Importance of a Vegetarian Diet

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”  – Albert Einstein

Although it is becoming more popular, either for moral or health reasons, a vegetarian diet still seems to have a strange stigma attached to it.

Hundreds of millions of people are vegetarian (eg. Hindus for religious reasons); more health professionals are discouraging the consumption of animal fats and red meats, that have been shown to increase the chance of obesity, cancer and other diseases; and the environmentalists who know that much of the limited resources, on Planet Earth, are wasted by converting them to meat.

* It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.
* 70% of US grain production is fed to live stock.
* 5 million acres of rain forest are felled every year in South and Central America alone to create cattle pasture.
* Roughly 20% of all currently threatened and endangered species in the US are harmed by livestock grazing
* Animal agriculture is a chief contributor to water pollution. America’s farm animals produce 10 times the waste produced by the human population.
* There are sound reasons for health, ethically, and ecologically to be vegetarian. There is nothing strange about being vegetarian.


Vegetarian, the belief in and practice of eating exclusively vegetable foods and abstaining from any form of animal food.

To what extent this definition applies, in reality varies, what it refers to is a strict vegetarian or a vegan. Lacto-vegetarians include milk and other dairy products in their diet. Lacto-ovovegetarians eat milk, dairy products and eggs. Those who eat fish are not vegetarian.

A vegan, excludes animal flesh (meat, poultry, fish and seafood), animal products (eggs, dairy and honey), and the wearing and use of animal products (eg. leather, silk, wool, lanolin, gelatin). The vegan diet consists totally of vegetables, vegetable oils, and seeds.

vegan ‘ve-gen also ‘ve-jen or -,jan n [by contr. fr. vegetarian] (1944) : a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also : one who abstains from using animal products (as leather) _ veganism ‘ve-ge-,ni-zem, ‘va-ge-, ‘ve-je- n .

Partial vegetarians exclude some groups of animal foods but not others. A diet that excludes red meat but includes fish is often adopted for health not moral reasons.

Zen macrobiotic diets. This is a Japanese way of eating based on the ‘Yin Yang’ theory. It aims to keep the balance between Yin and Yang (positive and negative) aspects of life for optimal spiritual, mental and physical welfare. Foods are divided into Yin and Yang, and a spiritual goal is aimed for by working through ten levels of diet. These gradually eliminate all animal produce, fruit and vegetables towards the final goal which is only cereal (brown rice). Fluids are also severely restricted. Many nutritional deficiencies may develop and death can result. Infants and children subject to these restrictions are particularly at risk [Thomas et al., 1988]

This is extreme, not all macrobiotic diets are so extreme and are often equivalent to a balanced vegan diet. It is important to eat as much variety of food as possible and not limit it to one group of foods.

If you are vegetarian or want to become one, start off by giving up one kind of animal food, the one that offends you most. Once you are used to supplementing this food with another of vegetable origin, tackle the next. Progressively reaching the level of vegetarianisim you desire, slowly over a period of time. This progressive vegetarian is one who changes their eating habits / lifestyle at a positive rate, by doing so you allow your body to adjust to the eating of new types of foods or foods that may have given you troubles before (beans). It also gives you time to learn more about nutrition and increase your pool of knowledge on the subject. Thus it is not a fad diet that you will give up the next day but a progressive change towards a healthy lifestyle.


Vegetarianism is an ancient custom. It has long existed among certain Hindu and Buddhist sects that consider all animal life sacred, and it was advocated zealously by numerous philosophers and writers of ancient Greece and Rome. In the Roman Catholic church, it has been practised monastically by Trappists since 1666, and among Protestants more recently by Seventh-Day Adventists. As an active Western movement, it originated in 1809 near Manchester, England, among members of the Bible Christian Church. In 1847 the Vegetarian Society, a nonreligious organization, was founded. The movement spread to continental Europe and the U.S. (1850), and in 1908 the International Vegetarian Union was founded. Today the union holds congresses every two years in different countries.

Vegetarian Arguments

Although vegetarianism originated as a religious or ethical practice, it has also gained acceptance among many for aesthetic, nutritional, and economic reasons. Humanitarian vegetarians refuse meat because they believe that the killing of animals is unnecessary or cruel, or that such a practice can conceivably lead to a disregard for human life; the trades that the slaughter of animals supports, such as butchering, are considered degrading. People who adhere to vegetarianism for health reasons believe that meat is harmful to the human body and that a purely vegetable diet is more nutritious. [Infopedia, 1996]


Some people believe that humans were originaly vegetarian through the evolutionary process. It is not in the scope of this book to get into a complex discussion of evolution, but here are a few background notes covering the subject

Primates evolved from ancestral mammals more than 60 million years ago, during the Palaeocene Era. The first known primates resembled small rodents or tree shrew. Like tree shrews, they probably had huge appetites and foraged at night for insects, seeds, buds and eggs on the forest floor.

