Updated: Oct 20
To meat or not to meat... that is the question?
Vegetarian and vegan diets have popped up a lot in my clinics recently.
Many people, from what I have seen on social media and from random conversations I have over-heard in shopping centres, believe that going 'vego' is healthier for you.
What do you think about this?
Why do you think that? Think critically.
Disclaimer: if you choose to eat a plant-based diet for personal reasons, please continue! However, see a dietitian to make sure you are meeting all of your nutritional requirements (especially if you are still growing, have chronic health conditions or are attempting to conceive/are pregnant).
First of all, let's define a few things so we are all on the same page.
Vegetarianism: Avoid animal meats (with/without milk or eggs).
Pescatarianism: Avoid meat and poultry, still eat fish/seafood.
Lacto-vegetarianism: Avoid meat, poultry, fish/seafood but eat dairy.
Ovo-vegetarianism: Avoid meat, poultry, fish/seafood but eat eggs.
Veganism: only eat plant-based foods (fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, soy products, nuts, seeds) and no animal-derived products (honey, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dairy).
You can still eat a healthy varied diet choosing a plant-based diet with planning and a foundation of knowledge about foods and nutrients.
Given the primary foods that make up both the vegetarian and vegan diets, special attention is needed to meet protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium and omega-3 requirements.
There are sources of these nutrients in vegetarian/vegan diets, you just have to know where to get them. You should discuss this with your GP or dietitian, especially to know how much to eat according to your health and goals!
Plant-based food source
Tissue repair Growth Muscle development
Legumes and lentils, nuts and seeds, soy products, whole grains
Makes haemoglobin which is a protein that carries oxygen around the body
Legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables
Has a role in wound healing and immunity
Legumes, nuts, tofu, miso, pumpkin seeds,
Tissue repair Growth Blood and protein production
Fortified foods (plant-based milk, vegetarian sausages)
Keeps bones and teeth strong Has a role in neurological signalling including muscle contraction
Fortified foods (plant-based milks), hard tofu, almonds, unhulled tahini, leafy green vegetables, Asian greens
Has a role in brain health
Linseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, soy bean oil, canola oil
Table 1.0 describes the need for these nutrients, which foods contain them and what a portion looks like.
Easy ways to include these foods in your daily diet are:
Eat 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of veg a day
Choose high-fibre breads and cereals (think grains!)
If you choose not to eat dairy, make sure your alternative products (e.g. soy milk) are calcium fortified
Use meat alternatives such as eggs, beans, lentils and nuts in meals
Cook with healthy oils
Some foods are fortified with nutrients (e.g. omega-3 fortified eggs)
There are few studies (including long-term studies) that look at vegan diets, therefore, we do not have the evidence to say that veganism is healthier than the carnivore diet. However, there is a stronger body of evidence suggesting that vegetarianism can reduce risk of the following chronic diseases:
Coronary Heart Disease
Type 2 Diabetes
High Blood Pressure
Please be mindful that vegetarian/vegan food items may still be high in added salt, sugars or saturated fats. These are not desirable in a healthy diet and therefore, can make plant-based way of eating just as unhealthy as a carnivorous diet can be.
Therefore, it is still important to read the food labels and not be distracted by the 'halo effect' of food packaging. Just because they bake not fry the chip, doesn't mean they aren't adding a handful of salt to it.
If you would like to know more, please contact us at Habits for Health - https://www.habitsforhealthnutrition.com/contactus
Have a delicious day!
Better Health Channel. (2020). Vegetarian and Vegan Eating. Retrieved from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/vegetarian-and-vegan-eating#health-benefits-of-a-vegetarian-diet
Dietitian's Australia. (2018). Vegan Diets: Everything You Need To Know. Retrieved from: https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/healthy-eating/vegan-diets-facts-tips-and-considerations/
Dietitian's Australia. (n.d.) Vegetarian Diets - The Basics. Retrieved from: https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/healthy-eating/vegetarian-diets-the-basics/
Harvard Health Publishing. (2014). Is A Vegetarian or Vegan Diet For You? Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-a-vegetarian-or-vegan-diet-for-you
NHS. (2018). The Vegan Diet. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-vegan-diet/
Misha Ketchell (ed). (2021). Is a Vegan Diet Healthier? Five Reasons Why We Can't Tell For Sure. The Conversation. Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/is-a-vegan-diet-healthier-five-reasons-why-we-cant-tell-for-sure-152131
Queensland Health. (2019). What You Should Know If You're Thinking About Going Vegan. Queensland Government. Retrieved