General Question

Stewie's avatar

What are the benefits and/or disadvantages of being a vegetarian?

Asked by Stewie (40points) February 4th, 2013

How to compensate the proteins when not eating animals?

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36 Answers

bookish1's avatar

Hey @Stewie, welcome to Fluther.
It’s quite possible for humans to survive on a vegetarian diet. Majorities of populations worldwide did this for most of human history out of necessity. Very often, red meat was for rich people, only for the masses on special occasions and feast days. I know at least half of my ancestors were strict vegetarians going back many generations.
I have been vegetarian for more than half my life. There are many vegetarian sources of protein. It can be found in lentils and beans, pasta, whole wheat bread, eggs, dairy products…and even vegetables themselves often have more protein than you would expect.

wundayatta's avatar

One disadvantage is that you cut your diet options down immensely. You get fewer flavors and not so much fun for your mouth.

Unbroken's avatar

Welcome to Fluther!!

@bookish1 was right. Quinoa is also a major protein versatile and a delicious one. Also nuts.

Vegans do have to worry about balanced nutrition. There are plenty of sites for that.

Oh and be careful of replacement product and packaging. Just because they are vegan does not make them healthy.

And our ancestors definitely didn’t adapt to eating them. Just remember focus on fresh and unprocessed minimize the other… Or look at the ingredient list.

There are many great tasting foods and by limiting your usual fare you will branch out and be able to experience many more.

bookish1's avatar

@wundayatta: Fewer flavors and not so much fun?? Have you never tried Indian food? ;)

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Veggies don’t keep you full for long and you may find yourself eating more than the average meat-eater!

cutiepi92's avatar

no bacon. That’s reason enough for me to not go veggie lol

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rooeytoo's avatar

It seems that a majority of vegetarians I meet are overweight. I don’t know if that is because they eat too much cheese and pasta??? We eat vegetarian a couple of times a week but I have no desire to go the whole way. I think humans are designed as meat eaters. I just want to make sure that the meat I consume had a good, happy and healthy before it was humanely killed.

bookish1's avatar

@rooeytoo: Might not be a representative sample! There’s all kinds of ways to do vegetarian. It’s not necessarily more healthful by default; you still have to work at that. Glad to hear of your approach to eating meat. I wish more carnivores had such scruples.

rooeytoo's avatar

@bookish1 – yeah maybe they were a bit chubby before they became vegetarian!

DigitalBlue's avatar

I don’t particularly think there are many pros or cons, necessarily. It’s beneficial to eat a moderate, balanced diet (vegetarian or otherwise), and surely it will make a difference in your health. But just cutting out meat doesn’t make a diet healthy by default. Cutting out anything (other than highly processed/refined foods) really doesn’t make a diet healthy by default.
There are moral reasons that can be seen as a positive for going veg, but health wise it isn’t a magic fix. The same pros and cons apply to vegetarian diets as with any other lifestyle, you have to make sure that it’s nutritionally sound and well balanced and lacking processed junk for it to be “good” or “bad” for you.

Vincentt's avatar

To counter @wundayatta‘s point a bit: I’ve been vegetarian for only a year and a half now, but my diet has become far more varied. You’re forced to be more creative to have a balanced diet, and that leads you to find new, delicious recipes – I’ve actually found that I consider adding meat to a meal to often be “the easy way out” in making something edible. Of course, you could just force yourself to be more creative when eating meat as well (I still sometimes eat meat, and you can do truly delicious things with it), but in practice, you don’t.

Furthermore, preparing dinner is a lot more fun when you don’t have to constantly look out for all the bacteria that come with meat.

Also, I’ve found that living healthy while vegetarian is not that difficult (depending on the country you live in). The hardest things in meat that you have to obtain are vitamin B12, and iron – proteins mostly come natural for me since they’re in a lot of non-meat products as well. The way I went vegetarian is by just trying it for an indefinite amount of time, finding out it was actually quite easy and just keeping at it.

A good way to keep track of whether you’re still healthy: donate blood. It doubles as a free test of the amount of hemaglobin in your blood, and other nasty things as well.

thorninmud's avatar

Not eating animals changes your relationship with your non-human cousins in subtle ways. You no longer have to maintain the psychological partitions that allow you to cherish this animal over here as a dear friend, while cooking this one over here for dinner. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll find that your whole perceived hierarchy of beings shifts in a more comfortable way.

syz's avatar

Benefits (specific to me): Less expensive grocery bill, no “food coma“s as I try to digest meat, overall healthier feeling, fewer concerns about bacterial contamination recalls, fewer concerns about growth hormone and antibiotic exposure, reduced or eliminated need for deodorant, the knowledge that I am not supporting casual cruelty in agribusiness (at least to a small degree).

