence of coronary heart disease, diabetes and several types of cancer. Medical practitioners have been known to recommend vegetarian diets for the treatment of certain kinds of ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis. Vegetarians are likely to avoid diseases such as bird flu commonly transmitted to human beings through eating foods of animal origin.

Risks Associated with Vegetarian Diets

The main risks associated with vegetarian diets are in the area of deficiency of certain nutritional elements which may have an adverse effect on the wellness or health of its adherents. Most of these risks arise from poorly planned vegetarian diets and are therefore avoidable. For instance vegetarians stand the risk of developing iron deficiency due to the fact that iron from vegetable sources has lower levels of bioavailability than those of animal origin. The protein intake of vegetarians is generally lower than those of people of ‘normal’ diet. Vitamin B12 is lacking in vegetable foods but it is generally found in foods of animal origin.