Vegetarian food pyramid, a pyramid of delights.
Some vegetarians do not eat eggs or dairy products while others do. A vegan diet excludes all animal products. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products but not eggs, ovo-vegetarians consume eggs but not dairy products, and lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume both eggs and dairy products. Some vegetarians reject products using animal ingredients such as cheeses employing animal rennet, which is gelatin made from animal skin, bones, and connective tissue. Other no-nos include cane sugar and alcohol prepared with animal, fish, or seafood products.
There are several reasons that people become vegetarians or vegans. The major one is animal rights. Many vegetarians are quite concerned about the environment. After all, it takes eight pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. Cattle burping is a major source of methane gas that pound for pound has a greater impact on the greenhouse effect than does carbon dioxide.
Vegetarianism dates back to ancient India and the ancient Greek civilization in Southern Italy and in Greece in the 6th century B.C. When the Roman Empire became Christian, vegetarianism practically disappeared from Europe. Several orders of monks in medieval Europe banned or restricted the consumption of meat but they all ate fish. Vegetarianism returned to Europe during the Renaissance but only became widespread in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is estimated that almost three of four vegetarians are (Asian) Indian, most of whom are lacto-vegetarians. In the United States an estimated 1-3% of the adult population eat no meat, fish, or poultry.
What about the health issues? The American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada assert that a properly planned vegetarian diet will satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life. In fact many studies show that a vegetarian diet significantly lowers the risks of cancer, ischemic heart disease, and other fatal diseases. Such diets can help control a dieter’s weight. Some studies show that eating non-lean red meat increases the risk of cancers of the lung, esophagus, liver, and colon. But other studies show no significant differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, or prostate cancer. Vegetarianism is believed to reduce E. coli infections. A recent E. coli outbreak that contaminated spinach was traced to a nearby beef cattle ranch.
There are many options for vegetarians who want to eat out.
The protein intake in vegetarian and vegan diets may meet the daily requirements of athletes and others. But dieters must plan their diet to get all the essential amino acids which cannot be synthesized by the human body. One way is to eat eggs and dairy products. Another is to combine foods such as brown rice and beans, or hummus and whole wheat pita. Vegetarians must concern themselves with getting enough iron, Vitamin B12, and vegans must make sure to get enough calcium such as by eating leafy greens.
In conclusion, you can consider a vegetarian or even a vegan diet without sacrificing your health or your children’s health. But before you go there spend some time with a dietician or nutritionist to plan your diet. I personally believe that going vegetarian means spending more time and effort in the kitchen. Many vegetarians have told me such is simply not the case.