Dieting Essay Research Paper

Dieting Essay, Research Paper "You are what you eat", goes a famous saying. And if that is truly the case, then a lot of Americans would appear to be unhealthy, chemically treated,

Dieting Essay, Research Paper

"You are what you eat", goes a famous saying. And if that is truly the

case, then a lot of Americans would appear to be unhealthy, chemically treated,

commercially raised slabs of animal flesh. And while that is not a particularly

pleasant thought, it is nonetheless an description of the typical American

omnivore who survives on the consumption of Big Macs and steak fajitas. But

there are individuals who do not follow this American norm and have altered

their diets so that they do not consume any meat. These people are vegetarians,

and they are the new breed of healthy Americans who refuse to poison themselves

with fats, cholesterol, and the other harmful additives that come from meat. And

while once thought to be a movement that would never gain much momentum, it has

nonetheless moved itself to the forefront of Americans? healthy diets. The

word vegetarian, used to describe the diets of people who do not consume animal

flesh, was not used until around the mid-1800s. The concept of vegetarianism,

however, dates back much further. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, considered

by many to be the father of vegetarianism, encouraged a non-meat diet among his

followers as a diet that was the most natural and healthful (Messina 3). A

vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat, and can be exercised by people

for a number of reasons. The largest majority of individuals chose vegetarianism

for health related reasons. For example, someone with an ulcer might be

prescribed a strict diet of vegetables in order to promote the healing process.

Or someone with a dangerously high level of cholesterol might be advised to

follow a vegetarian diet to lower his or her fat and cholesterol intake. The

immorality of consuming animal flesh is another argument touted by a smaller

group of vegetarians. R.G. Frey describes this moral argument for vegetarianism

and the effect that meat eating might have on the character of humans: Some

people have come to believe and fear that, in the suffering and killing which

occurs in commercial farming, we demean ourselves, coarsen our sensitivities,

dull our feelings of sympathy with our fellow creatures, and so begin the

descent down the slippery slope of torture and death, to a point where it

becomes easier for us to contemplate and carry out the torture and killing of

human beings. (20) This moral argument for vegetarianism is also noted by John

Robbins who states that "the suffering these animals undergo has become so

extreme that to partake of food from these creatures is to partake unknowingly

of the abject misery that has been their lives"(14). But whatever the

reasons behind a person?s choice to be a vegetarian, it is important to

understand the different diets that individual vegetarians can choose. In the

widest sense of the word, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is made up of grains,

vegetables and fruit, but does not include any animal flesh, such as fish, pork,

poultry, or beef. But beyond these standards, there are many variations of diet

that occur within the world of vegetarianism. The first, and most prominent,

category of vegetarianism is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Mark Messina describes a

lact-ovo diet as "…a vegetarian diet (that) includes dairy products and

eggs but no animal flesh"(7). This means that there is consumption of

animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or honey, but there is no consumption of

animal flesh. Another variation is the lacto-vegetarian diet that allows the

consumption of milk and other milk products, but does not include the

consumption of eggs. And like all vegetarians, these two groups do not consume

fish, poultry, or meat (Messina 7). Another category that vegetarians can fall

into are vegans. The vegan diet is by far the most strict of all the vegetarian

diets. According to Mark Messina, "Vegans avoid meat, fish, poultry, dairy,

and eggs. There are many other foods that may not be acceptable to many vegans,

however. Foods that involve animal processing to any degree are often

avoided"(11). This means that vegans can consume no foods containing animal

byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or honey. Being a vegan often dictates an

"animal friendly" lifestyle that, aside from not eating anything that

came from an animal, also abstains from buying or using products that were

tested on animals or are made from animal hairs or skin, such as leather shoes

or belts (Messina 11). A common misconception of vegetarians is that they are

all a bunch of skinny, malnourished idealists who live on plants and soy milk.

And another, related common misconception is that a diet of meat is a diet that

builds strength. Professor Irving Fisher of Yale designed a series of tests in

which he compared the strength and stamina of meat-eaters against vegetarians,

with three groups of individuals represented: meat-eating athletes, vegetarian

athletes, and sedentary vegetarians. His studies showed that the average score

of the two vegetarian groups was over double the average score of the meat

eaters, even though half of the vegetarians were sedentary people and all of the

meat-eaters were athletes. Fisher concluded that: ….the difference in

endurance between the flesh-eaters and the abstainers (was due) entirely to the

difference in their diet…There is strong evidence that a … non-flesh …

diet is conducive to endurance.(206) A comparable study was done in 1968 by a

Danish group of researchers that tested a group of men on a variety of diets,

using a stationary bicycle to measure their strength and endurance. The group

fed their test subjects a diet that was comprised of mixed amounts of vegetables

and meats for a period of time before testing the men on the stationary bicycle.

