Vegetarianism – What It Is and What Are Its Benefits?
Food is a significant part of our daily life, religion, and culture. What we eat and are allowed to eat defines us and our belief system and reflects in our bodies and skin. If you eat healthy – you look healthy, and you feel healthy. Similarly, when you don’t eat a certain food, it shows you are either restricting it for health purposes or have a strong belief system that abstains you from indulging in certain foods. Such belief systems usually stem from religion and culture.
But as the world is progressing, people are educating themselves and future generations to make better and wise decisions – especially regarding food.
In recent times, we have seen a growing hype toward plant-based diets. In fact, it has become a trending lifestyle change, and many people from across the world are hopping on the bandwagon to boycott meat and switch to a plant-based diet. Most popularly known as vegetarianism, this plant-based diet is now a huge trend among the youth, especially in the west. But is it really just a trend, or has a stronger purpose behind it? And most importantly – is it even good for us?
Surprisingly for most people, switching to a plant-based diet is actually beneficial. If you think leaving meat, which is usually a primary for dishes in most cultures, will affect your health, then you might be wrong because a plant-based diet is not only “enough” but actually beneficial for you and the environment.
Let’s take a closer look at vegetarianism and how it is beneficial for us.
What is Vegetarianism?
Vegetarianism is basically a dietary practice that involves eating foods that are made of plants. Despite its name, this diet allows you to eat vegetables and includes other edible plant products like grains, legumes, fruits, and beans. The basic idea around this diet is to avoid meat and flesh – you don’t eat animal meat. However, some vegetarians also avoid edible animal products and by-products other than meat, like milk and eggs – but we will come to this class of vegetarians later.
Vegetarianism is an old concept and has been around for centuries – and ever since, there have been many variations of this diet. From religious reasons to health purposes, there are many reasons people become vegetarians and maintain a regular plant-based diet. Let’s learn a little about the history and origin of vegetarianism.
History and Origin of Vegetarianism
Contrary to popular belief, vegetarianism is not a modern concept and has deep historical origins from centuries ago. The deliberate avoidance of meat and flesh and the consumption of a vegetarian diet is mostly based on a belief system that has ancient roots. The history of vegetarianism dates back to the 5th century BC – when abstaining from meat and flesh was quite common in India. In the 9th century BC, this concept was used to teach tolerance and patience toward other beings rather than seeing them for their use. This ideology was a key aspect of various cultures and religions, such as Jainism and Hinduism, at that time, as we also see today.
In fact, between the 8th to the 6th century BCE, the world observed the most strict and comprehensive form of vegetarianism as religious groups and philosophers promoted non-violence toward other beings, including animals.
However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “vegetarian” became well-known. When authors referred to a “vegetable regimen diet,” – the term “vegetarian” was first written. Historically, the definition of the word was a little different from what we know today – at that time, any ediblevegetation was included in the category. Hence, a vegetarian diet included everything other than meat.
This term was popularized during the late 1840s and was officially used in print. Since then, apart from the believers and religious vegetarians found in south and east Asia – the community of vegetarians also began to grow in the west. By the early 20th century, the west was substantially contributing to the cause of discouraging a non-vegetarian diet.
However, there is no doubt that we have seen a significant rise in the vegetarian community in the past decade as the diet has now become a popular lifestyle change.
Why Do People Choose to Follow Vegetarianism?
The increasing number of consumers trying and opting for a plant-based diet to eventually becoming avid vegetarians – shows there is more to the reason why people are choosing to follow vegetarianism. As we said, the concept emerged from a strong religious belief system but has now evolved into something even stronger for many people.
However, it is still important to understand that there are various reasons people choose to follow or sometimes end up following the vegetarian lifestyle. Here are some common reasons:
1. For Religious and Cultural Values
As we have been saying, religious and cultural values play a huge role in the vegetarian community. Religious beliefs have always significantly impacted people’s life choices in various aspects, including the food we eat. And religions that preach tolerance of living beings keep the safety of animals hand in hand with that of humans.
This is why most of the population of India and other south Asian and east Asian countries are vegetarian. This has been a strong belief in their culture and religion since their ancestors and abstaining from meat and animal diet comes naturally to them.
2. It is a Social Taboo
In countries where most people follow a vegetarian and vegan diet, consuming meat and other edible animal products has become a serious social taboo. These social stigmas have made it quite difficult for people who would even prefer to leave the vegetarian lifestyle to make a different decision. The lack of support and availability to make a change is one reason some people in locations with the majority of vegetarian people are somewhat forced into continuing this lifestyle.
3. For Better Health
The health benefits of following a plant-based diet are no secret to us. Through numerous research studies, it has already been identified that following a vegetarian diet can protect your body from a myriad of diseases and disorders. From a healthy heart to a healthy gastrointestinal system – a healthy body is easily achievable when you resort to a plant-based vegetarian diet.
