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“You are what you eat”, goes a famous saying. And if that
is truly the case, then a lot of Americans would appear to
be unhealthy, chemically treated, commercially raised slabs
of animal flesh. And while that is not a particularly pleasant
thought, it is nonetheless an description of the typical
American omnivore who survives on the consumption of
Big Macs and steak fajitas. But there are individuals who
do not follow this American norm and have altered their
diets so that they do not consume any meat. These people
are vegetarians and they are the new breed of healthy
Americans who refuse to poison themselves with fats,
cholesterol, and the other harmful additives that come from
meat. And while once thought to be a movement that
would never gain much momentum, it has nonetheless
moved itself to the forefront of Americans healthy diets.
The word vegetarian, used to describe the diets of people
who do not consume animal flesh, was not used until
around the mid-1800s. The concept of vegetarianism,
however, dates back much further. The Greek philosopher
Pythagoras, considered by many to be the father of
vegetarianism, encouraged a non-meat diet among his
followers as a diet that was the most natural and healthful.

A vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat and
can be exercised by people for a number of reasons. The
largest majority of individuals choosing vegetarianism
related to heath reasons. For example, someone with an
ulcer might be prescribed a strict diet of vegetables in order
to promote the healing process, or someone with a
dangerously high level of cholesterol might be advised to
follow a vegetarian diet to lower his or her fat and
cholesterol intake.
The immorality of consuming animal flesh is another
argument touted by a smaller group of vegetarians. This
moral argument for vegetarianism and the effect of what
meat eating might have on the character of humans; some
people have come to believe and fear that in the suffering
and killing which occurs in commercial farming, we demean
ourselves, coarsen our sensitivities and dull our feelings of
sympathy with our fellow creatures. Almost to a point
where it becomes easier for us to contemplate and carry
out the torture and killing of human beings.
Whatever the reasons behind a persons choice to be a
vegetarian, it is important to understand the different diets
that individual vegetarians can choose. In the widest sense
of the word, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is made up of
grains, vegetables and fruit, but does not include any animal
meat, such as fish, pork, poultry, or beef. Beyond these
standards, there are many variations of diets that occur
within the world of vegetarianism. The first, and most
common category of vegetarianism is a lacto-ovo
vegetarian. This a person who includes dairy products and
eggs but no animal meat. This means that there is
consumption of animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, and
Another variation is the lacto-vegetarian diet that allows the
consumption of milk and other milk products, but does not
include the consumption of eggs. Like all vegetarians, these
two groups do not consume fish, poultry, or meat.
The third category that vegetarians can fall into are vegans.

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The vegan diet is by far the most strict of all the vegetarian
diets. Vegans shun all animal products. Foods that involve
animal processing to any degree are often avoided. This
means that vegans can consume no foods containing any
animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or cheese. Being a
vegan often dictates an “animal friendly” lifestyle that, aside
from not eating anything that came from an animal, also
abstains from buying or using products that were tested on
animals or are made from animal hairs or skin, such as
leather shoes or belts.
A common misconception of vegetarians is that they are all
a bunch of skinny, malnourished idealists who live on plants
and soy milk. Another common misconception is that a diet
of protein is a diet that builds strength and muscle.

Professor Irving Fisher of Yale designed a series of tests in
which he compared the strength and stamina of meat-eaters
against vegetarians, with three groups of individuals
represented: meat-eating athletes, vegetarian athletes, and
sedentary vegetarians. His studies showed that the average
score of the two vegetarian groups was over double the
average score of the carnivores, even though half of the
vegetarians were sedentary people and all of the carnivores
were athletes. Fisher concluded that, “….the difference in
endurance between the flesh-eaters and the abstainers (was
due) entirely to the difference in their diet…There is strong
evidence that a … non-flesh … diet is conducive to
A comparable study was done in 1968 by a Danish group
of researchers that tested a group of men on a variety of
diets, using a stationary bicycle to measure their strength
and endurance. The scientists fed their test subjects a diet
that was comprised of mixed amounts of vegetables and
meats for a period of time before testing the men on the
stationary bicycle. The average time that they could pedal
before muscle failure was 114 minutes. The very same
group of subjects was then fed a diet that consisted of only
meat, eggs, and milk for an equal amount of time. They
were then re-tested on the bikes. On normal “well
balanced” diet, it seemed their pedaling time before muscle
failure dropped dramatically to an average of only 57
minutes. That same group of men were again fed a diet that
this time was made of entirely of grains, vegetables, and
fruits before they were once again tested on exercise bikes.

The lack of animal byproducts didnt seem to hamper their
performance, as many people would have thought, and the
men were able to pedal an average of 167 minutes before
muscle failure. A considerable longer amount then when
they ate animal products.