Disadvantages: Minor irritant of reducing menu choices at restaurants, very minor irritant of eating side dishes only at others’ houses (I will not ask others to cater to my eating choices), major irritant of my mother asserting that every illness that I have is because I don’t eat meat (I get sick only a fraction as often as my siblings, who, noncoincidentally, have children, little petri dishes of plague that they are).

tom_g's avatar

I was a vegetarian for almost 10 years. The pros emerge from the cons. If it’s challenging to eat vegetarian, this challenge is likely to cause you to reevaluate your entire relationship with food. You might become more aware of what a particular food does to your body (how you feel after eating it), and the inevitable deep dive into the entire food industry opens you to a possible ethical shift as well.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Sometimes I go without meat/ products to cleanse my body, to me it’s not a big deal and no drawbacks. Salads, granolas, nuts, bean burritos, rice and seasonings, soy milk (especially chocolate)- it’s good stuff and makes you feel good.

I read that it takes approximately three days for meat to process through your body, and that really changed the way I think, I just try to limit meat intake rather than eat none at all.

wundayatta's avatar

@bookish1 I love Indian food. And when you add meat, you have twice as many options on the table as you do without it. It’s a mathematical fact. I don’t see how you can argue with it.

Check out Tiffin’s menu. I wish they delivered in my area, but I’m two blocks outside their area.

Now look at Tashan. I just went there with a crowd that included a vegetarian and a bunch of meat eaters. All left quite happy. (Although, for some reason, I was a good deal less happy an hour later, but the less said about that, the better). Anyway, I don’t know if you eat fish, but those scallops in the picture are fucking amazing!

gailcalled's avatar

I see no down side. I feel better, I spend less, I have a GI tract that works like a healthy little baby’s, I find cooking much easier and I no longer eat so high up on the food chain, which benefits the planet.

And of course, what @thorninmud says.

2davidc8's avatar

@rooeytoo Actually, there is a school of thought that says we are NOT designed to be meat eaters. Just compare our teeth with those of the big cats that ARE meat eaters par excellence. We cannot rip apart tough meat with our teeth, we need to use knives.
(Just for the record, I am not a strict vegetarian.)

Kardamom's avatar

First of all, Welcome to Fluther @stewie!

I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 23 years. I am not a vegan, so I also include dairy and eggs in my diet. That seems to be the most common type of vegetarianism and is much easier to carry out than being a vegan. So first of all you (or whomever this question is referring to, maybe a friend?) has to make a decision about whether to be a regular vegetarian, a vegan, or maybe just cut down on meat and fish consumption without actually committing to be a full blown vegetarian.

Your ideas about why you want to be a vegetarian should make that decision fairly easy. But actually becoming a vegetarian can be somewhat of a challenge, especially depending upon where you live (availability of vegetarian items) and the friends and family that you have (supportive versus not-supportive) and your own willpower to resist temptation (for me this was not hard at all, because I love food and I love to cook so it’s easy for me to find alternatives that sustain my need for yumminess).

Another challenge to becoming a vegetarian would depend on whether you have any conditions that make eating certain staple vegetarian items difficult or impossible. For example if you have celiac disease, you will not be able to eat any grain products that contain gluten. If you have nut allergies, that will pose a different problem. Those are the 2 biggies that get in the way of an easy vegetarian experience. If you don’t have either of those problems then it is pretty easy to go veg.

The biggest difficulty to becoming (or continuing to be) a vegetarian is dining out, especially with other people. Unless you eat at restaurants that are specifically described as being vegetarian, you often have to ask tons of questions about every single thing you might want to eat, to find out if you are getting “hidden animal products.” This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the majority of restaurant workers actually knew the answer to your questions, often they do not.

There is often chicken broth, gelatin, or animal based “natural flavors” in a lot of dishes that you might think are vegetarian. Soups are notorious for containing either chicken, beef or fish broth. Many pasta dishes have meat sauce. Burritos are often made with lard, both in the beans and the tortillas. Even the typical “green salad” often comes with bacon bits, or a dressing (especially Caesar dressing) that contains anchovies. Desserts, especially puddings and mousse, often contain gelatin.

Most regular restaurants (that are not described as vegetarian) have limited, and sometimes no, vegetarian offerings. If you are lucky, you will get the proverbial Buddha’s Delight, which is a nasty dish of corn starch thickened sauce, canned squishy baby corn and limp floating pieces of bok choy (shuddering at the thought of this). The other option is usually a plate of steamed vegetables with no sauce. Yum! Or an iceberg lettuce salad with mealy pink tomatoes and stale bread croutons. If you want to be a good guest, if you are eating with other people and you don’t want to cause a commotion, you will learn to enjoy these 3 items and not complain about it. I am of the opinion that if there is one item on a menu that I can eat, I will eat that and not make a stink. It’s not worth it. If people ask you where you want to eat, you can throw out a bunch of ideas that have lots of things that you can eat, but try not to choose places that will scare people that can’t imagine living a day without eating meat. Those kinds of conversations don’t usually go well, and people will often demand that you explain WHY you are a vegetarian and all sorts of other embarrassing questions that are none of their business.

