Vegetarian diets can be hazardous to health because many beliefs about the diet’s benefits are not supported by scientific evidence (Byrnes 72). According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy at all stages of the life cycle when planned correctly (Craig and Mangels 1266). In the literature review by Craig and Mangels, the authors attempted to prove that the vegetarian diet includes all of the required nutrients, such as vitamin D or vitamin B-12 (1269). However, most empirical studies failed to correlate vegetarianism with improved health (Key 524S), and plant-based diets were associated with various vitamin deficiencies (Herrmann et al. 131). Vegetarianism is not a healthy option because it can lead to several nutrient deficiencies, and many reasons for supporting a vegetarian lifestyle are based on false beliefs.
First, a vegetarian diet alone does not guarantee longevity, improved overall health, or avoiding various disorders that were falsely correlated with eating meat. Second, omitting meat without adding adequate food groups or supplements to compensate for protein and vitamin deficiencies can be hazardous to health. Third, the assumption that plant-based foods are healthier than animal-based foods is incorrect because some plant-based foods can be harmful to the human body.
The assumption that vegetarianism prevents various health conditions is not only false, but research shows that people who consume animal-based foods are more likely going to avoid those issues than vegetarians. Some disorders that were correlated with meat-eating include cancer, osteoporosis, heart disorders and similar health disorders. However, both anthropological and medical studies proved that animal products are not the only factors that induce those disorders. For example, the Maasai had little cases in which people suffered from heart disorders and similar chronic diseases, even though their diets have been based almost exclusively on meat for many years (Byrnes 73).
Research showed that osteoporosis was not correlated with protein intake from meat, and studies that did establish those correlations used isolated amino acids instead, so their results cannot be considered valid (Byrnes 73). However, studies on vegan and vegetarian diets showed that women who follow vegan or vegetarian diets are more likely going to suffer from osteoporosis than women who eat animal-based foods (Lau et al. 63).
Various studies were conducted to evaluate the effects of meat consumption on heart disorders. No correlation was found in various countries where meat consumption is higher than average, such as France and Greece, but the incidences of heart disorders were very low compared to countries where people ate less meat (Byrne 73).
The first theory that animal fat contributes to cancer was established by Wynder and Reddy (10). However, Byrne claims that the data used for animal fats was falsified because the data referred to vegetable fats (Byrne 74). Furthermore, meat itself is not carcinogenic, but the chemicals used to treat it and the cooking methods used are (Byrne 74). Therefore, minimally processed animal foods are not the causes of cancer.
Because the chemicals used in food treatment are usually the cause of cancer, rather than the food itself, it is possible to conclude that plant-based foods can also be treated with chemicals and carry a significant risk for cancer. Furthermore, vegetarians base their diets on whole wheat products and legumes, and researchers found that carbohydrate-based diets are the main causes of cancer (Witte et al. 249). In other words, whole wheat products do not reduce risk from cancer. In fact, placing more emphasis on consuming those products may increase risks for cancer. Because cancer, heart disorders, osteoporosis, and similar chronic disorder cannot be associated with meat and because vegetarian diets can be associated with higher risks for those conditions, it is possible to conclude that vegetarian diets should not be supported.
One of the main reasons of higher risk for a variety of disorders in people who follow a vegetarian diet is the lack of various essential nutrients. Although many essential nutrients are available to vegetarians, especially if they consume dairy products, eggs, and fish, many vitamins are not available from plants, including vitamin B-12 and vitamin D (Byrnes 73). Even though those vitamins are often found in fortified foods, fortified foods are not recommended by the Harvard Public School of Health because they often include too much folic acid and may cause various health issues because of imbalances in micronutrient intake (“Keep the Multi”).
Although vitamin D is gained by some extent through sun exposure, most people require additional vitamin D intake in their diet. Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, the only sources of vitamin D are animal fats (Byrnes 73). While some plant-based foods may contain vitamin D-2, it is not as effective as vitamin D-3 obtained from animal-based foods (Byrnes 73). That is why several animal and dairy products, such as cod liver oil, sardines, butter, and eggs, are required in the daily human diet.
