In the past few weeks I’ve had so many people asking me about vegetarianism and veganism. The question always goes something like “Are vegetarian/vegan people really healthier compared to omnivores?” This questions does not have a yes or no answer.
As most of you know, vegetarian people don’t eat meat. They eat all the plant based foods, as well as animal dairy products like eggs and cheese. Research shows that not eating meat is associated with better overall health throughout the lifespan. However, meat is a great source of protein and iron. Individuals who decide to become vegetarian need to see a dietitian or a nutritionist to ensure that they get their protein and iron needs through foods daily. The nutritionist can give them a variety of food options, the different ways to cook those foods and the benefits of each. The nutritionist would measure the client’s weight and height, consider the client’s sex, as well as asking about his/her age and dietary habits. After that, it will be easy to create a dietary plan based on the amount of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and overall energy needed for the client’s body to function normally and be healthy.
There are, of course, a variety of vegetarian diets. Some vegetarian people are pescatarian, which means they eat fish but no other meat. Some vegetarians are strict in terms of eggs, but they enjoy dairy. There are many varieties that people follow based on preferences. It is completely okay to do that, but those individuals need to be under the supervision of a professional to ensure prevention of any possible deficiencies.
Now, let’s talk about veganism. I have so many vegan friends who switched to veganism without asking a health professional about what to eat. Not eating any animals products whatsoever and getting their food from plant based foods can be very tricky. Vitamin B12 is important for the formation of red blood cells in the body, as well as keeping the nervous system healthy. The sources of vitamin B12 are animal products such as liver, eggs, clams, Tuna, beef, etc. People who follow a vegan diet would have no way of getting sufficient vitamin B12 everyday, unless they decide to eat a significant amount of vitamin B12 fortified cereals every single day. A lack of vitamin B12 can have adverse health problems, so vegan individuals need to see a dietitian for getting the proper dose of B12 supplementation. In addition, for calcium and vitamins B1 and B2 that are mainly found in dairy products, the dietitian would need to prescribe supplementation as well.
For both vegetarian and vegan diets, healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids found in fish will be eliminated from the diet. Vegetarians can make up for it by consuming omega 3 fortified eggs and other dairy products. Vegans, however, will need either supplementation, or very specific food selections including many nuts and seeds high in omega 3 to ensure they get enough of it.
In conclusion, if each of these different types of diets are done correctly, they can be overall healthier than an omnivorous diet. Health professionals would be more than happy to help you with more detailed information. Let me know if you have any questions for me.
Until next time!