Yet still, vegetarians are still often criticized by people who
feel that they do not get enough minerals and vitamins as a
result of their limited diet. But vegetarian food is among
some of the healthiest foods available to mankind and while
there is no easy way to determine the extent to which a
vegetarian diet can influence the health of those that follow
its guidelines, the evidence is very indicative that it may be
an important contributing factor. Evidence is good that risks
for hypertension, coronary artery disease, type II diabetes,
and gallstones are lower. Data seems to show that the risks
of breast cancer, diverticular disease of the colon, colonic
cancer, calcium kidney stones, osteoporosis, dental
erosion, and dental caries are lower among vegetarians.
Vegetarian diets contain less total fat and less saturated fat,
which are linked to increased risk of obesity, diabetes,
heart disease, and cancer. In comparing the diets of
vegetarians to omnivores, we see that the American
omnivore consumes a diet that is 34% to 36% fat,
lacto-ovo vegetarians eat a 30% to 36% fat diet, and
vegans eat a diet that is about 30% fat, which is the
recommend amount of fat intake for whatever ones diet
consists of. This means that vegetarians also consume less
cholesterol, which has been linked to an increase in the risk
of heart disease and possibly even cancer. The amount of
cholesterol of a lacto-ovo vegetarian is about 150 to 300
mg of cholesterol per day compared to the 400 mg of
cholesterol that an omnivore consumes. Vegans, who
exclude the intake of any food that contains animal
byproducts, do not consume foods that contain significant
amounts of cholesterol. The US Department of Agriculture
and Health and Human Services have created a Food
Guide to better advise Americans on how to eat healthier,
more balanced meals, and which “advises using fats, oils,
and sweets sparingly.” Vegetarians as a group also
consume higher amounts of fiber. Fiber, found mainly in
grain products, is essential to healthy bowels and colons,
lowers the risk for diabetes, helps control blood glucose
levels, and also lowers the risk for cancer and heart
disease. It is grain products that form the base of the Food
Guide Pyramid, which recommends servings of bread, rice,
cereal, and pasta 6 to 11 times per day. The typical intake
of fiber for an average omnivore is about 12g of fiber each
day, with vegetarians eating 50% to 100% more fiber than
non-vegetarians. That is a considerably higher amount.
A vegetarian diet also includes consumption of more
antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the risk of
cancer, heart disease, and possibly arthritis and cataracts.

Dietary antioxidants include such vitamins as vitamin E and
vitamin C.
While vegetarians consume less total protein, they do
consume adequate amounts to maintain a healthy balance,
as demonstrated by modern nutritional science. Excess
protein, and in particular excess animal protein, is linked to
the increased risk for osteoporosis, kidney stone formation,
kidney disease, and an increase in blood cholesterol levels.
The nutritional benefits of a vegetarian diet very clearly
appear to be beneficial to human health. But a vegetarian
diet can also be healthy to the lives of our planets other
inhabitants, the very animals that are being eaten or the way
they are being raised to meet our mass consumption of
animal products.
Due to the increased demand for food, livestock farmers
have had to keep up by devising new and more efficient
ways to raise more animals, giving way to the
industrialization of meat farming. Hormones, chemicals, and
steroids are all used to aid in the quicker process of animal
growth and production. Chickens, as we grew up believing,
were farmyard animals that were free to roam the yards.

Due to the industrialization of chicken farming in the past
forty years, all this has changed. The days of the barnyard
chicken are over, replaced instead with the assembly-line
chicken. But the poultry farmers are not alone in its
industrialization. The beef, turkey, pork and other meat
industries have also had to adapt their methods of
production in order to keep up with the demands of
omnivores. This includes the use of growth hormones in the
animals to produce more eggs and fatter animals, which are
then passed on to their human consumers. A chemical
called XLP-30, is designed to boost pigs per litter, though
it has a name that sounds like it should be added to motor
oil instead of animal food. Incredibly, Officials
acknowledge they dont know why it works. This is just
one example of the chemical tampering that the meat
industry is forced to do with its animals in order to fight off
the diseases that the animals cramped, unsanitary living
conditions bring with them.
Leonardo Da Vinci said “the time will come when men such
as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on
the murder of men.” While the cruelty of murdering animals
for their flesh is a moral argument in favor of vegetarianism,
it seems rather unlikely that Americans could ever be
swayed by its message. However, many Americans are
interested in preserving their own health and well-being,
and that should lead many people towards a vegetarian
lifestyle since a vegetarian diet includes the necessary
vitamins and minerals to sustain human life, without any of
the negative byproducts of animal consumption, such as
cholesterol, excessive fat, and excessive protein.
A healthy lifestyle is something benefits us all, and yet most
people are unwilling to give up the meat-filled diets. If the
phrase “You are what you eat” has any amount of truth to
it, then Americans need to realize what they are ingesting
every time they enjoy a Big Mac, some Whoppers, or a
filet mignon. There are healthier alternatives to the meat
eating that nearly every member of our society has been
weaned on, and those alternatives all include the
consumption of more vegetables and the absence of meats.

It is now up to them to realize this and make the necessary



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