Vegetarianism and Health
Dispelling Some Common Myths About Vegetarianism
There are and will always be many myths and strong opinions floating around in regards to vegetarianism and health. A healthy vegetarian diet is certainly achievable.
If you hear stories about vegetarianism and health that worry you or just don’t seem right, first take a good look at the source.
Does the source have any outside interest in supporting the meat culture? Do they have any direct experience trying a healthy vegetarian diet? Are they in good health themselves?
Talk to healthy people who have lived on a vegetarian diet for many years, and ask them what has worked and what hasn’t. Consult the internet, which has endless info on both sides of the issue. But most of all, listen to your instinct.
If you try eating veggie, and you feel good about how your body feels, then that should be the most important factor for you in considering if vegetarianism is a smart choice for you or not.
Myth 1: Our Bodies Are Built To Consume Lots of Meat
Nope. Not true. Not even close. Our bodies are equipped to be capable of eating meat, but not as a significant part of our diet. Here are a couple of examples as to why our bodies are more geared towards a plant-centred diet:
- Our teeth are flat for grinding. Some carnivores point out that our canine teeth prove that we should eat meat, but other plant eaters such as gorillas, horses, and hippos, also have canine teeth. Chimps, who consume an almost vegan diet, have massive canines compared to humans.
- Look at our hands. We do not have claws for ripping, we have hands with fingers meant for gathering.
- Our saliva contains an enzyme called alpha-amylase, which only vegetarian animals have. The enzyme helps incredibly to digest complex carbs found in plant foods, and it is not present in any carnivore. Also, all carnivores lap their liquids and pant, whereas all herbivores sip their liquids and sweat.
- Our intestines are incredibly long, built specifically to digest plants. Carnivores have very short intestines, which can eliminate the cholesterol found in animal foods.
Myth 2: It is Hard to Get Enough Protein on a Vegetarian Diet
Actually, protein is relatively easy to get, and there can be just as many health problems with consuming too much protein
as with not getting enough. Most people end up eating about double the amount of protein that their body requires, which intensely stresses the kidneys.
Protein does not just come in the form of eggs, milk or meat. Veggies contain over 20% protein on average, legumes almost 30%, whole grains 13%, and even fruits contain some protein. With a balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods, there is no problem
maintaining protein needs.
Myth 3: Milk Is Necessary for Strong Bones
Ok, tell that one to cows and elephants, who have some of the strongest bones of any animal, and who eat a plant-based diet. People in other cultures, such as in Africa or Asia, after being breast-fed consume only plant-based materials yet manage to grow perfectly normal, strong skeletons.
Actually, excess protein intake leeches calcium out of our bones, which is why the countries with the highest consumption of meat and dairy products also have sky-high rates of osteoporosis. Also, calcium from plants, especially from leafy greens or from dried beans and peas, is assimilated much more easily into our system than dairy-based calcium.
Myth 4: Vegetarian Diets Are Not Balanced
This depends on the vegetarian. If the diet is full of sugar, fats, and empty calories, and just happens to cut out meat, of course it is not balanced. But the same can be said for meat-eaters if they eat a ton of meat and skip healthy fruits, veggies, and grains (and the average meat eater consumes ONE serving of veggies a day!)
A conscientious, diverse vegetarian diet includes complex carbs, good sources of protein, healthy fats and high sources of micronutrients, making it an incredibly balanced and viable option. Vegetarianism and health can be strongly linked together.
Myth 5: You Can’t Be a Serious Athlete on a Vegetarian Diet
All it takes is to look at the history of world class vegetarian athletes to know that this is not true. In tennis, there is Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King. Joe Namath the famous football player ate a veggie diet for part of his athletic career. Dave Scott won the grueling Iron Man competition 6 times as a vegetarian, and Carl Lewis ran some of the best races of his life after switching to a vegetarian diet. UFC fighter Mac Danzig and Bill Pearl, a champion body-builder, showed the world that you can still build huge muscle mass with plants if you want to.
There is absolutely no reason that one cannot compete at a very high athletic level on a vegetarian diet.
Myth 6: Vegetarians Can Not Fulfill Their Vitamin D Requirements
The best and most abundant source of vitamin D is direct sunshine, and at least 15-20 minutes a day will provide the body with sufficient amounts. Vegetarians who do not live in climates with year round sun need to be careful to supplement their body with this vitamin in other ways, such as with fortified soy milk or breakfast cereals.
Less strict vegetarians who are open to the idea of consuming cod liver fish oil or nutritional yeast can get a lot of vitamin D from these sources. As a last option, there are always vitamin D supplements that one can take, so fear of not getting enough vitamin D should not keep anyone from being vegetarian.
Myth 7: A Vegetarian Diet is Unsafe for Kids or Pregnant Women
A sensible, well-balanced vegetarian diet full of diverse foods can easily provide all of the needs of both kids and pregnant women. Vegans in particular may need to be extra cautious that they are getting sufficient vitamin B12, because it is essential for the developing foetus.
Nutritional yeast and some soy milks, and B12 fortified cereals such as Grape Nuts contain this vitamin. Tempeh and some seaweeds also contain B12 at times, but you need to check the packaging because not all are created equally.
Also to note, babies and kids that are brought up accustomed to eating whole grains, good sources of protein, and lots of fruits and veggies are more likely to carry those
healthy eating habits with them into adulthood.
Myth 8: Eating Vegetarian Food Must Be Bland and Boring
Vegetarians in general are pretty adventurous and open-minded when it comes to food. Oftentimes vegetarian eaters enthusiastically branch out to other ethnic foods that have a tradition of vegetarian options, like Indian or Japanese.
There are almost unlimited varieties of combinations of great veggie food, and vegetarians that eat the food of the current season are constantly changing up their menu.
Some people think that being veggie means that you have to miss out on
barbequing with friends
, but you can actually have more options than ever, grilling lentil burgers or portabella mushrooms, stuffing peppers or zucchini. You can even buy a wok specially suited for the grill and make some amazing stir-fries that will have your carnivorous friends drooling over your healthy vegetarian diet options.
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