Are Nutritionists Usually Vegetarians? If so, why?

Vegetarians: Meat Lot

Vegetarians do not automatically live healthier lives. Meat or not meat, that is a hotly debated question. The dispute between vegetarians and meat-eaters is not always led with a fine blade. Narrow-minded missionaries hostile to pleasure are some - the other, however: simply murderers. A look behind the hardened fronts shows that, especially from a health point of view, there are hardly any valid arguments that speak clearly in favor of a form of nutrition. Except that too much meat is eaten.


There are no exact figures as to how many Austrians forego schnitzel, meat loaf and fried chicken. Nutritionists estimate that one in ten people can eat without meat. About 0.5 percent are vegan. They consistently avoid - and not only when eating - all animal products. In both cases, the trend has been rising sharply in recent years. Vegetarians and vegans have arrived in the middle of society. This can only be seen from the fact that the two largest Austrian supermarket chains are now bringing vegetarian and vegan product lines onto the market.


What are the motivations of vegetarians?

A large online survey by the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, which is based on information from more than 4,000 vegetarians from all over the German-speaking region, is informative. 62.7 percent said that animal suffering had made them vegetarians (“moral vegetarians”). For health reasons, a total of 19.9 percent of the study participants spoke out against meat on the menu (“health vegetarians”). 11.0 percent stated that the main reason for not choosing meat was that they were disgusted with meat (“emotional vegetarians”). It was noteworthy that the proportion of women in the online survey was more than 70 percent. The average age was just under 30 years. More than 67 percent of the participants came from cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants. And more than three quarters had a high school diploma, 29.1 percent even completed a university degree. The typical vegetarian is therefore female, young, well educated, lives in the city and rejects meat for moral reasons.


Moral concerns

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jürgen König, Head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Vienna, can understand the moral concerns that arise among more and more people in view of industrial meat production: “The images of factory farming are difficult to cope with. But that is the price that, for example, a kilo of pork is offered at discounters for three euros. Nobody can expect the animals to come from animal welfare. ”He could understand if, in view of the prevailing conditions, someone decides to forego meat altogether. Professor König can also gain something from the current media hype about meatlessness: “From a health point of view, it is not necessary to go without meat. But it would be very good for the Austrians if there was significantly less meat on the table. "


Source: Greenpeace, ZEIT ONLINE

More allergies

However, there has only recently been bad news for health-conscious vegetarians. A study by the Institute for Social Medicine at the University of Graz has shown that vegetarians are less healthy than meat eaters. The scientists evaluated data from a total of 1,320 people that had been collected as part of the Austrian Health Interview Survey (ATHIS). The astonishing result: vegetarians had almost twice as many allergies as those who eat a lot of meat and also showed a 166 percent higher cancer rate. Vegetarians looked worse in 14 of a total of 18 diseases - including asthma, diabetes and osteoporosis. This also applies to mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and depression. It is not surprising that the Graz scientists also found that vegetarians have a poorer quality of life than meat eaters - in all four categories examined: physical and mental health, social relationships and environmental quality of life.


However, the researchers at the University of Graz point to a not insignificant shortcoming of their study: the chicken or egg dilemma. It cannot be said whether the poorer health of the vegetarians was caused by the diet or whether they changed their diet because of an existing illness. There should be clear advantages for vegetarian diets in the area of ​​cardiovascular diseases. Just recently, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that vegetarian food can have beneficial effects on high blood pressure. And a nutritional study at Oxford University that looked at data from more than 44,000 people found that vegetarians have a one-third reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The catch: the overall mortality rate was not reduced. The vegetarians apparently die earlier from other diseases.


Myths and fairy tales

The promise of the German Vegetarian Union that vegetarianism "has the potential to prevent most diseases of civilization" and that it can even be used to treat them has unfortunately not been fulfilled. And so Univ.-Prof. Dr. Gabriele Meyer, the chairman of the German Evidence-Based Medicine Network, clearly states: "These are the same myths and fairy tales as with all nutritional promises about health." Nutritionist Jürgen König is convinced that from a health point of view nothing speaks against a vegetarian diet : “Most vegetarians are more concerned with nutrition and pay attention to balance. If eggs or milk and dairy products are included in the menu, there are absolutely no concerns. ”It gets more complicated with vegans, who forego all animal products - including milk and honey. Univ.-Prof. König: “Vegans need specific expert knowledge on how to get all the substances the body needs. That is not always easy. That is not suitable for the average person. ”The supply of vitamin B12, calcium and iron, which are normally mainly obtained with meat and milk, cause particular problems.