The Hominids probably emerged between 10 million and 5 million years ago, during the late Miocene. There appear to have been many varieties of early hominids, but many had three features in common:

1. Bipedalism
2. Omnivorous feeding patterns
3. Further brain expansion and elaboration.

Monkeys have long canines and rather rectangular jaws. Human teeth are smaller and more uniform in length, and the jaw is bow-shaped. The jaws and teeth became less specialized during the evolution of forms leading to humans. Beginning with the earliest primates, there was a shift from eating insects, then fruit and leaves, and on to a mixed diet.

Ape, any member of the primate families Hylobatidae (the lesser apes), which includes the gibbons (Hylobates), and Pongidae (the great apes), which includes the orangutan, the chimpanzees, and gorilla. They belong to the superfamily Cercopithecoidea, the Old World monkeys and apes. Apes, or anthropoids, are distinguished from other primates by their complex brains and hence intelligence, their large size, and their lack of tails. They are mainly vegetarian but, except for the gorilla, occasionally eat small animals.

Remains of skeletons from 4 million old australopiths were found. They were transitional between the Miocene apes and later hominids. Unlike apes, their jaw was slightly bow-shaped. And their dentition suggests that some were omnivores and others, vegetarians.

The omnivores were slightly built and the vegetarians, heavyset hominids (genus Australopithecus and esp. A. robustus and A. boisei) were heavily built, taller, and muscular, characterized by heavy molars and small incisors adapted to a vegetarian diet. A. robustus had strong jaw muscles and large, heavily cusped molars. This hominid may have specialized in chewing seeds, nuts, and other tough plant material.

A.africanus was probably omnivorous. It’s cheek teeth formed a platform that could grind plants, but its incisors were relatively large, as in the case for carnivores.

By about 2.5 million years ago, hominids started making stone tools and are referred to as the “early Homo”. Compared to the australopiths, these “early Homo’s”, had a smaller face, more generalized teeth, and a larger brain. This hominid apparently was a scavenger and gatherer of plant material, small animals, and insects. And it may have been ancestral to modern humans.

The Protein Myth

It is incredible how often a vegetarian is asked “…so where do you get your protein from?” Why is this such a major concern to the majority of lay people and health professionals? When one considers all the healthy benefits of a meat-free diet it is sad to see people responding with this irrelevant concept. It would be like asking meat eaters where do you get your carbohydrates from? Duh!

The question of protein intake has been raised so often with vegetarians that it has become a depressingly boring subject. There is no protein problem, studies consistently show that vegetarians and vegans have a satisfactory protein intake. An extensive study of several thousand vegetarian foodstuffs reveal that the following are good sources of protein:

The 1993 position paper of the authoritative and respected American Dietetic Association summarized its views even more strongly:

Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of essential and nonessential amino acids assuming that dietary protein sources from plants are reasonably varied and that caloric intake is sufficient to meet energy needs. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all contain essential and nonessential amino acids. Conscious combining of these foods within a given, as the complementary protein dictum suggests, is unnecessary.

Additionally, soya protein has been shown to be nutritionally equivalent in protein value to proteins of animal origin and, thus, can serve as the sole source of protein intake if desired.

Although most vegetarian diets meet or exceed the Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, they often provide less protein than nonvegetarian diets. This lower protein intake may be associated with better calcium retention in vegetarians and improved kidney function in individuals with prior kidney damage. Further, lower protein intakes may result in a lower fat intake with its inherent advantages, because foods high in protein are frequently also high in fat.

So, how has this myth of deficiency arisen? Early research (circa 1914) into protein consisted of experiments on rats. These animals were found not to grow as quickly when fed plant protein as when given animal protein. Hence the idea arose that plant protein was second class, and animal protein superior. There are a few reasons as to why this happens. The weaning rat grows at as much faster rate than the human infant and thus requires a much more concentrated source of nutrients, including protein. Human breast milk, for example, contains about 7 per cent of caloric content as protein, while rat milk contains 20 per cent protein. If rats were fed solely human milk, they would not thrive. Using this logic one could argue that human breast milk is an inferior protein source. Obviously this is not true to humans. Humans are not rats, and results of dietary studies on rat can therefore not be equated to humans.

The second ‘protein myth’ arose from an unexpected quarter, a book written in the late 1960s which exposed the terrible wastes inherent in a meat-centered diet. Diet for a Small Planet sold over 3 million copies, and popularized the idea of ‘protein complementarity’. Written with best intentions, its effect was to make plant sources of protein again seem second class, unless carefully combined with each other, and to make the whole subject of protein nutrition seem vastly complex and fraught with danger.

In subsequent editions of the book, this mistake was corrected. But still the myth lives on, no doubt due in part to the zealous promotional efforts of the meat industry. [Cox, P., The Realeat Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Living]

The truth of the vegetarian diet is that if the proper amino acids are eaten daily or over a few days there is no need to fear that vegetable protein is inferior. Protein is protein and amino acids are amino acids whether they come from a cow or a soy bean.

