Everyone remembers sitting at the dinner table, with your mom impatiently waiting and staring at you as you try to get the courage to finish the rest of your flavorless vegetables. While we all knew that dessert would be the prize for completing such an outrageous task, vegetarians have to make a similar dietary sacrifice to receive the prize of better physical health. Scientists have done countless studies and surveys in the search for discovering the benefits and consequences of participating in a vegetarian diet. While there is an emphasis on unveiling everything about the topic of vegetarianism, scientists first want to delve into the most dangerous aspects of this dietary change. For that reason, most of the research on the topic focuses on the effects a vegetarian diet has on cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and malnutrition. All of these life altering, and potentially life ending, dangers are introduced as either a benefit or consequence of becoming a vegetarian.
Vegetarianism takes away the joy of the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas ham, and the Fourth of July hot dog, but those sacrifices might all seem worth it after one discovers the benefits of this diet. One of the most ubiquitous medical problems in the United States is high cholesterol and blood pressure. These Cardiovascular diseases are rather harmless with the use of proper medication, but when not properly monitored high blood pressure and cholesterol can lead to lethal complications of the heart. A study, published in The Clinical Advisor: For Nurse Practitioners, discovered that not only the lack of meat but also the increase of plant intake leads to lower cholesterol (Nichols and Grosel 25). In the study, a plant-based diet decreased total cholesterol by 3.8 mg/dL more than a diet that was specifically meat-less (Nichols and Grosel 25), illustrating the importance of not only being vegetarian but being someone who eats a quality amount of vegetables. Vegetarians also enjoy a significantly lower rate of hypertension (high blood pressure) with only 9% of the vegetarian population suffering from the condition. Non-vegetarians, in comparison, have significantly higher rates of hypertension with the diagnosis of males and females being 15% and 12.1% respectfully (Nichols and Grosel 30). This source, along with many others, illustrates that vegetarianism will benefit a person’s heath in regards to high cholesterol and blood pressure, leading to a decreased likelihood of heart failure or stroke. In the long run, most people would sacrifice the Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham in order to avoid the tragedy of a heart attack.
Cancer is the cause of millions of deaths in the world annually, making it a priority for researchers to investigate. Unfortunately, the cure for cancer is not vegetarianism, but through their research scientists have discovered the effects a vegetarian diet has on cancer. A vegetarian’s healthier diet and lack of red meat would lead the majority of people to believe they would benefit from a reduced probability of cancer diagnosis. A study done by Timothy Key, the deputy unit Director of Epidemiology for the University of Oxford, acts as evidence against this belief. Key’s study discovered that vegetarians have an increased likelihood of testing positive for colon cancer when compared to non-vegetarians (Key, et al. 1620S). This staggering result was discovered using a statistic called the standardized incidence ratio. The standardized incidence ratio, or SIR, is a percentage derived by calculating the observed cases divided by the expected cases, multiplied by 100. The results of this equation illustrate that colon cancer was 102% (SIR) for vegetarians, greater than 100% means that more cases were diagnosed than expected, while only 84% (SIR) for non-vegetarians (Key, et al. 1622S). While this distinction might be concerning to vegetarians or those looking to become vegetarian, people should understand that these results were specific to colon cancer only. In reference to all other forms of cancer, vegetarians have a slimmer probability of diagnosis (Key, et al. 1620S). Studies show that vegetarians decrease their likelihood of testing positive for cancer by an astounding 18% (Huang, et al. 237). The significant decline in the probability of cancer acts as another benefit for those on a vegetarian diet. The sacrifice of juicy, flavorful meat seems well worth such an increase in health.
Vegetarians are often perceived as health nuts who only eat nutrient rich food, and while that can be the case, many vegetarians do not receive the proper nutrition that their bodies need. One of the most obvious nutrients that vegetarians are missing is protein. Protein is most prominently found in meat, but vegetarians can find substitutes to meat based proteins in foods such as peanut butter and soy. A deficiency in a nutrient, like protein, is often due to a lack of effort by an individual vegetarian, but a substance such as Vitamin B-12 is a challenge to even the most dedicated vegetarians. Vitamin B-12 is a nutrient that vegetarians lack because it cannot be found in plants, and can only be consumed through a dietary supplement (Key, et al. 36). While purchasing Vitamin B-12 supplements is easy, it is important for vegetarians to be educated on the fact that Vitamin B-12 is a vital part of a person’s diet. A deficiency in Vitamin B-12 can lead to Macrocosms, the enlargement of red blood cells, or Anemia, a lack of red blood cells which leads to fatigue (Key, et al. 37). Along with protein and Vitamin B-12, vegetarians commonly lack nutrients such as n-3 fatty acids and Iron (Key, et al. 36-37). While not life threatening, a lack of such nutrients could lead to a multitude of different health problems, such as the previously mentioned Anemia. Nutrients, such as protein, Vitamin B-12, n-3 fatty acids, and Iron are all important to the health of the human body, making it vital that vegetarians are informed on the types of nutrients they could be lacking. The threat of malnutrition acts as the single consequence of vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism Is Worth It
Humans have been eating meat for centuries, enjoying the great flavor and benefits of protein. However, in recent history people have begun to make a concerted effort to take meat out of their diet. This decision has led to consequences such as malnutrition but has also led to amazing benefits. These benefits include a lower probability of cardiovascular disease as well as a lower probability of cancer. The serious benefits far outweigh the trivial consequences, illustrating that the pain from losing meat can be more than compensated by the gain of greater physical health.
Huang, Tao, et al. “Cardiovascular Disease Mortality and Cancer Incidence in Vegetarians: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review.” Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, vol. 60, no. 4, 2012., pp. 233-40doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000337301.
Key, Timothy J., et al. “Cancer Incidence in Vegetarians: Results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Oxford).” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89.5 (2009)ProQuest. Web. 3 Sep. 2016.
Key, T. J., Appleby, P. N., & Rosell, M. S. (2006). Health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 65(1), 35-41. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1079/PNS2005481
Nichols, Allison, P.A.-C., and John Grosel M.D. “Vegetarianism in the Fight Against CVD.” The Clinical Advisor : For Nurse Practitioners 17.8 (2014): 24,25,30-32,37-38. ProQuest. Web. 3 Sep. 2016.