The reasons people become vegetarian range from the ethical, environmental or religious to more practical issues of economics and health. People usually become vegetarian for one main reason, then discover all kinds of other advantages later. If this is a choice you are considering it might be helpful to look at the reasons people become vegetarian in the first place.
In terms of health, a vegetarian diet certainly can be a very healthy one but this is not always a given. A diet consisting entirely of beer, chocolate and chips is in fact vegetarian (it can even be vegan) but your arteries, heart, liver and scales will not thank you for it. Don’t be discouraged though; the diet of most vegetarians is healthier than that of most carnivores for a whole range of direct and indirect reasons.
Most obviously your diet will not contain red meat. This is a good thing as red meat tends to be high in saturated fat. Most nutritionists recommend that if you do eat it then you have it no more than twice a week. A bacon sandwich for breakfast, a burger for lunch and meat lasagne for dinner will, unsurprisingly, pile on the pounds. Your grandmother might have told you that protein is essential but nobody needs that much. Certainly nobody should be eating quite that much fat if they want to be fit.
Your actual sources of protein are likely to be especially healthy in themselves. Pulses (legumes), nuts, tofu, soya products and other meat substitutes are often high in fibre and nutrients and some even count towards your five daily portions of vegetables. Eggs are high in protein but low in fat. In fact the only ones you need to be careful with are dairy products.
We all know that a vegetarian diet does not mean a diet consisting simply of vegetables. However the chances are you will be including more and more vegetables in your meals as you try out all kinds of delicious new foods and recipes. It is easy to get stuck in a rut of eating the same kinds of things all the time and a diet change quickly provides you with the motivation to experiment.
Indirectly you will learn more about nutrition. One reason for this is that you will receive all kinds of dire warnings, probably mainly from older members of your family. In the process of checking to make sure your diet contains enough iron and protein (nearly all vegetarian diets do, with the possible exception of the beer and chips one mentioned earlier) you discover a good deal about what constitutes a genuinely balanced diet.
You are far more likely to remain a vegetarian than stick to a diet such as Atkins or the South Beach one. This is because there are reasons other than health and fitness to motivate you.
Ethical. Some people feel that taking a life without good reason is wrong and are opposed to meat eating on principle. Others simply do not wish to support the exceedingly inhumane intensive farming of animals. If you want to find out just how cruel it is then visit the website of a reputable animal charity such as the RSPCA. It is very disturbing.
Environmental. It takes far more land to produce one pound of beef than one pound of corn. This means that ecosystems, including all too often rainforests, are destroyed to make way for cattle farming when they needn’t be if all that is required is food. Cattle also produce substantial quantities of methane, adding to the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. This is the last thing we need.
The little discussed issue of overfishing is a very serious one and here too you will be helping. Clearly you will no longer have to worry about eating an endangered species directly. You will also no longer support the overfishing that is done to provide fishmeal as animal food.
Religious. Some religions already support vegetarianism (Buddhism and Hinduism for example). If you are Muslim or Jewish you will no longer have to worry about the source of the meat you do eat, or double checking to make absolutely certain that pork is not a hidden ingredient in snacks. If it says ‘suitable for vegetarians’ then it will be fine. If your religion is Christianity, or anything else, then a change that makes your lifestyle more compassionate and responsible fits with the tenets of Christianity and indeed all religions.
Economic. A vegetarian diet is cheaper. Compare the cost of a steak and the steak’s weight in lentils (which can be made into umpteen wonderful meals). Yes, you will be saving quite a considerable amount. As you will probably also be healthier and slimmer then I recommend spending what you save on a well deserved treat. A new outfit would be appropriate.