Vegetarianism, a Risk for Health?
In 1839, the term “vegetarianism” has been adopted to name the diet consisting of vegetables and avoiding any products of animal origin. For a long period, this concept was used in the nutrition studies to define a certain kind of diet. Nowadays, vegetarianism is a complex social movement that determines the lifestyle and daily habits. There are many variations of vegetarianism, although all of them share the refusal of meat consumption and other products of animal origin. The vegetarianism trend continues to gain popularity and affect the nutrition habits and behavior of thousands of consumers.
At the same time, it is important to pay attention to the nutritional value and usefulness of vegetarianism as a diet and its impacts on health. The matter is that the universal benefits of vegetarian diet have not found any valid scientific confirmations and proofs. Moreover, the new researches show that vegetarianism can represent certain threats to the health condition of individuals.
The Connection between Vegetarianism and Incidence Rate
In the broad sense, vegetarianism excludes the consumption of animal flesh and related products. It has been stated that vegetarian diet is beneficial for health as it does not overload the human organism with the animal fats and other difficult for digestion substances. Moreover, it has been estimated that vegetarians demonstrate a lower mortality rate statistics in comparison with the omnivores. Other advantages of vegetarianism list the reduced incidence of many diseases such as diabetes, heart strokes, and even some types of cancer. Nevertheless, it is possible to argue about the relevance and credibility of those facts since they have not been examined by any scientific researches (Sizer, F. S., Pich?, L. A., Whitney, E. N., & Whitney, E., 2013).
The Drawbacks of a Vegetarian Diet
While the potential benefits of vegetarianism remain on the testing stage, its side effects and harmful impacts on personal health are quite obvious and noticeable. A range of studies and surveys indicate the considerable health problems and illnesses connected with the adoption of a vegetarian diet (Schatz, I. J., Masaki, K., Yano, K., Chen, R., Rodriguez, B. L., & Curb, J. D., 2001). The majority of health risks and threats can be explained by the lack of nutrients that are present in the products of animal origin. The recent studies also show that the spreading of vegetarianism leads to some irrevocable environmental changes that affect the human health. The further discussed factors should be considered the major threats of vegetarianism.
To start with, vegetarianism is valuable for its ability to reduce the cholesterol level in blood. In recent years, the reduction of cholesterol rate was regarded as a positive improvement of individual’s health since it was responsible for causing heart strokes and various cardiovascular diseases. However, the study conducted by Honolulu Heart Program has discovered that a permanently low level of cholesterol increases the mortality rate (Schatz, et al., 2001). The doctors advise not to decrease the level of cholesterol dramatically as it increases the mortality risks. Since vegetarianism excludes cholesterol almost completely, it can affect personal well-being and result in premature death (Schatz, et al., 2001).
Vegetarianism can also be responsible for causing colorectal cancer. Health programs and studies claim that vegetarian diet helps to decrease the incidence rate of different types of cancer. The research held by American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms this assertion and reveals some new connections between the cancer rates and vegetarianism. The consumption of several kinds of plants causes difficulties in the digestive system. For example, it can lead to the toxic accumulation, blockages, and general intoxications. All these factors increase the chances of developing colorectal cancer and other related diseases. Thus, according to the study, the colorectal cancer incidence rate remains higher among vegetarians compared to meat eaters (Key, T. J., Appleby, P. N., Spencer, E. A., Travis, R. C., Roddam, A. W., & Allen, N. E., 2009). The statistics show that vegetarians are 39% more prone to colorectal cancer than omnivores (Key, et al., 2009). Researchers state that vegetarians may consume insufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables needed for the normal functioning of the organism and digestion system in particular. This figure indicates the harmful effect of vegetarianism on the personal welfare and health.
Another problem connected with the vegetarian diet arises from the lack of calcium and substances that are essential for the normal density of bones. It is a well-known fact that meat products are rich in protein, iron, calcium, and other nutrients that facilitate the growth and functions of bones. Some vegetables and nuts contain sufficient amounts of the required substances. Nevertheless, the studies witness that their consumption is not enough to guarantee high mineral density of bones. For example, it has been estimated that vegetarians have nearly 5% lower bone-mineral density compared to the meat eaters (Ho-Pham, Nguyen, & Nguyen, 2009).
