Seeds of Light Foundation

Vegetariansim: Frequently Asked Questions - Answered!

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What's a vegetarian? Why would anyone want to be one?

Vegetarians abstain from eating all animal flesh, including meat, poultry and fish or other sea animals. People adopt a vegetarian diet for a number of reasons, including concern about health, animals, the environment and world hunger. A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats dairy products and eggs. A total vegetarian (vegan) consumes no animal products at all.


I am concerned about my health and I've cut down on red meat. Why must I do anything else?

Many medical doctors and government agencies recommend that people reduce the amount of red meat and overall percentage of fats in their diet. Excess dietary fat has been linked to several illnesses, including heart disease and cancer, the two top killers of Americans. As a result, many people have cut down or eliminated red meat from their diet. However, recent medical studies have found greater health benefits from eliminating meat and animal products completely. Population studies show that vegetarians have the lowest levels of heart disease and other ailments. A recent study by Dean Ornish, MD, as reported in the medical journal The Lancet, found that most patients who followed standard medical advice for coronary artery blockages got worse, while those who adopted a total vegetarian diet coupled with lifestyle changes showed improvement, including reversal of coronary artery blockages.


Aren't fish and chicken more healthful than beef?

While poultry and fish do have less saturated fat than beef and pork, they're still high in fat and have cholesterol. In stud- ies, people who replaced beef and pork with fish or poultry showed an insignificant decrease of their serum cholesterol. Poultry and fish also carry risks beyond their fat and cholesterol. Contaminated chicken is a major source of Salmonella bacteria, which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections if the chicken is improperly prepared. The USDA has estimated that more than 30 percent of all poultry is contaminated with either Salmonella, Campylobacter or Staphylococcus bactena. These same bacteria are also being found with increasing frequency in eggs, even those with undamaged shells. Fish carry more environmental pollutants than land animals. Most fish consumed by people have eaten other fish, resulting in an increased toxic build-up because of the longer food chain.

In addition, shellfish contain high levels of toxins because of their feeding habits. Toxic chemicals in fish may accumulate to more than 100,000 times the levels present in the surrounding water. Fish (as well as meat and poultry) contain about 13 times as much pesticide residue as vegetables and grains. Many fish are high in fat and all seafood is devoid of carbohydrates, fiber and vitamin C, while containing too much concentrated protein. Fish is also a common allergen.


What about lean meat?

Any reduction in fat intake is of some benefit, but there is no cut or kind of meat that is really healthy. Beef, pork, poultry and fish have varying amounts of fat but contain about the same amount of cholesterol. A cooked well-marbled steak has no more cholesterol than less marbled meat, while muscle meat actually has about 50 percent more cholesterol than meat fat. This is because muscle has a much higher water content than fat (70 percent compared to 15 - 22.5 percent) and when it is cooked, a lot of that water is lost, leaving behind a higher concentration of cholesterol.


I've heard that some foods such as oat bran, and nutrients such as beta carotene, offer health protection. What if I just eat more of those?

Many people try these "miracle foods," which have some demonstrated health benefits, without making any other dietary or lifestyle changes. No one food can prevent illness or death from diseases which may have many deep-rooted causes. The best way to avoid these diseases is to eat a low-fat vegetarian diet and adopt health-promoting lifestyle changes, including getting enough exercise and reducing stress. A balanced vegetarian diet contains an abundance of health-protecting nutrients and fiber.


Aren't most cancers caused by environment, chemicals and heredity?

Actually, no. A 1980 article in "Advances in Cancer Research" noted, "None of the risk factors for cancer is probably more significant than diet and nutrition." For cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society suggests a reduction in fatty foods and an increase in vegetables, whole grains and fruits.

Risk factors for cancer include excess calorie intake and obesity, high protein intake, a lack of plant foods containing vitamin A and phytochemicals, and insufficient dietary fiber. Chemical carcinogens and cancer viruses in animal food may also be part of the problem. The statistics are compelling:

  • This country's second major killer is cancer.

  • Women who eat meat daily have a 4 times greater risk of breast cancer than those who eat it less than once a week.

  • Men who eat animal products every day develop fatal prostate cancer 3.6 times more often than total-vegetarian men.

  • Ovarian cancer is twice as likely to develop in women on high-fat diets as in those on low-fat regimens.

  • Populations around the world that have high meat intakes also have high rates of colon cancer. Those populations with low meat intakes have correspondingly lower rates.