The average time that they could pedal before muscle failure was 114 minutes.

The very same group of subjects was then fed a diet that was comprised of only

meat, eggs, and milk for an equal amount of time, and then re-tested them on the

bikes. On this diet, their pedaling time before muscle failure dropped

dramatically to an average of only 57 minutes. That same group of men was again

fed a diet that this time was comprised entirely of grains, vegetables, and

fruits before once again testing them on the bikes. The lack of animal

byproducts didn?t seem to hamper their performance, as many people would have

thought, and the men were able to pedal an average of 167 minutes before muscle

failure (Robbins 156). But vegetarians are still often criticized by people who

feel that vegetarians do not get enough minerals and vitamins as a result of

their limited diet. But vegetarian food is among some of the healthiest foods

available to mankind, and while there is no easy way to determine the extent to

which a vegetarian diet can influence the health of those that follow its

guidelines, the evidence is very indicative that it may be an important

contributing factor. Registered dietitian Johanna Dwyer, of Tufts University

Medical School and the New England Medical Center Hospital, Boston, summarizes

these benefits: … data are strong that vegetarians are at lesser risk for

obesity, atonic [reduced muscle tone] constipation, lung cancer, and alcoholism.

Evidence is good that risks for hypertension, coronary artery disease, type II

diabetes, and gallstones are lower. Data are only fair to poor that risks of

breast cancer, diverticular disease of the colon, colonic cancer, calcium kidney

stones, osteporosis, dental erosion, and dental caries are lower among

vegetarians.(53) Vegetarian diets contain less total fat and less saturated fat,

which are linked to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and

cancer. In comparing the diets of vegetarians to omnivores, Mark Messina

indicates that "American omnivores eat a diet that is 34% to 36% fat,

lacto-ovo vegetarians eat a 30% to 36% fat diet, and vegans eat a diet that is

about 30% fat" (59).This means that vegetarians also consume less

cholesterol, which has been linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease

and possibly even cancer. The amount of cholesterol of a lacto-ovo vegetarian is

about 150 to 300 mg of cholesterol per day compared to the 400 mg of cholesterol

that an omnivore consumes (Messina 59). Vegans, who exclude the intake of any

food that contains animal byproducts, do not consume foods that contain

significant amounts of cholesterol. The US Department of Agriculture and Health

and Human Services have created a Food Guide to better advise Americans on how

to eat healthier, more balanced meals, and which "advises using fats, oils,

and sweets sparingly" (Farley 52). Vegetarians as a group also consume

higher amounts of fiber. Fiber, found mainly in grain products, is essential to

healthy bowels and colons, lowers the risk for diabetes, helps control blood

glucose levels, and also lowers the risk for cancer and heart disease (Messina

59). And it is grain products that form the base of the U.S. Department of

Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services? Food Guide Pyramid,

which recommends servings of bread, rice, cereal, and pasta 6 to 11 times per

day. (Farley 52) The typical intake of fiber for an average omnivore is

"about 12g of fiber each day,", with vegetarians eating "50% to

100% more fiber than nonvegetarians" (Messina 59). A vegetarian diet also

includes consumption of more antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the risk

of cancer, heart disease, and possibly arthritis and cataracts. Dietary

antioxidants include such vitamins as vitamin E, vitamin C- of which the typical

vegetarian diet includes 50%, 100%, or even higher- and carotenoids as well as

the many phytochemicals that are found in plants (Messina 59). They also consume

less animal protein, with omnivores consuming 14% to 18%, lacto-ovo vegetarians

consuming 12% to 14%, and vegans consuming only 10% to 12% (Messina 59). While

vegetarians consume less total protein, they do consume adequate amounts to

maintain a healthy balance, as demonstrated by modern nutritional science.

