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Vegetarianism Essay Research Paper Vegetarianism as defined

Vegetarianism Essay, Research Paper Vegetarianism as defined by The World Book Dictionary (1989) is “the practice or principle of eating only vegetable foods and refraining

Vegetarianism Essay, Research Paper

Vegetarianism as defined by The World Book Dictionary (1989) is “the

practice or principle of eating only vegetable foods and refraining

from eating meat, fish, or other animal products”. This definition,

though accurate, seems somewhat limited, as being a vegetarian is so

much more: it is a lifestyle choice, a way of thinking, and a way of

behaving. Over 12 million Americans and countless others, from all over

the world, have turned to the vegetarian diet (Vegetarian Times, 1996).

People who have become vegetarians have made a conscious choice to be

this and, having studied this practice, no one should entertain

becoming a vegetarian lightly. Even though there are many benefits to

becoming a vegetarian, the decision could also be harmful. There are

many reasons for people to choose a vegetarian lifestyle. Some people

adopt it as a fad, while others profess to do it because of an aversion

to eating animals. There are religious reasons for not eating meat and

still others follow vegetarianism as a way to lose weight, using it as

a diet. In each case it can be a healthy or a harmful way to eat. The

benefits or harm of vegetarianism is associated with two factors:

education about nutritional needs coupled with food choices. Even

groups like athletes can thrive on a vegetarian diet if they are well

educated to the bodies’ dietary needs ! and are well aware of the

limit-less choices available on a vegetarian diet. What follows in

this essay, is first: a brief, yet insightful look at the vegetarian

diet (the nutritional aspect) and then: an analysis of how this diet

may, in fact, be a good choice for an athlete.

The first thing people need to realize is that there is more

than just one type of vegetarian diet. In fact, there are

three basic vegetarian diets to choose from. The first is the

lacto-ovo diet. This diet includes the use of eggs and dairy

products. The second one is the lacto diet, which also includes

the use of dairy products but, unlike the lacto-ovo diet, this

diet does not include the use of eggs. The third diet is the

vegan diet. This diet excludes the use of eggs, dairy

products, and any food prepared with eggs and dairy products.

Many vegans do not use honey either (Giehl, 1979). Changing

your diet to one of these three vegetarian diets could be a

move in a healthier direction. Vegetarians are, on the

average, far healthier than those who consume the typical

Western diet (Hulsey, 1997). It is a well-established fact that

vegetarians suffer less heart disease than meat-eaters (The

European, 1992). The high quantities of fat and protein and the

total lack of fiber in meat are linked to a disturbing array of

degenerative diseases such as “cancer, atherosclerosis,

diabetes, obesity, and many others” (Akers, 1983 p. 23). There

is an emerging consensus that a vegetarian diet is actually

better than a meat-oriented diet. (Akers, 1983). The American

Dietetic Association has often voiced it’s support of the “well

planned” vegetarian diet (Hulsey, 1997). Good health, however,

is not automatically guaranteed just because someone becomes a

vegetarian. Understanding the body’s dietary needs, being

organized and having a good plan are the keys to a healthy

vegetarian diet. The body requires a certain amount of

protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals, to sustain

a long, healthy existence. Most people believe that the

vegetarian diet lacks in the required amounts of each of

these. When, in reality, these substances are in abundance in

the well-balanced vegetarian diet. In fact, from research, we

learn that “it is widely recognized that plant foods are the

best sources of many of these nutrients” (Akers, 1983 p.49).

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the primary sources of

energy to the body because they supply fuel necessary for body

heat and work (Dunne, 1990). Protein seems to be of the

greatest concern for people thinking about becoming a

vegetarian. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful

substance in the body. It is one of the most important

elements for the maintenance of good health and vitality.

Protein is the primary nutrient involved in the growth and

development of all body tissues (Dunne, 1990). Our society has

embedded in us the belief that the only way of getting enough

protein is to eat large quantities of meat and that people who

don’t eat meat will suffer from a protein deficiency.

Ironically, protein is the easiest of all the nutrients to

get. An entirely random selection of food plants, containing

enough calories to sustain life, will almost always provide

enough protein to meet your body’s needs (Akers, 1983).

Nathan Pritikin, states in his book The P! ritikin Program for

Diet and Exercise (Grosset and Dunlap, 1979) that “the best food

sources for protein are grains, roots, vegetables, and fruits in

unrefined, minimally processed form” (Tracy, 1985).

Securing carbohydrates and fat in ones’ diet is not as much of

a concern for the vegetarian. Carbohydrates are found

primarily in food of plant origin and essential fatty acids are

found widely in food sources from plants. There has been some

debate about the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, and

whether or not there was a sufficient amount of it in the

vegetarian diet. The dietary requirement of linoleic acid is,

about, 1% to 3% of total calories (Dunne, 1990). A study done

on British vegans showed that “they were getting about 13% of

their calories from linoleic acid”(Akers, 1983). Clearly this

shows that the average vegetarian has little to be concerned

about. The dietary requirements of other nutrients, which may

be of additional concern to the vegetarian, are calcium and

B12. For the vegetarian, especially the vegan, fear about low

levels of these nutrients may be common. Where, on the one

hand, milk and other dairy products are a great source of calcium for

the lacto and lacto-ovo vegetarians. For the vegan, who has

eliminated all dairy products from their diet, there is, however,

little doubt that they too can get calcium from plant-based sources.

Broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and spinach all have considerable

amounts of calcium in them. As well, even though grains in the form

of breads are relatively low in calcium, they are still a good source

because of the high frequency of intake by vegans (Vegetarian Times,

1996).

Next to protein, B12 is probably the second most important

issue in vegetarian nutrition. This is because “animal

protein is almost the only source in which B12 occurs

naturally in substantial amounts” (Dunne, 1990 p.31).

However, only incredibly small amounts of this vitamin are

thought to be necessary. The average person needs about 3

micrograms per day (Akers, 1983). For the vegan, who is

worried about the lack of this vitamin in their diet, they

have many options. They can take B12 supplements or eat a B12

-fortified cereal a couple of times a week. Another option

for them is to add nutritional yeast to their food; one to two

teaspoons contains a week’s dietary requirement of this

vitamin (Vegetarian Times, 1996).

It is clear, then, that the vegetarian diet can be

healthy if it is has been instituted

properly and with the awareness of the body’s nutritional needs. This

informed approach to consuming a vegetarian diet is even more important

for the vegetarian athlete. They too can flourish on the vegetarian

diet if they include, as well, in their education a thorough

understanding of what their body will need to perform to it’s full

potential. There have been several world class athletes who have

succeeded in their sports and done it on the vegetarian diet. Six time

Ironman winner, Dave Scott, the baseball home run king, Hank Aaron,

tennis star, Martina Navratilova and many other top performing athletes

have all competed on a vegetarian diet (Thimian, 1997). All these

athletes had something else in common. Besides being vegetarians, they

all realized that to train and compete at peek performance they needed

to have a well-balanced and complete vegetarian diet.

The best vegetarian diet for the athlete is the lacto-ovo diet

because it allows them to maintain the increased levels of

protein and calcium without having to eat too many of the foods

which contains bulk. Although, a balanced vegan diet also supplies far

more protein than the required daily allowance and is quite adequate

for the training athlete (Doyle, 1979). Having too much protein in the

body is not good for non-athlete, but is even worse for the athlete.

Too much protein in the body can interfere with the body’s ability to

absorb calcium, which is extremely important to the athlete, and can

hinder performance (Vegetarian Times, 1996; Winter, 1994).

Besides all the normal concerns of a vegetarian non-athlete,

the vegetarian athlete has additional considerations. “In

addition to high quality protein, vegetarian athletes must pay

close attention to getting enough of two essential minerals,

iron and zinc” (Winters, 1994 p.1) Some peak performance

athletes suffer from a condition known as sports anemia.

Although it is iron related, it is not a true deficiency.

“Sports anemia is the body’s inability to match the increased

plasma volume that occurs at high levels of intense and

prolonged training” (Thimian, 1997, p.3). This condition can be

treated easily by taking iron supplements, increasing vitamin C

to enhance absorption, and taking a rest from or decreasing the

physical stress that caused the condition (Thimian, 1997). As

well as being aware about their nutritional needs and how to

adequately meet them, the vegetarian athlete must also follow

some basic, general, guidelines for all athletes. Having a

pre-game, carbohydrate rich meal. This will ward off hunger

pains and help to maintain blood sugar levels during an

activity or event. They must drink plenty of water during the

activity to replace spent fluids. After the activity, the

athlete must relax. The body needs time to recuperate.

Lastly, and most importantly, they must get plenty of rest.

The athlete puts their body through rigorous training and

therefore needs the sleep to regenerate, more so than sedentary

people (Doyle, 1979). Following all of these guidelines will

help ensure that the vegetarian athlete always achieves a peak

performance while maintaining superb health. Vegetarianism

has, for some time, been the scapegoat of those who believe

that there is no possible way that a person could exclude meat

from their diet and remain healthy for long. This would apply

doubly to those who would dare to reject meat and call

themselves athletes. Both the meat industry and the medical

community have for some time presented a view that anyone who would

attempt to remain vegetarian for any length of time would become poorly

nourished and, ultimately, sick. These days, however, members of the

medical community have swayed to a saner view. Research has proven

repeatedly that, with the proper education, vegetarianism is not only

safe, but even healthy. The greater fear, ironically, in the medical

community, now, is about the high rate of disease caused by fatty

foods, many of which stem from the high consumption of meat and dairy

products. Today’s doctor is far more likely to be afraid of the high

quantities of meat and dairy products that people consume that about

the absence of it. It does not seem that implausible if the diet of

choice for everyone would one day be the vegetarian diet.

Page

Akers,K. (1983). A Vegetarian Sourcebook. G.P. Putnam’s Son. New York.

Doyle,R. (1979). The Vegetarian Handbook. Crown Publishers Inc. New York.

Dunne,L. (1990). Nutrition Almanac: Third Eddition. McGraw-Hill Publishing. New York.

Giehl,D. (1979). Vegetarianism: A Way of Life. Harper and Row Publishing. New York.

Hulsey,M. (1997). Questioning Nutritional, Ethical, and, Ecological Arguments About Vegetarianism.

The European. (1992). Doctors say Meat-eaters Face the Chop.

Tracy,L. (1985). The Gradual Vegetarian. M.Evans and Company, Inc. New York.

Vegetarian Times. (1996). Vegetarian Beginner’s Guide. Macmillan. New York.

Winters,M. (1994). Vegetarian Athletes Need to Balance Protein in Their Diet.

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