Vegetarianism is a practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat, flesh, and poultry. It is a practice where people follow a vegetarian diet and abstain from using any animal products, such as dairy items, eggs, honey, wool, silk, and leather.
There can be several factors behind following such as strict diet like dislike of flesh, health, environmental, or ethical concerns. But it is more about non-violence beliefs, compassion for other living creatures, and respect for religious sentiments.
Many consider vegetarianism as a dogmatic way of leading a life which is enforced out of strict religious principles. But in all fairness, it is a sapient approach towards leading a healthy life. It can be a complex decision for meat lovers to adopt a meat-free diet and relying on plant-based foods for a healthy life and culinary delights.
The roots of vegetarianism lie in Indus Valley Civilization back in 7th century BCE which inculcated tolerance towards all living beings. Parswanatha and Mahavira were the 23rd and 24th Tirthankaras in Jainism, respectively, who revived the whole concept and popularized the belief of ahimsa (non-violence) towards all living beings. They advocated Jain Vegetarianism, which is the strictest form of diet in 8th and 6th century BC.
Vegetarianism has special importance in Indian culture. It is closely seen as a part of practicing ahimsa towards other living beings. The major reason for the prevalence of vegetarianism in India is religious concerns and people to follow it out of respect and compassion towards religious beliefs.
There are various vegetarian diets which are followed that include or exclude a variety of food items such as:
A balanced and well planned vegetarian diet has all the essential nutrients. It is observed that a vegetarian diet is normally high in fiber and low in fats or carbohydrates. Let’s have a look at the nutritional value that a vegetarian diet has:
Proteins are composed of amino acids. Eggs and milk fulfill the complete requirement of proteins and are a great source for ovo-lacto-vegetarians other than this Pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, hemp seed, almonds, pistachio nuts, flaxseed, tofu, oats, soybeans, walnuts, are great sources of proteins.
Moreover, there are eight different types of vegetable sources that are rich in amino acids and proteins namely, lupin beans, soy, hempseed, chia seed, amaranth, buckwheat, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, pistachios, and quinoa. A combination of varied sources of proteins would be adequate for those who follow a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets have similar levels of iron, but the matter is of availability. The vegetarian sources of iron are sometimes restrained by other dietary constituents. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C such as lemon, tomatoes, broccoli, and juices of citrus fruits can be a great source of iron, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.
Other items that contain iron include black beans, cashews, hempseed, kidney beans, broccoli, lentils, oatmeals, raisins, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereal, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, thyme, and whole wheat bread.
It has been observed that the requirement of vitamin B12 is small, but its deficiency can lead to serious disorders such as anemia and irreversible nerve damage. Vitamin B12 is not generally found in plant-based foods, while ovo-lacto-vegetarians can rely on eggs and dairy products to fulfill the requirement.
Vegans can rely on fortified foods such as soy products and breakfast cereals. Others are fortified yeast extracts through which you can cope with the deficiency of vitamin B12.
Plant-based foods can provide you with alpha-linolenic acids which are used to synthesize long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA by the human body. These are present in high amounts in fish and fish oils, but vegans have low levels of EPA and DHA.
Plant-based diets that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids include soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil, kiwifruit, hempseed, algae, chia-seed, flaxseed, echium seed, and leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and purslane.
Calcium is also an essential nutrient and can be obtained through a balanced diet; however, ovo-lacto-vegetarians can fulfill the requirement through the milk and other dairy products.
Other sources of calcium for vegans include n broccoli, bok-choy, and kale, calcium-set tofu, blackstrap molasses, turnip greens, mustard greens, soybeans, tempeh, almonds, okra, dried figs, and tahini. Some are spinach, swiss chard, beans, and beet greens, but it is observed that these are poorly absorbed in the human body.
Further, you can refer to the Vegetarian Resource Group, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Fact Sheet from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics regarding the information related to the calcium intake one should have.
Sunlight can be a great source of Vitamin D for the vegetarians. For those who may not have proper sun exposure can go for Vitamin D supplements. Apart from this, the natural supplements that you can opt include milk, soy milk, and cereal grains which can be enriched with Vitamin D by adding micronutrients to the foods.
Coming to the health benefits of vegetarianism, it is observed at the most that many people have switched to vegetarian diets because of the potential health benefits it has. Since vegetarian diets have a high amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, it results in improved heart health and lowers blood pressure and obesity.
Non-vegetarian diets are high in calories and carbohydrates that may degrade your health.
It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence a lot of mankind. - Albert Einstein
The above quote also implies that it not affects you on the physical terrain but has a deeper impact on the human temperament resulting in improved mental health and psychic abilities to respond correctly.
People choose vegetarianism due to many reasons it could be for a healthy life or simply out of religious concerns that restrict the consumption of animal flesh. But to lead a healthy and wealthy life, it is important for one to follow a healthy eating pattern and derive the benefits of becoming a vegetarian.
Vegan is not just a type of diet, but more of a lifestyle. It’s a healthier choice you make for the people, for the animals, and for a better planet.