If you deal intensively with the topic and with medical advice, vegans can also manage to get through life without deficiency symptoms. Big exception: pregnant women and children. Professor Jürgen König: "For small children there is a real risk that their mental and physical development will be impaired." He would also advise against vegan experiments after major operations or chemotherapy. The so-called pudding vegetarians live unhealthily for other reasons. You do without meat and fish, but stuff yourself with sweets to compensate.


Pasture meat

The moral arguments of vegetarians have always been out of dispute: They prevent massive animal suffering and also have a much smaller ecological footprint. The provocative question of a German author and blogger struck like lightning in this self-image of the ethically superior: Do vegetarians cause more bloodshed than meat eaters? Felix Olschewski thinks yes - under certain conditions. The Lower Saxony, who has been blogging for five years operates, advocates healthy and sustainable nutrition with as much regional products as possible and calculates the vegetarians: "Per kilo of usable protein from grain, 25 times more sentient beings are killed than through sustainable meat production." We are talking about "pasture meat". For example, the meat of cattle that feed on grass and do not get concentrated feed. In contrast, existing ecosystems would have to be eliminated for the production of soy and vegetables - with negative consequences for a huge number of animals from insects to birds and wild animals. Felix Olschewski: "Anyone who is a vegetarian or vegan and believes that this will save the planet is fooling themselves."


The fact that the studied economist repeatedly emphasizes that he is strictly against conventional meat production, i.e. factory farming and all other excesses of the meat industry, no longer helps him. A tremendous shit storm pours over him. He endured the abuse on the Internet for two days, then he switched off the comment function on his blog. “I was surprised myself how much dissatisfaction and self-hatred there is apparently in many people who are particularly vegetarian and vegan.” He just wanted to paint a more nuanced picture and show that someone always loses out when eating: “Who picks a berry , takes it from a bird; whoever creates a field destroys a habitat for animals. ”Nutritionist Jürgen König turns against black and white thinking. Vegetarians, who call all meat-eaters murderers, he would like to write in the register that there is no ideal nature without humans. "I recommend a documentary about predators as an illustrative material." On the other hand, one should be grateful to the vegetarians. Because they have initiated a discussion about the catastrophic conditions that are, so to speak, the basis of business in large parts of industrial meat production.


More and more people buy food more consciously and are interested in the conditions under which it was produced. Jürgen König: “It would be desirable to eat a lot less meat. That can then be from sustainable production and species-appropriate husbandry and therefore also cost more. ”A trend in this direction is slowly becoming noticeable. Sometimes there are also very volatile developments: Ex-boxing world champion Mike Tyson, who once bit off an ear of his opponent Evander Holyfield, has been a vegan for several years.


Heinz Macher

June 2014


Photo: shutterstock, private


Vegetarians with a story

There were already vegetarians in ancient cultures. The first traditions about abstaining from meat come from India and Greece. Pythagoras was probably a vegetarian. Whether the outstanding philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (around 570 to 500 BC) completely renounced meat cannot be said with absolute certainty. There are conflicting sources on this. What is certain, however, is that many of his followers and students were vegetarian. The reasons for this were religious in nature. The thought of transmigration of souls and rebirth spoke against killing and consuming animals. Without its founder being a vegetarian, the philosophy school founded by Plato (around 428 to 348 BC) also showed great sympathy for vegetarianism. In contrast, the Stoics and Epicureans were meat-eaters and convinced of the lower existence of animals.


In Christian philosophy there are hardly any noteworthy advocates of vegetarianism, even if monks and hermits repeatedly renounced the carnal for reasons of asceticism. In some orders there were and are rules that also apply to meat consumption. For example, Benedictines were only allowed to eat four-legged animals outside of the stricter Lent period when they were sick. Poultry and fish were allowed. The emergence of vegetarianism in the early 19th century was not religious, but ethical. The first vegetarian society was founded in London in 1801, and the Vegetarian Society was established in 1847. The International Vegetarian Union was launched in 1908.


The British pacifist Donald Watson coined the term “vegan”. In 1944 he founded the Vegan Society in Leicester. The teacher died in 2005 at the age of 95.



The images from factory farming are difficult to cope with. But that is the price that, for example, a kilo of pork is offered for three euros at discounters. "
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jürgen König
Head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Vienna

‌ Last updated on November 13, 2020