Vegetarianism and veganism, as lifestyle choices, have been growing in popularity in recent decades. Like all such changes, these movements have produced confusion, since people adhere to them with varying degrees of rigor and for many different reasons. Vegetarians, quite simply, do not eat animals. No meat, fish, shellfish, etc., but all kinds of grains, vegetables, fruits, fungi, and animal products such as dairy and eggs are allowed. Vegans, a smaller group, don’t eat anything that comes from animals, so milk, cheese, eggs, ice cream, and honey are out. To confuse the matter, some people call themselves vegetarians meaning that they don’t eat red meat or poultry, but keep fish and shellfish in their diets. Others say they are vegetarian when they eat pork or poultry, but eschew red meat. And people aren’t always entirely strict. Someone may be a vegetarian, but occasionally indulge in a strip of bacon.
People become vegetarians for various reasons. For many it is a religious or ethical commitment, celebrating the sacredness of animal life and protecting the environment. Others, more prosaically, want to spend less money on food or improve their health. Most people these days are familiar with the benefits of reducing fat in general, and particularly saturated fat in their diets. Meat often has a lot of saturated fat. It’s also very rich, in that it has a lot of calories in a small volume. Going vegetarian or vegan can help people lose weight and reduce heart health risks.
The main difficulty with vegetarian or vegan diets is that they require rather more attention than diets that include meat. Just taking meat out of the equation does not make a diet healthful or balanced. To get the benefits stated above and to counteract the loss of certain vitamins and minerals, vegetarians and vegans must be careful to eat a broad range of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Cookies are vegetarian, and peanut butter sandwiches are vegan, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can live on them alone.