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Is It Healthier to Be a Vegetarian or an Omnivore?

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A well-balanced vegetarian meal (Hannah Feiten)

Update: Our award-winning video series Above the Noise took a fresh look at the pros and cons of vegetarianism.  Students can watch the video to get a primer on the facts then write their own response.

This post is part of KQED’s Do Now U project. Do Now U is a biweekly activity for students and the public to engage and respond to current issues using social media. Do Now U aims to build civic engagement and digital literacy for learners of all ages. This post was written by the following students from Autumn Marshall’s “Professional Orientation” course at Lipscomb University: Hannah Feiten, Riya Rana, Courtney Brenner, Erick Ramirez, Alexis Burchfield and Constance Fonseca.

Featured Media Resource
VIDEO: Big Think

How Healthy is Vegetarianism…Really?
Dr. Marion Nestle, a nutritionist, discusses diets and their impact on human and environmental health.

Do Now U

Is It Healthier to Be a Vegetarian or an Omnivore? #DoNowUOmnivore

How to Do Now

To respond to the Do Now U, you can comment below or post your response on Twitter. Just be sure to include #DoNowUOmnivore and @KQEDedspace in your posts.

Learn More About Vegetarianism and Omnivorism

The vegetarian-omnivore debate has been raging for decades, if not centuries. The world of healthcare continues to debate the health benefits, and the pros and cons of each side. In addition, many public figures, from medical professionals to professional athletes, have weighed in on the subject. To clarify terms, a vegetarian is defined as a person who does not eat any meat of any kind—poultry, game, fish, or shellfish. Some versions of vegetarianism allow some animal foods; for example, lacto-ovo vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and flexitarians occasionally eat meat, poultry, and fish. Depending on dietary preference, eggs, dairy and fish may not be included at all in this diet (veganism means there are no animal products in the diet). An omnivore, on the other hand, is one who consumes a variety of meat and dairy foods as well as plant food groups, including fruit, vegetables and grains.


A leading concern for those who prefer a vegetarian diet is making sure adequate nutrients are supplied, particularly calories and protein. Due to the fact that meat—a main protein source in most Americans diets—is eliminated, vegetarians have to pursue other avenues to get adequate protein, like legumes, soy and nuts. Without meat in the diet, humans cut out vitamin B12 and limit DHA/EPA (active forms of omega-3 fats), nutrients which promote brain health. In contrast, a vegetarian diet is shown to have a lesser risk of certain diseases. With the increase in plant-based foods in the diet, more phytochemicals are consumed, thus reducing risk of chronic diseases linked with animal fats, such as overweight, obesity, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Animal products are often high in cholesterol and saturated fat as well, so vegetarians benefit from reducing these unhealthy fats and thus reducing risk for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

A well-balanced omnivore plate
A well-balanced omnivore plate (Hannah Feiten)

On the other hand, studies have shown an increased incidence of chronic disease among those who eat meat. Today, meat and poultry are often treated with hormones to make the animals grow faster and larger, and antibiotics are used not only to treat, but also to prevent, disease. These methods concern for some consumers. And yet, meat products contain creatine and carnosine, which are beneficial to the brain and muscles. Meat has demonstrated the capacity to improve bone health, which is beneficial as humans grow older. And, Vitamin B12 is essential to prevention of pernicious anemia, which affects the central nervous system; thus an omnivore’s diet helps to protect the brain and nerves. The protein found in meat is complete, high biological value protein, which means the proteins are more easily absorbed and utilized by the body. Additionally, omnivores are less likely to be deficient in total calories, Vitamin B12, iron and zinc than their vegetarian counterparts.

With pros and cons for each diet, the choice is up to you. What do you think? Is it healthier to be a vegetarian or an omnivore?

More Resources

Article: Authority Nutrition
7 Reasons Not To Avoid Meat
Read a nutrition researcher’s take on why meat is not bad for your diet, but why it’s not necessary either.

Website: ProCon.org
Should People Become Vegetarian?
Check out the top “pro” and “con” arguments for becoming vegetarian.

Infographic: Culinary Schools.org
Veganism and the Environment: By the Numbers
Learn about how veganism has a reduced impact on environment versus a diet that contains meat.

Find best practices for using Do Now, using Twitter for teaching, and using other digital tools.

KQED Do Now U is a biweekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today’s most pressing problems.

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