Guidelines for formulating nutritionally balanced vegetarian and vegan diets

A wide variety of foods should be chosen from the following groups.

1. Milk. 1 pint (children) 1 pint (adults) or other dairy products (cheese or yoghurt). Strict vegetarians can use dairy substitutes such as soy milk or tofu.
2. Proteins. 2 – 3 portions daily of any of the following: pulses and beans – in casseroles, stews and soup; nuts – in salads, rissoles and roasts; T.V.P., tofu and other soy products – in casseroles, stir fry and curries.
3. Cereals. 3 – 5 portions daily of any of the following: bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, flour, crackers, or other cereals such as millet, bulghar wheat, wheat grain and buckwheat.
4. Fruit. 2 – 3 portions daily of: fruits, fresh, dried or juice. This should include 1 serving of citrus fruit or juice daily.
5. Vegetables. 2 – 5 portions daily, lightly cooked or raw, of a variety that include both dark green leafy and root vegetables.
6. Fats. Margarine and oils should be consumed as required. In contrast to most of the population the diets of vegetarians and vegans are naturally low in fat. It is therefore unnecessary to restrict the amounts of fats and oils used in cooking or to recommend the use of low fat spreads. Furthermore, some vegetarians may need to increase their consumption of fats and oils in order to meet their energy requirements.

Nutritional deficiencies can occur, particularly when an individual decides to become vegetarian and simply stops eating meat or animal products, without considering what can be eaten instead.

Vegetarian or vegan infants and children

Breast milk or modified baby milk should provide sufficient nutrients for the baby until the age of 4 – 6 months. Solid foods should then be introduced gradually. Vitamin drops should be given from the age of one month to two years and preferably until five years of age.

If no foods of animal origin are to be eaten, either vitamin B12 supplement or a food fortified with vitamin B12 (soy milk) should be given.

Weaning at 4 – 6 months

Foods should be introduced one at a time, and the quantities gradually increased. Suitable first foods include:

* Baby rice and water or baby milk.
* Smooth puree of vegetables, eg. carrots.
* Smooth puree of fruit, eg. apple, pear or apricot.

If the baby is thirsty it can be given boiled cold water or very dilute unsweetened fruit juice. No sugar or salt should be added to babies food.

Continue weaning 5 – 7 months

New foods can be introduced one at a time. Suitable foods include:

* Well cooked, pureed pulses, eg. lentils and split peas.
* Pureed root vegetables.
* Pureed brown rice, brown rice flour and water or baby rice.
* Mixtures of pulses, vegetables and/or rice puree.
* Pureed stewed fruit or well mashed banana.

No sugar or salt should be used added to food and salt free stock should be used in cooking.

At about six months the baby, under close supervision, can be given wedges of apple, sticks of carrot or baked wholemeal bread to encourage chewing.

Some commercial baby foods are suitable for vegetarian or vegan babies. These are fortified with some vitamins and minerals.

7 – 9 months

The baby should still be having 1 pint of milk or equivalent each day. If cows’ milk is not taken, boiled goats’ milk or a soy milk substitute may be used, but not until the baby is eating a variety of other foods and not without consulting a doctor or health visitor. Foods can now be minced or finely chopped and new foods can be introduced. Suitable foods include:

* Wholegrain breakfast cereals and porridge.
* Cheese (grated or finely chopped, cottage), yoghurts and eggs (if eaten).
* Wholemeal bread.
* Brown rice.
* Well cooked pasta.
* A variety of vegetables.
* Fruit (grated, chopped or stewed, including cooked dried fruit).
* Tofu
* Pulses and beans – well cooked and mashed or pureed, given with cereal food such as rice or bread.

9 – 12 months

At this stage most babies will be eating three meals a day. Most of the family’s foods will be suitable and a wide variety of foods, flavors and textures should be encouraged. However, spicy, fatty foods and whole nuts should be avoided. At least 1 pint of milk or milk substitute should be consumed daily.

In order to get the best nutritional value from foods, it is essential that a mixture of foods is eaten at each meal.

Wholegrain breakfast cereal
and milk or milk substitute
and wholemeal bread or toast and margarine.

Mashed bean stew and rice
or lentil and vegetable soup and bread
or mashed nut roast
and vegetables, cooked or raw
and fruit, yoghurt or milk pudding.

Wholemeal bread and margarine
and cheese, lentil pate or peanut butter
and vegetable or bean soup
and salad, vegetables
and fruit, yoghurt or milk pudding.

This article is reprinted from the website:


Diet-and-Health. net covers the nutritional and dietary guidelines presented by the mainstream to the general population. So when vegetarian diets have a direct effect on a person’s state of health, it has been noted. For example in the Vitamins chapter there is mention of the fact that a strict vegetarian may need to supplement B12.

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