Some of you may already know that I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means that I eat dairy products and eggs, but no animal flesh. I also want to make it clear that I don’t care whether other people eat meat. I respect your choice, so please respect mine.
My choice to become a vegetarian was simply because I did not like eating meat, so it was rather easy for me to give it up completely. As a child I didn’t like sea food. I was even revolted by occasional white crunchy areas in sliced turkey ham. (I felt that I got those a lot—my sister, who had the same lunch, never seemed to get pieces like that.) I will admit that I liked chicken and pepperoni pizza, but after not eating them for a long time, I now think they have a stench. (Of course, I won’t say anything when I’m in the presence of people eating meat, out of respect for their choice.)
Ever since taking a course on nutrition three years ago, I’ve been debating whether or not I should give up eating animal products completely and become a vegan. The following is my sorting of reasons, primarily from a health perspective, based on information from the class and a few other sources. It is primarily for myself. I’m not asking for any opinions on this matter and I’m not trying to convince anyone to give up animal products or prove I’m superior here. I’m simply including this information on my site for anyone who might be interested in becoming a vegan.
Reasons for being vegan:
- It can be the healthiest diet if well balanced.
- No cholesterol: cholesterol is only found in animal products. (Of course, the body makes some because it is necessary.)
- Low in saturated fat: This is a major reason for me, since when I analyzed my diet for the class, I found that my saturated fat intake was quite high from all the cheese I was eating for calcium.
- High in fiber: only plants contain fiber, which is important for heart health (soluble fiber), gastrointestinal health (insoluble fiber), and feeling full.
- High nutrient density, low calorie density
- High in phytochemicals
- Based low in the food chain, so there’s generally less exposure to environmental toxins. This is because pesticides are stored permanently in the fatty tissue of animals, so they get more concentrated going up the food chain.
- I’ve heard several people say that since becoming vegan they have much more energy. That’s something that I really need!
- I know of a few people who lost significant amounts of weight after becoming vegan.
Vegan Diet Nutritional concerns, and sources
- Iron and zinc: beans, whole grains, fortified cereals, supplements. Iron supplements and iron from plant sources should be taken with citrus for better absorption, because the plant fibers bind the iron in a way so that it’s not as easily absorbed as from red meat. Iron can also come from using cast iron cookware.
- Calcium: fortified foods, beans, most tofu, supplements
- Vitamin B-12: is only naturally found in animal products, so it must come from fortified cereal and supplements.
- Vitamin D: fortified soy, sunshine, supplements.
Protein deficiency is NOT a problem as long as protein complementation is possible. You may have heard before that plant protein (with the exception of soy) is incomplete, meaning that it does not contain all the essential amino acids, whereas animal protein is complete. Well, it is possible to get around this problem with protein complementation, or combining two incomplete proteins. This is done around the world by eating grains with beans (e.g. rice and beans/tofu, barley and lentils, even a peanut butter sandwich). The sources must be eaten together because once digested, proteins are broken down into individual amino acids and all the amino acids must be present for the body to synthesize new proteins with. (If one is missing, the protein cannot be made.) Note that once protein is broken down to individual amino acids, those from plant sources and those from animal sources are indistinguishable, because amino acids are amino acids.
In the U.S. vegetarianism is the exception, but the vast majority of people in the world are vegan, though not necessarily by choice. (Meat is not as cheap as it is in the U.S.)
Being vegan is also better for the environment than animal husbandry and more efficient in terms of the energy needed to produce one Calorie of food.
Of course, I don’t want to be so extreme as to deprive a baby of its mother’s milk, since I believe that a new mother lactates for the purpose of feeding her baby.
So what’s the hard part?
I like cheese, yogurt and ice cream, and I have mixed feelings about eggs, meaning sometimes I enjoy them and sometimes I think they’re gross. I never liked drinking cow’s milk. I thought it had a “cow” stink. (I prefer soy milk.) The things is, there was a time when I abhorred eggs and cheese. When I was a child, I would only eat tiny crumbs of scrambled eggs; the bigger chunks were too nasty for me. I didn’t like most cheese, other than cheddar and mozzarella on pizza, and even so I often would refuse to eat it.
I started eating sharp cheddar when I was in high school, and found that I actually liked the taste and texture. (I would avoid smelling it, though.) Gradually, I opened up to trying more types of cheese, and I liked a lot of what I tried. (I can’t stand the smell and taste of Swiss cheese, though) Recently whenever I eat cheese I feel guilty and I also think about how the saturated fat is clogging up my arteries, and it makes it less enjoyable. Considering how cheese is third highest when it comes to carbon emissions (source), I’m also inclined to eat less. I’m still not completely decided on this, yet, but knowing that I once avoided cheese might make it easier for me to cut it out of my diet altogether. Also, not having it as frequently this past year made me crave it less.
I think becoming vegan might actually be doable for me, since I love tofu. (Tofu jiggles because it’s mostly protein and water, not fat!) I used to avoid eating nuts and beans but now I think they’re not so bad (in terms of taste). Falafel is wonderful, too.
I’m thinking I should give it a try for a week and see how I feel about it.