I’ve been vegetarian for two weeks now. It REALLY hasn’t been easy. I walked past a kebab shop two days ago and it was extremely hard to resist the scent of fatty delicious meat and the idea of me wolfing it down. Terrible. I know.
Vegetarianism is common in my culture. Although ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine) doesn’t insist on vegetarianism, it does recommend it. The concept of ahimsa – nonviolence towards other living beings – is a core tenant of Hindu and Buddhist thought. Vegetarian food is also easier to digest and vital to colon health.
A majority of vegetarians I know don’t miss meat. But I miss it. Badly. This journey has been so hard. The people who know me are surprised I’ve lasted two weeks. But when I say I’m going to do something – I tend to do it. I don’t like going back on my word.
I keep reminding myself about the benefits of such a lifestyle. Charmaine Yam, a doctor based in Australia, reminds me of some of the advantages and disadvantages of practising such a lifestyle.
Dipa: What are some of the health benefits of vegetarianism?
Charmaine: Because you’re not eating meat, you’re not eating as much saturated fat. It’s good for your heart health. The higher fibre intake means it’s better for digestion. From the ethical point of view, it also makes some people feel better about their food choices.
Dipa: What are some of the health risks associated with eating meat?
Charmaine: If you’re eating a lot of red, fatty meat that’s high in saturated fats, that can increase your cardiovascular risks. You can get strokes and heart attacks.
Nevertheless, if you’re eating meat, you have access to both meat-based and plant-based food. It is easier to meet protein requirements through meat and fish than plant-based food.
Dipa: Are there any risks associated with vegetarianism?
Charmaine: If you want to be vegetarian, you should be educated on what you could potentially be missing out on – such as iron. Iron is important for red blood cells and if you don’t get enough of it you can become anaemic and feel tired. It affects your concentration, too. You can get iron in vegetables, but it is far less than say in a piece of steak. You need to know what vegetables you can get it from – like leafy green vegetables.
You’d also miss out on omega 3 which is largely derived from fish. You can also get that from nuts or avocado, though. There’s also the issue of protein deficiency – you’ll need to balance it out with legumes, tofu, eggs, cheese and the like.
Vegetarianism works – you just have to make well-educated choices to meet your nutritional requirements.