Vegetarians make up approximately 2.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to Colorado State University Extension. The reasons people choose to follow a vegetarian diet vary as much as styles of vegetarianism. You may choose to ban all or only some foods of animal origin from your diet, depending on the type of vegetarian you are. Vegans eat only plant foods, while lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat plant foods, eggs and dairy products. Pesco-pollo vegetarians eat seafood and chicken, but shun all other meats, including lamb, beef and pork.
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You might choose to follow a vegetarian diet because you believe it will improve your health. Diets rich in plant foods, such as grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Animal products, especially fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products, are linked to clogged arteries, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Vegetarians, especially vegans, must be very careful to avoid dangerous deficiencies by planning a diet that includes all the necessary nutrients.
Concern for the welfare of animals is a reason some people choose vegetarianism. Nonviolence, a reverence for all life or an opposition to killing animals for food are some ethical positions that support a vegetarian diet. You might choose a meat-free diet if you're opposed to factory farms, the large-scale operations that produce most of the pork, beef, chicken, veal and eggs eaten in America. Opposition to factory farming is growing, says a 2010 New York Times article. Many animals are kept in cages so small they can't move, turn around or even lie down, and chickens are packed together into small cages stacked one on top of another.
Practicing a religion that advocates vegetarianism is a reason some people follow a vegetarian diet. The Hindu religion considers the cow sacred, and most of its followers do not eat meat. Ghandi, a Hindu vegetarian, declared that the greatness of a nation could be measured by the way in which it treats its animals. The Jains believe it is wrong to kill any living being. Seventh-Day Adventists follow a vegetarian diet that allows milk and eggs, but not meat, due to the belief that whatever they eat should preserve the health of the body, mind and spirit. Their diet is credited with their 50 percent lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, according to Nutrition411.com, a website for health care professionals.
Some people are vegetarians because they simply can't afford meat. Animal products are expensive compared with foods of plant origin. It takes many pounds of grains to produce a pound of meat, and factory farming requires the use of pesticides, antibiotics and the use of computer-controlled feeding, lighting and air circulation. Beans are also a high-protein food, and they cost much less to produce than meat does.
Family and Friends
The influence of family, friends and even famous role models and celebrities is a reason people adhere to a vegetarian diet. The Vegetarian Resource Group notes that famous vegetarians include Leonardo Da Vinci, "Mr. Rogers," the author Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, Plato, Pythagoras, singer K.D. Lang and Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the graham cracker.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest; Plants for Supper? 10 Reasons to Eat More Like a Vegetarian; Bonnie Liebman; October 1996
- Vegetarian Resource Group: Vegetarian Lesson Plan
- Colorado State University Extension; Vegetarian Diets; J. Anderson and S. Prior
- Drexel University: Vegetarianism and Religion
- Nutrition411.com: Seventh-Day Adventist Diets