Where will I get protein jf I don't eat meat? Isn't it complicated to make sure you're getting enough of the various amino acids?

Getting enough protein is not a problem if you are eating a varied diet and are getting enough calories to meet your energy needs. In fact, the only ways to guarantee a protein deficiency on a vegetarian diet would be to consistently consume too few calories to maintain normal weight, eat only those foods which fall below 10 percent protein on a per-calorie basis (certain fruits and refined oils), or eat exclusively junk food.

For most Americans the problem is consuming far too much protein, which is linked to a number of ills, including osteoporosis, obesity, liver disease and kidney failure.

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are found in all plants, and this includes the eight essential amino acids humans must obtain from food. Those vegetarian foods highest in overall protein content include legumes or pulses (dried beans and peas), soy products of various kinds (totu, tempeh, meat analogs), eggs and dairy products for those who consume them, and some nuts. While at one time, some nutritionists thought it was important to eat complementary proteins at the same meal, more recent studies have shown that this practice is unnecessary.


Where would I get vitamins and minerals?

Most vitamins and minerals are found in abundance in plant foods, but some people may wonder about specific nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamins B12 and D.

Iron can be readily obtained from leafy greens, dried fruits (e.g. apricots, prunes and raisins), broccoli, wheat, peas, beans and dulse, a sea vegetable. Iron absorption is increased when iron-rich foods are eaten with a source of Vitamin C.

Calcium is abundant in dark leafy greens, broccoli, almonds, chick peas, soybeans, figs, carob and sea vegetables. Phosphorus and calcium must be in a delicate balance in order to best utilize calcium. The amount of calcium that is unused or excreted by the body increases dramatically in those people who eat a diet high in protein, especially dairy products and meat which are also high in phosphorus. Dairy products, touted as good sources of calcium, are actually calcium inhibitors because of their high protein content. The highest rates of osteo-porosis are found in countries where calcium intake is greatest and most of that calcium comes from protein-rich dairy products.

Vitamin B12, which is produced by bacteria, is needed in microscopic amounts and is essential for the nervous system and all cell growth. Deficiency can lead to spinal cord degeneration and death. Almost every case of B12 deficiency is caused by malabsorption by the individual, not by a deficient diet. New vegans (total vegetarians) usually have body stores adequate for at least three years. Long-time vegans, children, pregnant and lactating women should get B12 from specially fortificd foods, including several brands of nutritional yeast (Marmite, Vegemite, other Yeast Extracts) some vegetarian convenience foods, and various common boxed cereals. Read labels to be sure. B12 tablets (derived from non-animal sources) are available as a supplement. Vegetarians who eat dairy products and eggs also obtain B12 from those sources.

Vitamin D, is actually a hormone, not a true vitamin, and is related to calcium metabolism. Deficiency can lead to rickets in children. Our bodies are designed to obtain vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble and can be stored in the body, reasonable time spent in the sunshine during warmer months (as little as 15 minutes per day) should provide enough to last the winter. Dark-skinned children and those who live in northern latitudes or in cloudy or smoggy areas should be sure to have reliable dietary sources of Vitamin D. To avoid toxicity, nutritionists recommend we ingest no more than the RDA of 400 I.U. of vitamin D.


If I switch to a vegetarian diet, won't I have to eat more dairy products?

Many people do choose to increase the amount of dairy products in their diet when they eliminate flesh foods, but this is both unnecessary and potentially unhealthy. All necessary nutrients can be obtained by those who eat a total vegetarian diet (no meat, dairy products or eggs). The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recently called for a New Four Food Groups (whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes) which lists meat and dairy products as optional and not necessary!


How come vegetarians sometimes seem to eat more and yet are not overweight?

Some vegetarians do gain weight, but most keep a stable weight even though they eat a greater volume of food than meat-eaters. The reasons for this are quite simple. Meat and dairy products are calorie dense and most of those calories come from protein and fat. Vegetable foods contain far fewer calories for the same quantity of food and those calories come primarily from carbohydrates. Calories are not created equal. Dietary fat tends to be convened into body fat far more readily than do carbohydrates. People can eat more calories without gaining weight if those calories come primarily from carbohydrates. (Baked potatoes are not fattening by themselves, but become a dieter's no-no with butter, margarine or sour cream.)