Excess protein, and in particular excess animal protein, is linked to the

increased risk for osteoporosis, kidney stone formation, kidney disease, and an

increase in blood cholesterol levels (Messina 59). The nutritional benefits of a

vegetarian diet very clearly appear to be beneficial to human health. But a

vegetarian diet can also be healthy to the lives of our planet?s other

inhabitants, the very animals that are being eaten. Due to the increased demand

for food, livestock farmers have had to keep up by devising new and more

efficient ways to raise more animals, giving way to the industrialization of

meat farming. As John Robbins accurately writes, "the raising of chickens

in the United States today is not, however, a process which overflows with

compassion for these animals" (52). Chickens, as we grew up believing, were

farmyard animals that would root around in the soil for their food, and were

deeply attuned to the cycles of nature, as evidenced by the rooster crowing at

the break of day. But the industrialization of chicken farming in the past forty

years has changed all this, and the days of the barnyard chicken are over,

replaced instead with what Robbins refers to as "the assembly-line

chicken" (52). But the poultry farmers are not alone in its

industrialization. The beef, turkey, pork and other meat industries have also

had to adapt their methods of "production" in order to keep up with

the demands of omnivores. This includes the use of growth hormones in the

animals to produce more eggs and fatter animals, which are then passed on to

their human consumers. John Robbins describes some of the products used in

today?s pork industry in his book Diet For A New America: … will also be

given products like the new feed additive from Shell Oil Company. Called XLP-30,

it is designed to "boost pigs per litter," though it has a name that

sounds like it should be added to motor oil instead of animal food. Incredibly,

a Shell official acknowledges- "we don?t know why it works." This is

just one example of the chemical tampering that the meat industry is forced to

do with its animals in order to fight off the diseases that the animals?

cramped, unsanitary living conditions bring with them. As discussed by R.G.

Frey, this poses the most serious of threats to the health of Americans because

"…the liberal use of antibiotics in animal feed may, in time, build

immunity in animals and, through them, in us, to these drugs, some of which may

play a role in the treatment of human diseases" (10). Leonardo Da Vinci

said "the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of

animals as they now look on the murder of men" (Robbins 148). While the

cruelty of murdering other animals for their flesh is a moral argument in favor

of vegetariansim, it seems rather unlikely that amny Americans could ever be

swayed by its message. However, many Americans are interested in preserving

their own health and well-being, and that should lead many people towards a

vegetarian lifestyle since a vegetarian diet includes the necessary vitamins and

minerals to sustain human life, with out any of the negative byproducts of

animal consumption, such as cholesterol, excessive fat, and excessive protein. A

healthy lifestyle is something benefits us all, and yet most people are

unwilling to give up the meat-filled diets. If the phrase "You are what you

eat" has any amount of truth to it, then Americans need to realize what

they are ingesting every time they enjoy a Big Mac, some Whoppers, or a filet

mignon. There are healthier alternatives to the meat eating that nearly every

member of our society has been weaned on, and those alternatives all include the

consumption of more vegetables and the absence of meats. It is now up to them to

realize this and make the necessary adjustments.

1. Farley, Dixie. "More People Trying Vegetarian Diets." FDA

Consumer October 1995: 52-55. 2. Fisher, Irving. "The Influence of Flesh

Eating on Endurance." Yale Medical Journal 13.5 (1907): 205-221 3. Frey,

R.G. Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publisher Limited,

1983 4. Messina, Mark, and Messina, Virginia. The Dietian?s Guide to

Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications. Gaithersburg: Aspen Publishers, Inc.,

1996 5. Robbins, John. Diet For A New America. Walpole: Stillpoint Publishing,

1987 Works Consulted 1. Farley, Dixie. "More People Trying Vegetarian

Diets." FDA Consumer October 1995: 52-55. 2. Fisher, Irving. "The

Influence of Flesh Eating on Endurance." Yale Medical Journal 13.5 (1907):

205-221 3. Frey, R.G. Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Publisher Limited, 1983 4. Kleiner, Susan M. "Vegetarian Vitality: Striking

The Right Balance." The Physician and Sports Medicine August 1992: 15-16

5.Messina, Mark, and Messina, Virginia. The Dietian?s Guide to Vegetarian

Diets: Issues and Applications. Gaithersburg: Aspen Publishers, Inc., 1996 6.

Robbins, John. Diet For A New America. Walpole: Stillpoint Publishing, 1987