This is the final article in this series on various diets. This article explains the Vegan and Vegetarian diets. Because there are formalized societies for both, we will quote directly from the Vegan Society and the Vegetarian Society to provide definition and clarification of what is included, and not included, in these diets. Then we’ll conclude with some important thoughts from a nutrition perspective.
Veganism (content directly quoted from www.vegansociety.com)
The Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com) defines veganism as “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals. A vegan diet is richly diverse and comprises all kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, beans and pulses.
One thing all vegans have in common is a plant-based diet, avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey – as well as products such as leather and any products tested on animals.”
Vegetarianism (content directly quoted from www.vegsoc.org)
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based foods (e.g. salt) with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs. A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with, the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal. This includes meat, poultry, fish, shellfish (sea animals covered with a shell including crustaceans and mollusks), insects, by-products of slaughter (such as gelatin, isinglass and animal rennet) or any food made with processing aids created from these.
There are different degrees of vegetarianism which may be what causes confusion for many people. The four most common forms of vegetarianism are:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Eats both dairy products and eggs. This is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
- Lacto-vegetarian. Eats dairy products but not eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarian. Eats eggs but not dairy products.
- Vegan. Does not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other animal product.
Eggs: Many lacto-ovo vegetarians will only eat free-range eggs. This is because of welfare objections to the intensive farming of hens. Through its Vegetarian Society Approved trade mark, the Vegetarian Society only endorses products containing free-range eggs.
Protein: Sources in the vegetarian diet can come from a range of different sources including:
- Pulses, such as peas, beans, lentils and – botanically speaking – peanuts, are excellent inexpensive sources of protein and also contain minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium.
- Soya products and QuornTM, a form of ‘myco-protein’ available as mince, burgers, fillets, sausages and so on are also good sources of protein, popular and convenient to use.
- Free range eggs and dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt as well as nuts and seeds contribute to protein and also to zinc, calcium and iron intake.
- Vegan options such as non dairy soya milk and vegan ‘cheese’ are valuable sources of protein and are often additionally fortified with calcium.
- As can happen with the Standard American Diet (Omnivore), it is very easy to be attracted to highly processed, man-made vegan and vegetarian convenience foods. While we have confidence that some people can be healthy eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, it cannot be done in healthy ways any better than an omnivore’s diet if it is done on fake, highly processed or sugary options. There are many vegan and vegetarian junk food options from cheese and meat imitations as well as highly processed, fast digesting, genetically modified grains, flours and grain products. All of these can result in a highly inflammatory diet.
- It is important to understand that the primary purpose for vegetables in anyone’s diet is to cleanse and detoxify the human body. While it is true that carbohydrates can provide some energy, too many carbohydrates result in fat storage. It is the nutrients and plant fibers that help us cleanse and detoxify and thus the reason many people feel so good when they initiate a vegan or vegetarian diet. However, only protein and fat can be used to replace our cells routinely and repair damage. No carbohydrate can be used to make new cells. Carbohydrates cannot be used to heal bones, repair injuries or conquer disease. This is the primary reason we emphasize the importance of responsible veganism or vegetarianism because carelessly done, it can become very difficult to have young healthy skin, maintain a healthy weight and heal from disease or illness unless you have ensured adequate and quality sources of protein and fats.
- The ideal candidate for a vegan or vegetarian diet is a person who prefers and loves a wide variety of vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as healthy fats and is accountable to themselves to be educated and wise in ensuring optimal nutrition, and when necessary, optimal supplementation. A talent and joy for cooking and food preparation is also a good candidate since there are few vegan or vegetarian eateries. Finally, a person with a healthy digestive tract who does not suffer from food sensitivities or allergies to many of the foods in a vegetarian diet such as grains, dairy, soy, eggs and nuts – some of the highest allergenic foods in America today.
- As we wrap this series up, please note that the same remarks can be made about any diet that is made up of processed, man-made food. Sugar, genetic modification, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, chemicals and excessive animal foods, especially those raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) cannot lead anyone to good health. We all need to take care and responsibility in determining the best diet for our unique being, by listening to our body, seeking medical assistance to carefully assess food allergies and food intolerance, nutrient status, gut health, and other sources of ill-health, inflammation and congestion. We, as human beings, will all be best served through eating a wide variety of whole, real foods.