A vegetarian diet may be OK for adults, but is it a safe way to raise children?

A vegetarian diet provides more than ample nutrition for children, and may actually help protect them from some illnesses, including those caused by pesticides and contaminants in foods (Eat Organic).. Vegetables and grains are lower on the food chain and so contain far less pesticides and contaminants. Parents should make sure that children eat enough calories (from unrefined, whole foods, NOT junk foods).

Children have small stomachs, so it is wise to include judicious use of some fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, and nut and seed butters) and dried fruits to add calories to their diets. All vegetarians, including children, should eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.


Aren't people physically designed to eat meat? (Read: The Vegetarian Report.)

Animals closest to us physiologically are vegetarian or nearly vegetarian, and so were our not too distant evolutionary ancestors. Humans can digest a wide variety of foods and this ability undoubtedly contributed to our species' survival throughout history. Unlike most species, humans have choice about their diet, which is dictated more by tradition and culture than by physical restrictions. While scientists disagree about specific anatomy and physiology points, one of the best indications that humans are best suited to a vegetarian diet is the many health benefits found with plant-based diets and the many diseases and illnesses linked to eating meat. The ability to eat an omnivorous diet may have had survival value in the past but it is now clear that meat-eating threatens human health and planetary survival.


Weren't animals put here for food?

Animals have their own lives and destinies separate from human needs. While some people interpret religious teachings to mean that humans have dominion over animals, many believe having dominion does not necessarily mean we have to kill animals for food. Many religions have vegetarian sub-denominations, and having compassion for animals doesn't contradict the teachings of any of the major religions.


Why should we worry about animals when there's so much human suffering?

It makes sense to worry about all beings on this planet, because our lives are interconnected. Much of human suffering is directly linked to animal consumption, including heart disease, pollution, water scarcity and starvation. The truth is there would be plenty of food for everyone if we were not raising animals to feed people. Let us consider the following facts:

  • 1.3 billion peeple could be fed with the grain and soybeans eaten by 114 livestock. The U.S. population is only 255,600,000.

  • 80% of U.S. corn and 95% of our oats are eaten by livestock.

  • 90% of protein, 99% of carbohydrate and 100% of dietary fiber Is wasted by cycling grain through animals.

  • 64% of American agricultural land is used for lIvestock feed.

  • An acre can yield 250 pounds of beef or 40,000 pounds of potatoes.

  • A pound of feedlot beef takes 16 pounds of grains and soybeans.

  • 15 total vegetarians can be fed on the same amount of land needed to feed one person on a meat-based diet.


Aren't there more pressing animal causes?

Many people are concerned about companion animals such as dogs and cats, or those used and killed in laboratory experiments or trapped for their fur. Those are important issues but they do not preclude concern about animals raised for slaughter. Almost 10 times as many animals die for human consumption as for all other causes combined.

Annual consumption of red meat and poultry is about 178 pounds per person. Each year the average American non-vegetarian family of four eats half a steer, a whole pig, 100 chickens, 556 eggs, and 280 gallons of milk products.


Aren't farm animals raised humanely?

Conditions on many factory farms and at slaughterhouses are deplorable. Many animals live and die in cramped, filthy quarters that do not allow such basic physiological needs as sunshine, stretching, or for some, any unrestrained movement at all. Laying chickens, for example, are usually squeezed four to five birds per cage, and this crowding leads to stress-related diseases.

At the slaughterhouse, many animals are boiled alive or bleed to death from slit throats. While some laws call for humane slaughter (where animals are rendered unconscious first), killing animals for food can never be considered humane.


I am concerned about the environment and I'm doing my part by recycling. Isn't that enough?

Recycling is a critical part of protecting the environment, but by simply changing our food choices we can make a far greater positive impact. One of the greatest hazards facing the environment is meat production.

Why is that?

The demand for cheap beef is a major reason for the destruction of Central American rainforests. This contributes to species extinction and, along with deforestation, contributes to carbon dioxide pollution, a major factor in the greenhouse effect. Tropical rainforests provide a substantial part of the earth's oxygen, house 80 percent of the planet's land vegetation, and are home to more species of plant and animal life than all the remainder of the Earth. It takes 55 square feet of rainforest for each quarter-pound hamburger made from imported cattle.

