Vegetarianism: Benefits, Types, And How You Can Become One
Here at Faunalytics, we spend a lot of time speaking directly to animal advocates about the best ways to protect and save animals. If you’re reading this, however, there’s a good chance you’re not an animal advocate. You may be someone who searched on Google for a guide to becoming vegetarian or vegan, or perhaps someone you know is an animal advocate already, and they sent you this page, hoping you’ll check it out. However you stumbled across this post, welcome!
Faunalytics is an organization that exists to help animals, by helping animal advocates have the best, most accurate data to do effective work. One of the ways we do that is by maintaining a huge, growing library of research related to animal issues and that includes a ton of articles about vegetarianism. Though we have a passion for protecting animals because of our ethical beliefs, we also believe in the power of facts. Below, we draw on our library to provide you with answers to common questions about becoming vegetarian, and how you can become one yourself.
What Does It Mean To Be Vegetarian?
Being a vegetarian means different things to different people. For some people, it may simply be a diet, a way that they improve health and wellness. For other people, vegetarianism is a deeper belief in an ethical relationship between humans and other animals, a belief that necessitates them to not consume meat and other products derived from animal use and slaughter. Vegetarianism can be part of social identity and a person’s community. It can also be something private and personal. In short, there are as many “meanings” of vegetarianism as there are vegetarians.
Types Of Vegetarians
There are a variety of different diet types that would fall under the larger umbrella of vegetarianism. Below is a list of the most common or well-known types.
- Lacto-Vegetarian: Someone who does not eat meat or eggs, but who does consume dairy products.
- Ovo-Vegetarian: Someone who does not eat meat or dairy, but who does consume eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: Someone who does not eat meat, but who does consume eggs and dairy products.
- Pescatarian: A controversial entry on the list, someone who eats meat from fishes to the exclusion of meat from all other animals. May also consume dairy and eggs.
- Vegan: Someone who does not consume any animal products, including honey. The vast majority of vegans extend this belief to other areas, such as not wearing any clothing made from animal products, not using products tested on animals, and so on.
What Can You Eat As A Vegetarian?
As noted above, the kind of vegetarianism you choose or aspire to will dictate what kind of food you’re likely to eat as a vegetarian. At Faunalytics, we generally promote a vegan diet and ethical philosophy, and part of this is not consuming any animal products. Everything that does not come from animal use or slaughter is acceptable under a vegan diet. This includes vegetables, fruits, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, and much more.
It’s important to recognize that, whatever type of vegetarianism you choose, it does not have to be seen as a restriction. There is a tremendous variety of food you can eat as a vegetarian, and indeed, one of the most fun aspects of being vegetarian is expanding the cuisine you consume, and exploring ways that different cultures from around the world eat meatless foods. Virtually all cultures around the world have some tradition of vegetarianism, and for some cultures, vegetarianism is a pillar of their local diet.
Get some veg cookbooks, hit up your local independent supermarkets, and start the adventure!
Vegetarian Diet Composition & Nutrition
The issue of health and vegetarianism is a complex one, and it’s important for vegetarians to be informed about their own health and the effects of their diet. As with any dietary shift, it may be worthwhile to consult with a nutritionist or health specialist before diving in completely. Relatedly, it’s important to find a nutritionist who is supportive of vegetarian diets and willing to provide good information — unfortunately, some physicians and nutritionists may still be uninformed or even hostile to the idea of vegetarianism. Below, we go over some of the most common nutrients and vitamins that you might be concerned about as a vegetarian, and how to ensure you get enough of them.
- Protein: Perhaps the biggest myth about a veg diet is that you won’t get enough protein. True protein deficiencies are incredibly rare, but you should be fine by including a few servings of legumes (including beans, soy, nuts, etc) per day.
- Iron: Iron is another common concern. Fortunately, there is ample iron in whole grains and beans. Make sure to consume vitamin C to help in iron absorption!