The problem with the reduction of bone density remains significant because it leads to the limitation of flexibility, resilience, and elasticity of bones (Ho-Pham, et al., 2009). To solve this problem, the doctors advise combining a vegetarian diet with the consumption of additional supplements and vitamins. However, the inclusion of meat products in a daily ration will have even better results.
In the present climate of opinion, a vegetarian diet lacks many essential vitamins necessary for the human organism. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry believes that this statement is truthful and reliable. According to their researches, a vegetarian diet leads to the lack or absence of vitamin B12. This vitamin is responsible for controlling metabolism, consuming and converting iron, generating healthy blood cells, and transforming food into stable energy. Obviously, the lack of this element strongly affects the functions of all organs and leads to the general decrease of health quality (Li, 2011). In addition, the insufficient amount of vitamin B12 can cause arteriosclerosis that presupposes deviations in the structure and design of blood vessels connected with their thickening and loss of elasticity. To avoid this problem, experts recommend including at least dairy products and eggs into the daily diet as they contain the needed amounts of vitamin B12 (Li, 2011).
In fact, vitamin B12 is not the only element, the lack of which is caused by the vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism is also responsible for the reduced levels of many other nutrients and important substances (Li, 2011). The most obvious example is the lack of animal protein. The supporters and followers of vegetarianism claim that some plants and nuts contain the sufficient amounts of protein needed by the organism. However, there are no scientifically proven studies that confirm the substantial benefits and value of plant proteins (Lord, C., Chaput, J. P., Aubertin-Leheudre, M., Labont?, M., & Dionne, I. J., 2007). The lack of animal protein has a negative influence on the functions and flexibility of muscles and bones. Moreover, its absence affects the body composition and shape. For example, the lack of protein leads to the loss of muscle mass and reduction of the body’s elasticity and strength. From this standpoint, animal proteins are essential elements of healthy appearance and body composition (Lord, et al., 2007).
Such chemical substances as creatine and carnosine play a significant role in the sustaining of organism functions on a normal level. For instance, creatine is important for the brain activities and muscle growth. Similarly, carnosine is vital in the mental processes. It is also known as an anti-aging element for its properties in preserving the elasticity and resilience of the body. The scientists state that these elements can be found exclusively in the products of animal origin (Rae, C., Digney, A. L., McEwan, S. R., & Bates, T. C., 2003).
This statement can also be applied to the level of saturated fat. For a long time, a popular belief stated that fats did more harm to the organism than good. Nevertheless, new studies show that the appropriate amount of fats in the body is the essential component of health and welfare. The saturated fats found only in animal products influence and correlate the level of testosterone. Obviously, this aspect is crucial for the protection of hormonal balance and normal functioning (Rae, et al., 2003).
It is also important to mention the role of vegetarianism in the reduction of the rate of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can be found in the products of animal origin and virtually cannot be substituted by the plant food. The lack of those acids leads to the increased chances of cardiovascular diseases and heart strokes. On the contrary, the sufficient numbers of the long-chain omega-3s support the healthy condition of heart and vessels and improve individuals’ well-being (Kornsteiner, Singer, & Elmadfa, 2008).
The scientists also argue that a vegetarian diet is low in iodine rate. Normally, iodine is responsible for a number of endocrine functions and regulates the hormonal stability in the organism. The imbalance of iodine in the body may cause some serious illnesses, for instance, a goiter. Moreover, the lack of iron can also badly affect the human health. Some specialists say that the excessive consumption of dairy products together with the insufficiency of iron may lead to the incidence of the second type of diabetes (Berdanier, Dwyer, & Heber, 2013).
It has already been mentioned that the advantages of vegetarianism have not been confirmed by any valid researches and studies. That is another reason that allows to doubt its relevance and importance for the human health. Analogically, the experts do not regard any harm and drawbacks in consuming meat and other product of animal origin. The numerous studies prove the efficiency of combined rations and mixed consumption of plant and animal food. From this standpoint, vegetarianism holds relative and doubtful values and benefits for the personal health (Berdanier, et al., 2013).
