More and more people are seeking a healthier and cleaner lifestyle, often starting with their diet. In the last five years, vegetarian and vegan diets have entered the mainstream, with chain restaurants offering more cruelty-free options and vegan restaurants popping up around the United States.
With each passing year, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is not a mere fad. People now want to know exactly where their food comes from and how it was grown. Vegetarians do not eat any animals while vegans abstain from meat and avoid all dairy products, eggs, and other animal derived products.
Now that vegetarian and vegan fare is more readily available, it is important to know the difference between the two diets. Understanding the differences can help you decide if they are something you want to explore or if they’re the right lifestyle choice for you.
The Vegetarian Diet
Traditional Vegetarians abstain from all foods that involve animal slaughter but still incorporate eggs and dairy into their diet. There are, however, different variations of the vegetarian diet.
Pescetarians avoid meat and poultry but still add fish into their diet. An ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but avoids dairy products. A lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy but refuses eggs.
The strictness of the vegetarian diet varies from individual to individual. For example, some vegetarians will not consume food that may contain animal byproducts such as gelatin (gelatin contains animal bones and hooves), which is found marshmallows and most gummy candy.
Reasons Why People Choose the Vegetarian Diet
- People have many reasons for why they adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Many choose to eliminate meat from their diet because they do not feel that animals should be slaughtered for the sake of their dinner when there are nutritionally viable meal options out there.
Some people may begin a vegetarian diet because of health issues.
- Either because they are concerned with the quality and safety or eating meat from the grocery store or they are simply trying to eat cleaner. Religion is another reason people adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Religions like Hinduism and Jainism typically practice a vegetarian lifestyle while some Christians choose to give up eating meat for Lent.
The Vegan Diet
Like vegetarians, vegans don’t consume meat or fish, but they also take it on another level and don’t eat eggs, milk, or any food that is derived from animals. A vegan diet consists mostly of grains, nuts, beans, fruits, seeds, vegetables, as well as many meat and dairy substitutes that are now available on the market.
Reasons Why People Choose the Vegan Diet
- One of the biggest differences between being a vegetarian and a vegan is that being a vegan is not just a diet, but it is also a lifestyle. Vegans believe in living a compassionate lifestyle that in no way exploits animals for commodity.
- They not only exclude all forms of meat, dairy, and animal byproducts from their diet, but they also eschew all toiletries, clothing, and any product they may have exploited animals in its production. Vegans may not just have ethical reasons for choosing the lifestyle, but they may have environmental motivations as well.
- Many reports have shown that raising livestock has contributed significantly to the output of methane gas, pollution, increased water use, land degradation, and the reduction of biodiversity due to clearing out land to make room for the livestock.
- Vegans are not just concerned with polluting the environment, but their bodies as well. When looking for a lean and clean lifestyle, many people turn to veganism to lose weight and to improve their overall health.
The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian and Vegan Diet
Being a vegetarian or vegan is appealing to a lot of people because of the plethora of health benefits each diet has to offer. The healthy benefits of each diet are so recognized that many companies that provide health insurance now offer a discount to practicing vegetarian and vegans.
- Heart Disease: Heart disease is currently the leading killer in the United States, effecting both men and women in dramatic numbers. Studies have found that eliminating meat and dairy from your diet greatly reduces your intake of saturated fats, concentrated protein, and cholesterol, the number one suspects in poor heart health. The increased amount of fiber you can get from a vegetarian diet helps to eliminate the excess cholesterol in your digestive track.
- Cancer: The American Cancer Society (ACS) has stated that the top recommendation for cancer prevention is to eat a plant-sourced diet. Research has found that vegetarians are between 25 to 50 percent less likely to suffer from cancer. By adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet, studies have shown that you can dramatically decrease your risk of developing colon, prostate, stomach, esophagus cancer, as well as lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system).
- Animal Borne Illness: In recent and not so recent years, outbreaks of mad cow disease and avian flu have dominated the news broadcasts. Many animal products contain harmful contaminants, such as bacteria, arsenic, mercury, and dioxins, which can have immediate and long-term negative effects on your health.
- Every year, there are thousands of cases of food poisoning, a good chunk of those being fatal. The overuse of antibiotics in factory farms has also created antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on animal flesh, which poses a great risk to those that consume it. It is common for farmers to put trace amounts of arsenic in their chicken feed to kill parasites.Unfortunately, this means that people consuming these chickens are also being exposed to these levels of arsenic, which can build up in the blood stream and cause cancer and a host of other health problems in humans. Even if you have eliminated poultry and meat from your diet, consuming fish also poses several health risks.
- Pollutants such as PCBs, residual industrial waste found in the environment is often found in fish flesh, causing cancer in animal, and skin and liver damage in humans. Fish also accumulate mercury in their bodies, which pose an especially huge risk to pregnant women and children, who have been warned not to eat fish that harbor higher levels of this toxic substance.
Some Concerns About Practicing a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet
Although vegetarians and vegans enjoy a diet of leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts, some people are concerned that they are not getting the necessary vitamins they would otherwise get in an omnivore diet.
Although its true that some vitamins such as B12 are only naturally found in animal products, there are many supplements, vitamins, and fortified foods you can eat to ensure that your are getting a whole and balanced diet.
- Calcium: Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. If practicing the vegan diet, you can find calcium in tofu, edamame, sesame tahini, almonds, collard greens, spinach, bok choy, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Protein: Protein seems to be the main nutritional concern of people considering a vegan or vegetarian diet, however, protein is found in many sources such as: veggie burgers, tempeh, beans, legumes, nuts, nut butters, eggs, tofu, edamame, and whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and kamut.
- Zinc: Veggie meat alternatives, soy milk, soy beans, mushrooms, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas, fortified breakfast cereals, cheese, eggs, yogurt, fortified breakfast cereal, and wheat germ will all help to boost your immune system.
- Iron: Soy-based foods, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified wheat bread, nuts, dried prunes, dried apricots, eggs, legumes, and beans are great sources of iron.
- Vitamin B12: It’s easy to get vitamin b12 into your diet if you consume alternative veggie meats, soy milk, and fortified breakfast cereal.
- Riboflavin: Foods rich in riboflavin are almonds, fortified cereals, mushrooms, soy milk, cow’s milk, and yogurt.
- Omega-3: Omega-3s are found in found tofu, walnuts, walnut oil flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, and canola oil.
Now that being a vegan or vegetarian lifestyles are more common and accepted in the mainstream, there are more food options available, making the transition smoother and more delicious. When planned responsibly, being a vegetarian or vegan can be one of the healthiest and safest diets you can achieve.