Many of you know Steve Jobs as the entrepreneurial CEO behind Apple’s iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The news of his death was not particularly surprising to those who knew of his 7-year battle with pancreatic cancer. The fact that he was a vegetarian raises questions about whether or not his untimely death could have been prevented. It also brings to mind the great debate of whether vegetarianism is truly a healthy lifestyle. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of times that over a billion people could be fed each year from the grain and soy fed to US livestock. But how healthy would those people actually be?
People choose a vegetarian diet for various reasons. Some are concerned about their health and see vegetarianism as a way to avoid the saturated fats found in animal products. Some take up the vegetarian lifestyle for religious reasons, for example Steve Jobs was a Buddhist vegan. Others may have environmental, political, cultural, or even economic motivations. Whatever the reason may be, choosing to become a vegetarian is a very big decision, and one should really assess weigh out the benefits.
It is a well-known fact that vegetarians, especially vegans, can easily become deficient in nutrients such as vitamin B-12, iron, zinc, calcium, and omega-3’s. WebMd point out that even those who follow a lenient vegetarian diet are at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency and possibly even heart disease. A study done by the American Society of Clinical Nutrition found that 92% of the vegans they studied had vitamin B-12 deficiency. Even the more lenient vegetarians who ate eggs and milk were found to have a 66% occurrence of B-12 deficiency, while only 5% of those ate meat were deficient. According to the National Institute of Health, Vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause severe and permanent damage to the nervous system and brain. Even at levels slightly lower than normal, symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, constipation, and depression are common. Here’s some additional information about animal based proteins versus plant based sources.
Although there is actually little scientific literature that carefully compares mortality and disease rates between vegetarians and nonvegetarians, the fact remains that vegetarianism is relatively new to human history. The Weston A. Price Foundation points out that “all traditional cultures consume some sort of animal protein and fat from fish and other seafood; water and land fowl; land animals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects.” No civilization has ever thrived on a true vegan diet for a very long time, much less sustain several healthy and fertile generations. They ate what they could get, and they certainly did not complain if they had to eat a fish or an egg.
But times have changed, and one could certainly make the argument that vegetarianism is a viable option in today’s world of unusual ingredients and special food substitutes. I’m adamant in making sure the public is aware of factory farming and the hazards of consuming animals that are fed over 29 billion pounds of antibiotics per year. Read more about factory farming here.
For the many people choosing to be vegetarian, there is a wealth of valuable knowledge out there for improving the quality of their diets. For example, the Vegan Society recognizes the need for foods fortified with vitamin B-12. However, it is still recommended that vegetarians modify their diets to include such foods as eggs and fish.
If you’re indefinite about the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, here are some of my favorite sources:
The Vegetarian Low-Carb Diet Cookbook by Rose Elliot