Vegetarianism and The Issues of GM Foods
The quality of vegetarian food does not meet the high standards. It is an obvious fact that many cultivated crops and plants undergo organic and chemical processing for the sake of abundant harvests and good physical properties. However, such procedures may be harmful to humans and cause some allergic responses or deviation in the normal functions of the organism. For instance, many people develop allergies to pesticides or chemical substances added to the crops.
As a result, many plant products (corn or soy) can be genetically modified and disadvantageous for the human health. The scientists have not discovered and analyzed the effects of consumption of such food yet. It is possible to assume that a vegetarian ration does not include healthy food and high-quality products. In these terms, all the harmful effects the GM foods have on the human health should be taken into account (Stefanova, P., Angelova, G., Georgieva, T., Gotcheva, V., & Angelov, A., 2015).
Peculiarities of Plant Food
Special attention should be paid to the issue of the usefulness of the plant food. The supporters of vegetarianism state that plants are safer and better for digestion compared to the meat products. However, this opinion does not fully reflect the real situation. In fact, human organism cannot digest all the plants easily and naturally. For example, many plants comprise soluble and insoluble fibers that are indigestible. The consumption of this food leads to the digestion disorders, nausea, vomiting, and different sorts of abdominal problems.
In case individuals eat exclusively plant products, the insufficient consumption of water can lead to the serious intoxication, constipation, and malabsorption. In other words, not all plants are equally beneficial and nutritious for the human body. It is important to distinguish between their properties and combine their consumptions with the appropriate amounts of natural water.
Some dietary guidelines even recommend the refusal of grains and wheat as some of their microelements harm the digestive system and create blockages and toxic accumulations. Similarly, humans have no special mechanisms and means for digesting cellulose, one of the main fibers of the plants’ structure. This physiological characteristic defines the type of human ration and informs about the necessity to consume diverse products.
The Environmental Impact of Vegetarianism
Surprisingly, the increasing popularity of vegetarianism is also responsible for the deterioration of ecology and environmental conditions. The Cranfield University study revealed that the demand for a vegetarian diet had led to the enormous cultivation of new lands and creation of the energy-consuming factories and plants. Such situation directly influences the rate of deforestation and quality of air. There is no doubt that the deterioration of environmental stability affects human health. From this point of view, it is possible to assume that vegetarianism provokes considerable changes in the consumers’ behavior and ways of its satisfaction.
Moreover, the cultivation of new kinds of plants, enormous utilization of pesticides and insecticides in the agriculture for the sake of creating new sorts of products also impair the quality of soils and ground waters. Nowadays, it is possible to speak about the influence of the chemical pollution on the quality of plant food. The usage of chemicals in the cultivation can lead to the poisoning of the human organism in the process of food consumption (Stefanova, et al., 2015). Contemporary agriculture poses many threats to people’s health and does not completely meet the requirements of safety and quality.
To summarize, vegetarianism as a diet and lifestyle not only offers advantages but also inflicts drastic harm to the individual’s health. The numerous studies and surveys show the direct connection between vegetarianism and incidence rates of various diseases like colorectal cancer, low bone mobile density, and loss of muscle mass and flexibility. Moreover, a vegetarian diet deprives the human organism of such essential nutrients and substances as animal fats, protein, cholesterol, creatine, carnosine, and others. All of those elements play a crucial role in the physical and mental functioning of the human organism. Therefore, the lack of these chemical substances causes various illnesses and decreases the quality of health.
Furthermore, it is important to mention about the role of vegetarian movements in the deterioration of environmental conditions. Cultivation of new lands, deforestation, and building new energy-consuming plants affects the quality of health. Genetically modified crops and chemical processing of plants also contribute to the reduction of the quality of soils, water, and air. As a result, the general health conditions worsen and lead to the problems with the organism functioning. The experts do not recommend following a vegetarian diet exclusively. It is better to design a balanced ration and include products of both plant and animal origin. The sufficient amount of chemical substances and microelements can be achieved with the help of special supplements and vitamins. These steps will help to prevent the deficiency in some nutrients and provide individuals with the opportunities to protect their health.