With every acre destroyed, species become extinct and carbon dioxide pollution increases, adding to the greenhouse effect. At the same time the atmosphere is robbed of oxygen that would have been generated by that vegetation. The greenhouse effect is also caused by an excess of methane, a naturally occurring colorless odorless gas produced in part from the decomposition of organic matter. Each year around the world, ruminant livestock release some 80 million tons of methane in belches and flatulence, while animal wastes at feedlots and factory-style farms emit another 35 million tons. These account for 15 - 20 percent of global methane emissions.


That's rainforests. What other dangers are there?

Forests in the United States are also imperiled by the demand for beef. In the last 300 years, we have cut down over half the trees in the United States and exchanged them for vast fields of corn, soy beans, oats, grass and hay which are primarily fed to livestock.

The vast majority of land in the U.S. currently used to raise cattle is the arid public range in the west, which is being severely degraded and eroded because of overgrazing.

Historically, topsoil depletion has been a cause of thc demise of many great civilizations. In the last 200 years, U.S. agricultural practices have destroyed about 1,500 years' worth of topsoil. Every year U.S. farms lose over five billion tons of topsoil. Erosion has permanently removed one-third of original U.S. croplands from food production - and 85 percent of that loss can be directly linked to raising livestock.

Meat-based diets also waste fossil fuels and raw materials. It takes more than 15 times as much energy to produce a pound of pork, for example, as it does to produce a pound of fresh fruits and vegetables. Almost half the energy used in American agriculture goes into livestock production, the majority of it for meat.


What about water?

Animal agriculture guzzles huge amounts of water. In California and other western states, livestock agriculture drains one-third of all irrigation water. It can take up to 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat, the same amount of water used for all purposes by a typical household in a month. It is far more efficient to produce plants - which require only about 2 percent as much water - for human consumption.

Millions of tons of non-recycled wastes are produced by factory-farmed livestock each year. These wastes can be 10 to a few hundred times more concentrated than domestic raw sewage, and much of it ends up untreated in our water. Animal excrement and fertilizers have been blamed for some 40 percent of the nitrogen and 35 percent of the phosphorus released into U.S. rivers, lakes and streams.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that almost half our wells and virtually all surface streams are tainted with agricultural pollutants.


Won't a vegetarian diet cost more money?

It is cheaper to eat a balanced vegetarian diet than a nutritionally equivalent meat-based diet. Certainly there is a great deal of variety in a vegetarian diet, and it is possible to buy many convenience and specialty foods that may cost more. (This is also true on meat-based diets). However, these foods are not necessary to provide a nutritionally balanced, varied and interesting vegetarian diet.


Healthy Vegetarian Starter Recipes.



  • 2 Tablespoons whole wheat pastry OR all purpose flour.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder.
  • 1 pound firm tofu, cubed.
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion.
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper.
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed.
  • 14 oz. canned tomatoes in puree.
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce.
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder.
  • 10 oz. frozen okra or green beans.


Combine first four ingredients in a shallow dish. Coat tofu cubes in flour mixture; cook briefly in hot oil in skillet, turning frequently. Remove tofu. Saute onion, pepper and garlic in same skillet. Add tomatoes, soy sauce, onion powder and okra or green beans. If using fresh okra or beans, add 1/4 cup water. When vegetables are tender, add tofu and leftover flour. Cook for a few minutes. Serve over rice.



  • 1 cup dried kidney beans
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1.5 cups tomato sauce
  • 1.5 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin


Soak kidney beans in water overnight. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. Saute onion and garlic in oil, add seasonings, tomato sauce and corn. Simmer 15 minutes. Add tomato mixture to cooked kidney beans and stir. Simmer. Serve over rice.



  • 1.5 cups raw chick peas (soak overnight in 6 cups water, cook until tender for 1.5-2 hours; drain) OR 3 cups canned chickpeas
  • 3 medium cloves garlic
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium lemons, juiced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (packed)
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 3/4 cup tahini (sesame buffer)

Blend all ingredients. except tahini, in blender or food processor. Add water as needed, to form a thick paste. Put in a bowl, stir in tahini. Chill. Serve on sandwich or as a dip.



  • 1 pound tofu
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped or ground in dry blender
  • 2 medium onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oat
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour vegetable oil; for browning
  • 2 cups tomato or spaghetti sauce.

