Americans eat an average of 54.3 pounds of beef, 92.1 pounds of chicken, and 50.4 pounds of pork, per person, per year, according to the USDA estimates.
About 3.2 percent of Americans –approximately 7.3 million people – follow a vegetarian diet, and 10 percent – or 22.8 million people –follow a vegetarian-inclined diet, focusing on plant-based nutrition, a recent study has found.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 outline three “healthy eating patterns” or “balanced diets” – two include meat. Leaving ethical consideration aside, omitting an entire food category from a diet can be both beneficial and harmful.
“It is possible to be a healthy vegetarian,” Carly Pollack, Certified Clinical Nutritionist, says. “But it’s difficult.” The body can’t function properly without protein, and meat is the most convenient source of the essential nutrient.
When vegetarians plan their meals properly, they can meet all the required intakes of vitamins and minerals that keep a person healthy. But not many people do it – studies have shown that two in three vegetarians lack vitamin B12. Iron deficiency is common regardless of what diet a person follows, but the body absorbs up to 35 percent of the heme iron in meat and between 2 and 20 percent of the non-heme iron found in vegetarian sources.
A vegetarian diet can be a double-edged sword. Yet, many professional athletes, such as track and field champion Carl Lewis, are proud vegetarians and there is even a growing community of vegan bodybuilders.