- Vitamin B12: There are only two reliable sources of B12 for vegans — fortified foods, and supplements. If you don’t want to take supplements, keep an eye out for foods that are fortified with 2 to 3.5 mcg per serving, and have a couple of those per day.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omegas are very important to stay on top of. You can get it from flaxseeds (ground or as oil), hempseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and more.
- Calcium: Getting enough calcium is all about absorption. You can get plenty of readily-absorbed calcium from kale, bok choy, turnip greens, and broccoli. You can also get it from calcium-fortified plant-based milks and from tofu made with calcium sulfate.
- Vitamin D: The good news is that you can get Vitamin D from the sun: expose your face and arms to summer sunlight for 10-20 minutes a day, and you’ll be good to go. If you need to supplement, find a vegan D3 source.
Vegetarianism Vs. Veganism
It may be hard to believe, but the subject of vegetarianism vs. veganism is one that still confounds many animal advocates, and causes a great deal of debate. Ultimately, reducing your consumption of animal products on any level is a positive thing. If vegetarianism is “as far as you’re willing to go,” it is still a great place to be. If veganism is something that can suit your life and ethics, that is great as well.
That being said, there are obviously differences in the ethical standpoints of vegetarians and vegans. Even within the vegan community, there are differences of opinion on what kind of veganism is most ethically appropriate. As you approach being vegan or vegetarian, it’s important for you to explore the literature that’s out there and approach your choices from a place of compassion. Our advice is to understand the ethical debates, but not to get too bogged down in them.
Is It Healthier To Be A Vegetarian?
This is a complex question based on a variety of factors. First, it depends on what you’re comparing vegetarianism to. If you’re comparing vegetarianism to what is often referred to as the “Standard American Diet,” then yes, it is most likely much, much healthier to be veg.
That being said, the health benefits you enjoy from being veg largely depend (surprise!) on what you consume. Eating french fries and vegenaise is certainly vegan, but not exactly healthy. There are many ways to be veg, and simply avoiding animal products is not a magic bullet to better health. As veg diets have gained traction and gotten more popular, there’s much more “veg junk food” out there, so the best advice for optimal health as a veg person is to pay attention to what you eat, make whole foods and exercise a regular part of your lifestyle, and consume veg junk food in moderation.
Can Humans Survive Without Meat?
There is no doubt or debate about this: Yes!
Vegetarianism And The Environment
You may have heard in the media that one of the biggest contributors to our current climate crisis is factory farming and intensive agriculture. It’s something that we’ve covered extensively in our library, and it’s a growing concern among advocates, policy-makers, and the general public.
It’s worth pointing out that it hasn’t always been this way. Though we’ve had a sense of this problem since the 2006 publication of Livestock’s Long Shadow, the link between climate change and animal agriculture has only recently been more publicly accepted. Many veg advocates feel that this has been an intentional omission by the media, academics, and policy-makers who may have been too influenced (whether implicitly or explicitly) by “Big Ag.” Whatever the reason, the link has become too urgent and scientifically-supported to ignore anymore.
If you want to become a vegetarian or vegan, you are in good company! There are simply a ton of celebrities and public figures who eschew animal products. Like you, they may be motivated by health, ethics, a combination of the two, or other reasons entirely. You can find a list of of some of the most illustrious current veg celebrities here.
Though veg celebrities are great, and help to raise awareness about veg diets and the plights that animals face, it’s important to keep in mind that you can make just as much of an impact with your diet as they can.
How Do I Become A Vegetarian?
Becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is as simple as making a decision to no longer consume animal products. You may also choose not to wear animal products or buy from companies that use animals in other ways.
On a more logistical level, how you actually go about this shift is a personal choice. The main thing that you want to do is make it sustainable, and to do that, you may want to ease into your new diet in a way that is not a shock to you, whether physically or culturally. You could start by eating 4-5 veg meals per week, and ramp up from there. You could start by eating veg 2-3 days per week and ramp up from there. There is no one right way to do this, but there is a right way for you. Take some time to experiment with the best approach that will help you make this diet and lifestyle shift a permanent aspect of your life.