A vegetarian is someone who does not consume any types of meat or seafood. Some also avoid eating dairy products and eggs. The most often-cited benefit for becoming a vegetarian is better health, but people who choose to forgo meat may do so for other advantageous reasons.
Vegetarians can list a number of reasons for their lifestyle choice, including better health, economic advantages, animal rights, ecological concerns, discovery of interesting and flavorful vegetables and grains, and more. Most begin a vegetarian diet for health reasons or ethical concerns and then discover other advantages as they continue on the path.
A large amount of scientific study indicates that a vegetarian diet of whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, along with regular exercise, is associated with lower blood pressure and lower blood cholesterol, less heart disease, less obesity, and fewer incidences of stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, diverticulitis, gallstones, rheumatoid arthritis, renal disease, cancer and dementia. The health benefits occur due to lower consumption of cholesterol, saturated fat and animal protein, as well as higher intakes of complex carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals. There also typically is increased fiber intake, as animal products provide no fiber at all.
High-quality protein from beans and legumes is much less expensive than protein derived from meat. Vegetarians often find that their grocery tabs go down as they avoid meat, which tends to be higher-priced than vegetarian fare. However, a problem can arise because vegetarians typically are interested in health or become more interested in healthy options as they pursue the lifestyle, leading them to prefer fresh, organic and natural food, which is more expensive as a rule than standard commercial and processed items. The health benefits can be considered a huge economic advantage as well.
It’s common for people to become vegetarians because they are uncomfortable with the idea of killing animals for food, particularly with increased awareness of the cruelty to animals that occurs in factory farms and slaughterhouses. People who continue to eat meat even while the moral issues bother them are forced to look the other way or feel some degree of guilt, while vegetarians often become involved in animal rights organizations to further the cause of more humane treatment.
Vegetarians can certainly have an unhealthy diet, if they choose to eat a lot of processed foods and fast food. High-calorie French fries, high-sugar soda, high-sodium chips and snacks, cheap processed baked goods, and excessive amounts of high-fat cheese do not contribute to overall health.
For a vegetarian to obtain required nutrients, the best diet includes whole foods and avoiding processed foods, with 3 to 5 servings of vegetables, 2 to 4 servings of fruit, 3 to 5 servings of whole grain, 2 to 3 servings of beans and legumes, a small amount of a variety of nuts and seeds, and an occasional portion of eggs and dairy products if desired. This simple diet provides the basics of a beneficial vegetarian lifestyle.