Wrap tofu in cloth or paper towels for a few minutes to remove excess water. Mash. Mix well with all ingre- dients except oil and tomato sauce. Form into 24 small balls and flatten slightly as you place them in an oiled baking dish. Sprinkle a little oil on each. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, turning once to brown both sides. Spread tomato sauce over balls. Bake at 350 for another 15-20 minutes. Serve over pasta or on a sandwich.



  • 3 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 bunch collards or kale, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil.

Steam or boil potatoes until soft. Mash, adding water, salt, pepper and oil. Set aside. Saute onion in oil for a few minutes. Add broccoli, pepper, carrots, peas, tomatoes, basil and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add collards or kale, and cook for another 5 minutes. Put vegetables into a medium baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 C for 10 or 15 minutes and serve.



  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 cups warm cooked brown rice.

Saute celery, onion, pepper and garlic in oil until vegetables are tender. Add chili powder, cumin, salt, oregano, basil, paprika and tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are soft. Stir in rice.



  • 1/2 pound pinto beans, cooked in 1.5 quarts water for 2 to 2.5 hours (until tender), drained
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Dash of black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt, to taste.

Process all ingredients in blender until smooth. Use on nachos, tacos and burritos. Top with salsa, avocado, olives, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.



  • 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, coarsely blended
  • 2.5 cups cooked brown rice
  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread soaked in 1/4 cup chick pea cooking water
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut buffer
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: dried parsley, poultry seasoning, celery seed
  • Bread crumbs.

Mix together all ingredients (except bread crumbs). Form into aoquettes or patties. Roll in bread crumbs and sprinkle with oil. Place in baking dish and bake at 3750 for 45 minutes or until brown. Serve with gravy



  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot starch or corn starch
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame butter)

Mix arrowroot, soy sauce and poultry seasoning together in sauce pan to make a paste. Gradually add water. Stir well. Cook over moderate heat until thickened. Add tahini. Mix.


Where Can I Find Our More?

Subscribe to "Vegetarian Voice", NAVS' quarterly newmagazine, with recipes, how-to tips. in-depth looks at important health, nutrition, environmental and animal rights issues, book and product reviews.

Get in touch with a network of support people and groups. NAVS has a Local Contact network of almost 100 individuals and over 180 independently affiliated groups throughout North America.

Read any or all of the following, available by mail from NAVS:

  • "Vegetarian Cooking for a Better World," by Muriel C. Golde. Offers 101 recipes, many from past Vegetarian SummerJest conferences. $2.5

  • "The Peaceful Palate: Fine Vegetarian Cuisine" by Jennifer Raymond. 120 low-fat recipes for homestyle favorites. $15.

  • "The (Almost) No-Fat Cookbook: Everyday Vegetarian Recipes," by Bryanna Clark Grogan. Healthful recipes for the whole family. $12.95

  • "Simply Heavenly! The Monastery Vegetarian Cookbook," by Abbot George Burke. 1,000+ favorite recipes from the Holy Protection Orthodox Monastery; many are good transition recipes for new vegetarians. $19.95

  • "The Uncheese Cookbook," by Joanne Stepaniak. Recipes for hard and soft "cheeses," plus soups, sauces, entrees and desserts. $11.95

  • "Becoming Vegetarian: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Vegetarian Diet". Three dietitians offer tips, menus and recipes. $11.95

  • "Food For life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life," by Neal Barnard, MD. Compelling medical evidence for a diet based on grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. With recipes. $13

  • "Diet for a New America," by John Robbins. Thoroughly researched look at all aspects of vegetarianism, environmental issues, factory farming and the powerful meat, poultry and dairy industries. $14.95

  • "Vegan Nutrition: Pure & Simple," by Michael Klaper, MD. Covers basic nutrition and problems associated with consuming animal products. Provides sample menu and meal ideas, travel and cooking tips. $9.95

  • "The Philosophy of Animal Rights," by Tom Regan. Sums up 10 reasons for animal rights, rebuts 10 arguments against animal rights. $2.50.

Postage / handling: $3 for orders up to $45; $4 for orders $45.01 & over.


Send for a complete list of books and other materials available from:

NAVS, Box 72, Dolgeville, NY 13329 (518) 568-7970


What is NAVS.

The North American Vegetarian Society is a non-profit making, educational organization dedicated to promoting the vegetarian way of life. We organize annual Vegetarian Summerfest Conferences, and provide information to members, the public, local groups, interested organizations, and the media. NAVS founded and promotes World Vegetarian Day, October 1.





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