My roommate and I get along well, with one major exception- my diet. I am a vegetarian. My roommate on the other hand, is a powerlifter and consumes animals regularly. I couldn’t care less about what he eats, but we often have heated discussions about the merit of my diet. Whereas I believe my diet is healthier than omnivorous ones, he believes that I lack many essential nutrients. Because of this, I decided to do some research to see who is right.
My goal for this research was to find unbiased sources. This article from Boston University explains that there are many different types of vegetarians. I, personally, fall under the category of Ovo-Lacto vegetarian, or someone who eats dairy and eggs but does not eat meat, fish, or poultry. According to the article, my roommate’s skepticism is not baseless. In the past, many studies have supported the idea that a vegetarian diet is not nutritionally sufficient. More recently, however, the consensus seems to be changing. A large observational study looked at the levels of vitamins and rates of certain diseases between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Based off the study, vegetarians lacked in 3 different vitamins. These are vitamin B-12, D, and calcium, and zinc. Meat is high in these supplements. The lack of calcium can put vegetarians at a risk for bone related injuries. Overall, however, it seems that a vegetarian diet is sufficient. Supplements are recommended to improve overall health and fill some of the gaps left by the lack of meat, but the diet does cover all nutritional requirements.
There does, however, seem to be a significant advantage to a vegetarian diet. According to the same studies, vegetarians are at a reduced risk of many different diseases. These include cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
picture courtesy of decidedlynuticious.com
I do not believe, however, that these benefits can be attributed exclusively to diet. There are many different compounding variables that could contribute to this. Vegetarians, for instance, tend to be more active. This could easily contribute to the lower rate of heart disease, among other things. Additionally, many vegetarians’ diets are the way they are because of their religion. It is likely that their religious choices impact many different aspects of their life as well. Because vegetarians are not a random sample of the population, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between a vegetarian diet and lower rates of disease.
Overall, I treat my vegetarianism as a personal choice and nothing more. I am confident that it is not an unhealthy lifestyle, and any benefits are simply a bonus. If such a lifestyle change were being considered purely for health reasons, I see no reason switch as it is a serious adjustment from most ways of life. If someone truly wanted to reduce their risk of disease, it would be more prudent to adopt a healthier lifestyle than to remove meat from their diet.