People will often feel sorry for you. The more sensitive types will feel so sorry for you when you go out to eat with them that they will constantly apologize to you (another way that you will be made to stand out in public).

In the meantime, you can try to kindly ask the waiter or chef to assemble something for you, which thankfully, they are ususually happy to do. But know that this is going to draw attention to you (something that I do not like to do). Your restaurant mates, depending upon who they are, might get irritated by your constant questions, and they might challenge you as to WHY you are a vegetarian. One of my favorite (not) questions from a former co-worker was, “If you like the taste of meat, why would you eat fake meat and not just eat real meat?” Really??? My ususual reply to that would be, “It’s not that I don’t like the taste of meat, and these fake meat products are actually pretty good, it’s just that I don’t think it’s necessary for humans, in this day and age, to kill animals to have a tasty treat.”

The other difficulty in becoming, or continuing to be a vegetarian is the fact that you will have to get in the habit (annoying to some people) of reading every single label on every single food product that you pick up, to make sure there are no animal products in there. Often there is chicken broth lurking in the vegetable soup, there is often gelatin residing in the yogurt, there is sometimes chochineal (ground up red beetles) floating around in your pink grapefruit juice. You have to know some of the terms for animal products that are not always as simple as chicken or beef, to find them hiding in your favorite products.

Here is a list by Peta of Animal Products and Alternatives

Another sometimes unpleasant thing about being a vegetarian is going to a party, such as a wedding, or to a gathering at someone else’s home, whether it’s to a family Christmas party, or to a Superbowl party with people you may or may not know. You have to learn to be a polite sleuth, to find out what is going to be served. If you find out ahead of time that there will be nothing that you can eat, it’s best to have a private conversation with the host and ask them if you can bring a vegetarian item to share. Some hosts will be accomodating to the point that they will make something specifically for you, some hosts will gladly let you bring something, and other hosts will be super uncomfortable and not know what to do.

You will have to be concerned that what one host thinks is vegetarian, is actually not. Your best bet is to eat a little something before any party that you go to, so you won’t starve to death if the worst case scenario happens. Poor Aunt Mary may not realize that the marshmallows in her ambrosia and sweet potato casserole are not suitable for vegetarians. When you point that out to her, she might be embarrassed or saddened. So be prepared for uncomfortable situations and conversations with folks who just don’t know what vegetarian means, but never allow yourself to be bullied or humiliated into a debate with anyone. It’s not worth it. Just smile and say, “No problem, I ate a little something before I came over and I’m good.” And always, always, always carry snacks like nuts or dried fruit in your bag or your car, in case you need them.

Another difficullty for people considering the idea of going veg, is when they are picky eaters. It’s hard enough for picky eaters to exist in the regular world, but when their diets are drastically limited, that can throw a whole other monkey wrench into the machine. Resist the urge to become a “Cheetos Vegetarian.” What I mean by this is, do not limit your diet to just a few yummy, but nutrion-less items such as processed snack foods. You will become sick and lethargic and likely to develop certain diseases linked to malnutrition (including obesity).

Make it your aim to eat mostly whole foods and nutrient dense foods, and a great big variety of foods. And if you don’t know how to cook, make that your number one priority for this big adventure. It will save you a lot of grief. Do not depend upon restaurants and processed food. If you’re a picky eater, get over it. How do you get over that? You consciously choose to eat new things and eat them multiple times. It sometimes takes 10 tries at eating a new food before you acquire a taste for it. And learn new techniques for cooking foods such as roasting, pureeing, grilling, frying, steaming, poaching, sauteeing, made into a soup, added to pasta, added to chili, thrown onto a pizza, put into a burrito, added into a lasagna or enchiladas or quiche or omelets, put raw onto a salad, etc.

