Why do people choose to follow a plant-based diet?
For some, it’s based on religion. For others, it’s a moral concern about the treatment of animals used for food.
Even if these aren’t major concerns for you, it may still be worth looking into these types of diets, and incorporating vegan and vegetarian meals into your daily routine.
Studies are showing that meat-based diets may potentially increase the risk of some serious conditions.1 In addition, conventional Western diets lack many important nutrients.2
The two types of plant-based diets that get the most play are vegetarianism and veganism. However, there are some questions about what separates these two kinds of diets. They both could help with weight loss — but…
What Makes A Vegetarian Diet, Well, Vegetarian?
There’s one core principle a vegetarian follows — she will not eat any food that has been produced using any part of a living — or dead — animal. So what can’t she eat?
- Or any byproduct of slaughter (ie: gelatin)3
Dairy products and eggs are accepted by most vegetarians.
But even under the vegetarian umbrella, there are a few variants:
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarians: Avoid all animal flesh, but consume dairy and egg products
- Lacto vegetarians: Avoid animal flesh and eggs, but consume dairy
- Ovo vegetarians: Avoid all animal products except eggs4
Pescatarians eat fish, but no meat or poultry and flexitarians adhere to the rules of being vegetarian, but only part-time.
How Can A Vegetarian Diet Help You?
The vegetarian movement was born of ethical concerns. However, many vegetarians boast that their lifestyle allows them to be healthier than their meat-loving counterparts.
At first glance, science seems to show that going vegetarian can have quite a few benefits. One major study showed that vegetarian diets were twice as effective at reducing body weight than meat-based diets. The study also showed that a vegetarian diet may be able to support metabolism by reducing muscle mass.5
Another study showed similar results, along with the fact that more vegetarian dieters stuck to their diet than those of other groups.6 The study noted there may have been many reasons for the higher rate of adherence. More study would be needed to figure that out, but the effect of a vegetarian diet can clearly be positive.
Vegetarian diets are inherently lower in saturated fat and cholesterol. They also tend to be rich in nutrient-dense foods. These include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.7
Legumes are particularly important here. As an inexpensive, protein-rich food, legumes are generally the closest nutritional replacement for meat in vegetarian diets.8
What Makes A Vegan Diet, Well, Vegan?
Think of a vegan diet as something that is built on top of a vegetarian diet. Vegans have all the dietary restrictions vegetarians have, but they take it another step. Not only do vegans avoid eating animal flesh, they refuse to consume any food produced by animals or derived from them.
This means they also nix:
- Dairy products
Some vegans extend this practice to their other purchases as well, by skipping leather, fur, and products tested on animals. Vegans eat many of the staple foods vegetarians eat. More and more companies today are providing substitutes and products designed for the growing vegan population.
How Can A Vegan Diet Help Me?
Well, one study showed that vegans on average are more health-oriented than other members of society. This includes not only their diets but exercise habits and attitudes towards drinking or smoking.9
Studies of plant-based diets show plenty of potential when it comes to weight loss, heart health support, and risk reduction in terms of certain health conditions.10,11
But Are Vegans Getting Enough Nutrients?
Now, while there’s a lot of positive information out there in regards to plant-based diets, there’s also a lot of concern.
For instance, how can you get calcium without milk? What about omega-3s without fish? And so on. And so on.
To clear the air, you can absolutely get every nutrient you need on a plant-based diet.
Most of the negative rumors and myths about plant-based diets come from looking at unbalanced vegetarian and vegan diets. Though it may sound strange, there is such a thing as vegan junk food.
Cookies, chips, or sweetened cereals might be vegan, but they’re full of added sugars and oils. By the same token, processed vegan “meats” can be high in sodium.
Those are just some of the same ingredients that cause trouble in conventional Western diets! So, when you snack, stick to dried fruit or raw nuts.12
In addition, leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and bok choy are some of the most calcium-rich foods around.13 So the rumor that you can’t get calcium on a plant-based diet holds no water either.
Overall, fortified foods and supplements can be your best friends on a plant-based diet. Many of the same companies that specialize in vegan foods fortify their products with certain nutrients that vegans may have trouble getting. Dietary supplements can help fill the same gaps. Before you take this route, be sure to speak with a doctor or medical professional.
Vegetarian And Vegan Lifestyles In Review
The plant world offers great substitutes for nutrients you might get from animal proteins and dairy. In fact, a plant-based diet that can easily fulfill your cravings and health needs.
And science has shown that plant-based diets can offer a healthy, nutritional balance. Both vegan and vegetarian diets rely on eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. By doing this, you can get everything your body needs to function — even if you go meat-and-dairy-free!