Can being vegetarian or vegan really be healthy?

Florence Schwartz

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Fruits - Jennifer (flickr)
Fruits – Jennifer (flickr)

We hear a lot of things about food, eat more protein, more fruits, more vegetables, more milk. Whenever you want to change your diet, you will always get many different advices on the internet or from doctors. For different reasons, such as animal rights, health or just environment concerns, a lot of people these days take the decision of turning vegetarian or vegan. Indeed, recent studies provided proof on the fact that a vegetarian diet can make you healthier and avoid a lot of diseases, but not only, for example, a recent study of the Nutrition Journal, shows that vegetarian diets contains less arachidonic acid, this acid, has among others, the property to « drag down mood ». Therefore, some think that being vegetarian/vegan can make you happier.

What means being vegetarian and what is the difference with being vegan?

Being vegetarian is avoiding any meat or animal flesh. Being vegan on the other hand is abstaining from eating all products coming from any animal. This means meat too, but also eggs, milk, and every products containing one of these ingredients, like for example candies which often contains animal based gelatin. This can be very complicated in our society since this often means no pastries, no yogurt based smoothies, nothing containing cream, honey, etc. Vegan people also avoid wearing fur, leather clothes, or some makeup containing animal ingredients or tested on animals.

There are also many diet variation, which means you can also be ovo-vegetarian (include eggs, but avoid meat and dairy products), lacto-vegetarian (include dairy products, but no meat and eggs), or simply flexitarian (which basically means vegan, but who eat meat on some occasion).

Vegetables - Martin Cathrae (flickr)
Vegetables – Martin Cathrae (flickr)

There are a lot of preconceived ideas about being vegetarian or vegan, first of all, most of the people think that it implies being a hippie. Well that is definitely not true. Other preconceive idea, being vegetarian / vegan is expensive, which is not true either, a plant based diet would not cost you more than another one if you manage correctly. You don’t have to shop only in expensive organic shops, Aldi or Lidl are definitely fine too.

Another very common preconceive idea is that being vegetarian / vegan is not healthy. False again: Most of us are used to eat meat when we are young and as far as we know, human have always been an omnivore, which means eating at the time vegetable and meat. Despite this fact, it is yet possible to be totally healthy being a vegan. The only secret: a balanced diet.

Vegan or not, eating too much of one thing is never really good. While being an omnivore, eating too much meat can actually also be dangerous. For example, eating too much protein (contained in meat) can provoke weight gain, or in more extreme cases even cancer, and eating too much dairy products can be a real danger for health too.

But this said, how can I possibly have a balanced diet if I totally avoid such a large category of food?

It is actually quite simple, since all the vitamins and nutritional elements are also contained in vegetables. Except B12, which, if you are vegan, has to be taken as a supplement. This is very important since a lack of B12 can provoke tiredness, weakness and other disorders.

For the other vitamins, you have plenty of choices to find it. For example, grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruits, are a big source of vitamins and some of them also contain iron and carbohydrates. For the proteins, soy is perfect, an ingredient that also contains a whole lot of calcium, happily, you can find it in different forms like vegetables, milk or tofu. But like everything else, turning you diet into a whole soy diet isn’t right. You then would have to alternate with other vegetables and milk such as lentils, beans and quinoa for the vegetables, and rice, hazelnut or almond for the milk. As for the calcium, it can also be provided by a different range of vegetables such as kale, Chinese cabbage, spinach, brown rice, oranges, etc…

In conclusion, being vegetarian or vegan isn’t in any way less healthy than a regular diet, the only thing, is to keep a balanced diet!

Vegan meal - Jennifer (flickr)
Vegan meal – Jennifer (flickr)

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Florence Schwartz

http://bluenineties.com