Getting proteins in a vegetarian diet is really easy: nuts; beans and legumes; tofu and seitan and tempeh; eggs, cheese and other dairy products; whole grains; and vegetable oils like olive oil and canola oil, nut and seed oils such as walnut and flax oil, and certain fruits like avocados. Some incomplete proteins need to be consumed with others in the same day (but not necessarily at the same meal if you don’t want) to create a complete proteins, beans and rice for instance. Quinoa, which is technically a seed and not exactly a grain, although you use it just like other grains like wheat, barley, bulgur etc. is actually a complete protein. Yay for quinoa! Here’s some information from the Vegetarian Resource Group about How to Get Protein in a Vegetarian Diet, and How much you Need

You also need to make sure that you get Vitamin B-12. If you eat eggs and dairy this will be no problem, because B-12 is in these animal products. You can read all about B-12 and why you need it and where to find it (even if you are a vegan) on this site from the Vegetarian Resource Group

Now, if I haven’t scared you off (and I certainly hope I haven’t) here are some resources that might be useful to you and other people to whom you are trying to explain all of this.

Here is a list of some of the Vegetarian Super Foods These are foods that are nutrient dense and/or foods that fight inflamation and possibly help to prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease and diabetes.

Why Vegetarians and Vegans Need Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Where to Find Them

Here’s some seemingly Vegan and Vegetarian Products that are Not

Finding Vegetarian Options at Traditional Chain Restaurants

Plan Ahead to get Vegetarian Meals on Airplanes

A book you might consider buying Living Among Meat Eaters The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook

Let me know if you need or want any recipes : )

rooeytoo's avatar

@2davidc8 – I don’t think the cave men who were our forefathers were vegetarian. Is there any theory/proof that says that to be true???

2davidc8's avatar

@rooeytoo I don’t have the research in front of me right now, and sorry I don’t have the time to look it up just yet, but as I recall, the authors were talking about many, many generations before cave men. By the time you got to cave times, humans already knew how to hunt, had developed a taste for meat, and had developed the tools and means to cut up meat. As I recall, the researchers said that our flat teeth are more consistent with those of herbivores and plant eaters.

rooeytoo's avatar

@2davidc8 – ahhhh you don’t have to hunt, I’ll stick with the eating habits of the cave women onward!!! My teeth seem to rip through meat just fine!

bkcunningham's avatar

Most of the vegetarians and vegans I know are overweight too, @rooeytoo. My theory is their alcohol consumption.

gailcalled's avatar

^^^ You just don’t know the right people. (And I haven’t had a drink in ten years. Before that I probably had a glass of wine a month.)

bkcunningham's avatar

To be honest, one of my vegetarian friends is only 4’11.” She’s 63 and age has put some weight on her as has a bottle of wine shared with her hubbie each night. The meatless eaters I know aren’t morbidly obese or fat. They’ve just lost their school girl/boy figures over the years. I would not trade them for the world.

gailcalled's avatar

^^^Everyone I know who is my age, meat eaters or vegans, has lost her girlish figure.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I only see disadvantages. I don’t believe that being 100% vegetarian is healthy. I think you tend to miss out on too much protein and other nutrients found in meat, which causes you to overload your body with too many supplemental pills to make up for it.

gailcalled's avatar

I take only vitamin B-12 as a replacement for not eating meat. I get plenty of protein from beans, legumes and nuts.

gailcalled's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate: The “meat as protein” issue is biased and not based on nutritional data.

Here is one of dozens of articles that rebuts your beliefs.

Vincentt's avatar

@wundayatta Haha, pretty much off-topic, but saying there’s twice as many options is like saying you have 50% chance of winning the lottery—either you win it, or you don’t :P

wundayatta's avatar

Trust me, @Vincentt. Every time I cook, I feel like I’ve won the lottery! Whether I cook with meat or only vegetables.

LostInParadise's avatar

There are benefits to making vegetables, fruits and whole grain products a larger portion of your diet regardless of whether you want to become entirely vegetarian.

Only vegetable products have fiber, which aids digestion and has other benefits.
Cutting back on meat will likely cut down on cholesterol.
Vegetable products have vitamins and antioxidants.

There is also an ethical angle in addition to the obvious one of avoiding cruelty to animals.

The way that animals are raised can be quite cruel. After reading how calves are treated for producing veal, I swore off ever eating veal again. Chickens are kept confined in small cages.

Replacing animal products with vegetable ones makes it easier to feed the world, since vegetable products yield more calories per acre than animals.

Having large numbers of animals in close contact with humans encourages the spread of diseases from animals to humans, like the various strains of flu.

The way that animals are currently being raised is not only cruel but harmful to people. There is massive runoff of animal waste into our water supply. Cattle are fed large amounts of corn, which they are not equipped to eat. They get sick, requiring large doses of antibiotics. The antibiotics in turn encourage the development of strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

mattbrowne's avatar

Pro: good for our planet’s atmosphere
Con: might get tempted to become radical vegetarian/vegan

Kiwikiki02's avatar

The advantages
You save animals
You live a fuller life
You enjoy life more

If too many people become vegetarians many animal species will over populate

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