Hence, people suffering from ailments, such as cardiovascular diseases that require them to eat healthily – automatically resort to a plant-based diet. And some prefer this lifestyle to remain healthy and fit and prevent themselves from developing these diseases.
4. To Protect the Environment
Many people firmly believe in their responsibility to save the earth, and one significant effort in doing that is promoting a plant-based diet and boycotting edible animal products. Vegetarianism is a great step toward protecting the environment as it helps reduce pollution.
Livestock production is one of the biggest causes of pollution. Animal waste makes up a large portion of waste that runs off and ends up in the waterways, polluting rivers, streams, and oceans. This harms the aquatic ecosystems and destroys the topsoil as well as contaminates the air. Hence, most believe one way to protect the environment would be to shift to a plant-based diet and reduce large-scale livestock production.
5. For Non-ViolenceToward Animals
This is among the top reasons most people follow a vegetarian diet. While many religions and cultures teach their followers from the beginning to be tolerant toward other living beings, including animals, some people follow this lifestyle by their own choice.
Showing mercy and tolerance toward animals involves not slaughtering them for food. And this is a growing reason why most people now avoid eating meat or even using any other animal by-products. The fact that animals sacrifice their lives to become our meals is repelling for most people in the vegetarian community, and this is why many people with no religious or cultural reasons choose to become vegetarian.
6. Due to Financial Reasons
This is a significant factor contributing to the increasing population of vegetarians. We all know meat, poultry, and fish are much more expensive than plant-based diets, such as vegetables and grains. Hence, not eating meat for most people is a matter of having less disposable income. Most communities and tribes living in rural areas or cultural isolation have little to no access to animal food products.
In fact, for many communities, their animals are their only source of income, and sacrificing them just to have one meal is an unfathomable concept for them. Hence, due to their financial and socioeconomic standing, these people have no other option than to resort to a plant-based diet to stay alive.
Types of Vegetarians
As mentioned above, the term vegetarian is quite vast and often encompasses people with various dietary patterns. While it’s true that all vegetarians are against meat and animal-based food products, there are various types of vegetarians based on how much they restrict and what they believe is acceptable to consume. The most well-known types of vegetarians based on their dietary patterns are:
People exclude meat, poultry, fish, and eggs from their food but do not restrict dairy products. Hence, despite being vegetarians, they consume milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, and other dairy items.
Their diet restricts consuming meat, poultry, seafood, and even dairy products, but they allow eggs and include them in their diet.
Their diet excludes meat, poultry, and fish, basically just the flesh of the animal, but allows all other edible animal products, such as eggs and dairy.
These are types of vegetarians that restrict meat and poultry but allow fish – hence, some do not consider them complete vegetarians.
These vegetarians are strict and restrict all types of animal flesh and edible animal products; hence, vegans do not eat foods that contain meat, poultry, fish, egg, and dairy.
Health Benefits of Choosing a Vegetarian Diet
Throughout this article, we have talked about how a vegetarian diet is good for us – but the question is how exactly is it good or better for us? Therefore, there are some common health benefits of consuming a plant-based or vegetarian diet.
· Great for Heart Hleaht
Research shows vegetarians are less likely to die or be hospitalized due to heart disease. This is because the meat is usually packed with and regular fat consumption leads to increased cholesterol and accumulation of fat in the arteries, which in turn increases the risk of developing serious cardiovascular diseases. However, on the other hand, vegetables are rich in fiber and promote heart health.
· Prevents Diabetes Type 2
Following a vegetarian diet can help you prevent developing and treating type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes and its complications are associated with an increase in high-glycemic foods that can cause your blood sugar levels to rise – and fatty foods are a significant contribution here. Hence, an increase in red meat increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while vegetables, which are low-glycemic foods, keep your blood sugar levels regulated, reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
· Good for Hypertension – Lowers BP
Consuming a plant-based diet keeps your blood pressure in check and is a great diet for people with hypertension. People who eat meat may notice a spike in their blood pressure often, and it may become a recurring problem if your diet includes high amounts of meat – especially red meat. However, on the other hand.Plant foods are low in sodium, fat, and cholesterol. This means they can have a positive impact on your blood pressure and lower your blood pressure to save you from any potential danger.
Vegetarianism – A Healthy Way to Life
Vegetarianism is growing increasingly popular, and today, we see more and more people opting for this lifestyle change. There are many reasons why a person may decide to choose to restrict their diet and shift to a plant-based diet – but what’s more important is to realize that it is, in fact, a healthy switch and can be life-changing for many people. Hence, if you have been contemplating bringing a good change in your life, this might be your sign to a step forward.