What do you eat? Are you a carnivore, vegetarian, or vegan? Is one really better than the other? Each group, of course, will claim its superiority and state facts about health or the environment. But there is a growing number of Americans who are assuming a different eating choice.
They are called flexitarians, a term used to describe those in between, carnivores who eat a predominately vegetarian diet, or vegetarians who occasionally eat meat. In other words – omnivores. The growing number of flexitarians are motivated more by the suggested health benefits of eating less meat than by any moral issues.
While vegetarian products such as soy milks and veggie burgers are becoming standard in grocery stores, many say the growth of these meat alternatives aren’t from the estimated 3 percent of vegetarians, but from people actively seeking out more meatless meals.
A Diet of Less Meat makes Sense
There are lots of reasons why a diet of less meat makes sense. Here are a few numbers:
- Studies show that, on average, vegetarians live 3.6 years longer, weigh 15% less than non-vegetarians, and tend to have lower rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
- Buying less meat and poultry is economically smart as they are the more expensive items on the menu.
- The excrement produced from livestock is 30 times larger than humans and leeches off into the water, causing environmental degradation.
- Statistics say that 20 million people will die this year of malnutrition worldwide, while 100 million people would be fed if Americans reduced their meat intake by 10%.
- Women who eat meat daily have 3 times the risk of breast cancer than those who eat meat once a week. For men, daily meat eaters have 3 to 6 times the risk of prostate cancer.
- On average, a US vegetarian man’s risk of death by heart attack is 15%. A daily meat eater’s risk jumps to 50%.
- 660,000 animals are killed for meat every hour in the US.
And while much of this seems to promote vegetarianism, anthropological research proves otherwise. Studies have shown that through natural selection, we have evolved the teeth of omnivores, able to grind grain, strip leaves and eat meat. Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees, eat fruits, plants and meat, as do many species of primates. The Amazon Golden Marmoset had failed to reproduce in captivity in the National Zoo in Washington until animal protein was added to their diets.
A Balance of Proteins
The first humans appeared around 4 million years ago, and subsisted on wild plants, small animals and anything they could scavenge. Man turned to agriculture around 10,000 years ago, domesticating animals for meat production. Data has suggested that societies who developed a greater dependence on cereal grains and carbohydrate foods undermined their health, until they were able to maintain a balance between animal and plant proteins.
Humans are Omnivores
Some researchers have claimed that our bodies haven’t had the necessary amount of time since the invention of agriculture to adapt to the changing conditions that affect our diet, hence our bodies are still like those of our ancestors some 20,000 years ago. Meat wasn’t always on the menu – it depended on what was able to be found and killed, or scavenged – but it was present. Anthropological research has proven that humans are indeed omnivores, but need some animal foods for optimal nutrition.
So whatever your reasons, it’s in our genes to be flexible. Do your ancestors proud!