Research by Herrmann et al. shows that vegetarians often suffer from vitamin B-12 deficits, which are correlated with disturbed neurotransmitter formations and DNA hypomethylation, which is an abnormality associated with human tumors (136). Furthermore, both vegan and vegetarian participants in the study showed elevated levels of tHey, which places them at higher risk for cardiovascular disorders than omnivores (135-136).
Although Hindu vegans used to eat only plant-based foods in India, they did obtain vitamin B-12 from small insects and their larvae that were found on those plants. Upon moving to England, where the plant-based food was cleaner, they all suffered from megaloblastic anemia because of vitamin B-12 deficiency (Byrnes 73). Macrocytic anemia could also be present in vegetarians, but the excess folate intake may mask its presence (Herrmann et al. 136). Overall, research evidence points that several nutrient deficiencies and imbalances in nutrient intake are present in vegetarians.
Arguments vegetarians often use to support their diet choice are usually based on ethical decision-making or personal health. For example, vegetarians may argue that eating meat is cruel and unethical towards animals or that following the vegetarian diet improves overall health and longevity. The arguments in both examples are incorrect. The vegetarian argument that eating meat is cruel is false because it is incomplete. Plants also respond with electrochemical reactions equivalent to fear when their existence is threatened, so in terms of dying and eating other organisms, there is no distinction between plants and animals (Jensen, “The Plants Respond”).
When it comes to health and longevity, an analysis of five prospective studies by Key et al. showed that vegetarians have 24 percent lower risk of ischemic heart disease than non-vegetarians, but there were no significant correlations between vegetarianism and mortality from other major disorders, such as lung cancer, cerebrovascular disorders, and stomach cancer (524S). That supports the statement that a vegetarian diet alone does not guarantee superior health or longevity in contrast to a non-vegetarian diet.
Finally, it is important to mention that even some plant-based foods that vegetarians consume have been associated with poor nutrition value and adverse health effects. Soy is the most common example. While traditionally fermented soy products, such as miso and natto, are all considered healthy, contemporary soy products available on the market are hyper-processed foods (Byrne 76).
Even non-fermented soy foods are usually not recommended for consumption because they have a large amount of phytic acid, which binds to minerals and removes them from the body; phytic acid is also one of the main causes of mineral deficiencies in vegetarians (Byrne 76). Traditional soy preparation methods took that in account, so soaking, fermenting, or sprouting was used to reduce the amounts of phytic acid. In addition, foods containing fatty acids need to be included in the diet to compensate for the lack of vitamin A and D in soybeans (Byrne 76). That proves plant-based foods cannot be considered a suitable or safe alternative to animal foods.
While opinions and personal beliefs vary, empirical evidence cannot be disputed, so vegetarianism cannot be considered a healthy option for human beings. Animal products include a variety of nutrients, such as carnitine, fat-soluble vitamins, coenzyme Q10, and alpha-lipoic acid, which are not present in other food sources (Byrne 74). Even though some literature reviews may suggest that vegetarian diets are beneficial to health (Craig and Mangels 1266), it is evident that a lot of misinformation is presented without sufficient evidence or with inaccurate data interpretation. Vegetarianism is not healthy because it is often responsible for nutrient deficiencies and increased risk for various chronic disorders.
“Keep the Multi, Skip the Heavily Fortified Foods.” The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 11 June 2013.
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Craig, Winston J., and Ann Reed Mangels. "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109.7 (2009): 1266-1282. Web. 11 June 2013.
Herrmann, Wolfgang, et al. "Vitamin B-12 Status, Particularly Holotranscobalamin II and Methylmalonic Acid Concentrations, and Hyperhomocysteinemia in Vegetarians." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78.1 (2003): 131-136. Web. 11 June 2013.
Jensen, Derrick. "The Plants Respond: An Interview with Cleve Backster." The Sun, 1997. Web 11 June 2013.
Key, Timothy J., et al. "Mortality in Vegetarians and Nonvegetarians: Detailed Findings from a Collaborative Analysis of 5 Prospective Studies." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70.3 (1999): 516s-524s. Web. 11 June 2013.
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Witte, John S., et al. "Diet and Premenopausal Bilateral Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study." Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 42.3 (1997): 243-251. Print.
Wynder, Ernst L., and Bandaru S. Reddy. "Editorial: Dietary Fat and Colon Cancer." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 54.1 (1975): 7-10. Print.