Vegetarianism and Veganism – Making Sense of Two Popular Dietary and Lifestyle Choices
Vegetarianism and veganism are dietary and lifestyle choices that have gained increasing popularity in recent years due to ethical, environmental, and health concerns. While both diets exclude meat, they differ in their degree of restriction, encompassing different subtypes that accommodate diverse preferences and values. In this week’s blog post, we’ll go over the various types of vegetarianism and veganism, examine their differences, and review their potential benefits and shortcomings.
Vegetarianism, simply put, is, “the practice of not eating meat or fish, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.” Within this practice, the four most well-known types of vegetarianism are:
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarianism: Lacto-ovo vegetarians abstain from consuming meat, poultry, and fish, but they include dairy products (lacto) and eggs (ovo) in their diet. This is the most common form of vegetarianism and offers a balanced source of essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12.
Lacto Vegetarianism: Lacto vegetarians exclude eggs from their diet but continue to consume dairy products. This choice often aligns with cultural and ethical considerations but not always – as with all types of dietary practices, it may simply be the individual’s personal choice.
Ovo Vegetarianism: Ovo vegetarians exclude dairy products from their diet but consume eggs. This diet is suitable for individuals who wish to avoid dairy due to lactose intolerance or ethical concerns while still obtaining protein from eggs.
Pescatarianism: Pescatarians primarily follow a vegetarian diet but incorporate fish and seafood into their meals. This choice provides an additional source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
Veganism, simply put, is, “the practice of eating only food not derived from animals and typically of avoiding the use of other animal products.” Within this realm of dietary practice, four main variations are typically recognized:
Veganism: Vegans exclude all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey, from their diet. Veganism extends beyond dietary choices and often encompasses a lifestyle that avoids animal exploitation in clothing, cosmetics, and other aspects of daily life.
Raw Veganism: Raw vegans consume exclusively uncooked and unprocessed plant-based foods. This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, preserving the nutrients and enzymes that cooking can destroy.
High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Vegan (HCLF Vegan): HCLF vegans emphasize consuming abundant carbohydrates from whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes while minimizing fats. This approach is frequently associated with energy and weight management benefits but as with many dietary choices, personal preference cam play a role.
Whole-Food Plant-Based (WFPB) Diet: The WFPB diet prioritizes minimally processed, whole plant foods while avoiding processed and refined products. It promotes health and wellness by focusing on nutrient-rich foods.
Whether Vegetarian or Vegan, potential associated benefits and shortcomings certainly exist and may factor into one’s decision to pursue a particular type of Vegetarian or Vegan lifestyle. Here we will review some of the potential health and environmental benefits as well as potential ethical reasons for making the shift.
Some health benefits associated with Vegetarianism include but are not limited to:
Reduced risk of chronic diseases: Vegetarian diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Weight management: Vegetarians often have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and are less likely to be overweight or obese.
Improved cholesterol levels: Vegetarian diets are linked to lower LDL cholesterol levels and higher HDL cholesterol levels.
Beyond health benefits, exercising Vegetarian preferences may also result in positive environmental outcomes and ethical considerations including:
Reduced carbon footprint: Plant-based diets have a significantly lower environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land and water usage.
Preservation of ecosystems: Reducing meat consumption helps mitigate deforestation and habitat destruction associated with livestock farming.
Reduced animal suffering: Vegetarianism aligns with the ethical principles of animal welfare, as it avoids the consumption of animals raised for food.
While the benefits of Vegetarianism are worthwhile and impactful, it does not exist without some shortcomings such as:
Lack of complete protein: Some vegetarians may struggle to obtain all essential amino acids, especially if they don’t consume a variety of plant-based protein sources.
Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products, and vegetarians, particularly vegans, may require supplements or fortified foods to meet their needs.
Iron and calcium: Non-meat sources of iron and calcium may have lower bioavailability, necessitating careful dietary planning.
Social and Cultural Challenges:
Limited dining options: In some regions, finding vegetarian or vegan meals can be challenging, making social gatherings and travel more complicated.
Cultural and familial pressures: Family and cultural traditions that revolve around meat consumption may pose challenges for vegetarians.
The health benefits associated with Veganism are often in line with those of Vegetarianism including:
Lower risk of chronic diseases: Vegans enjoy a reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Weight management: Vegans typically have lower BMIs and may find it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Enhanced digestive health: A vegan diet often includes a high fiber content, promoting good digestion and metabolic efficiency.
Environmentally and ethically, Veganism is known to:
Reduce environmental impact: Veganism has a lower carbon footprint than even vegetarianism, as it eliminates animal agriculture’s significant resource demands.
Strong commitment to animal welfare: Vegans take a clear stance against animal exploitation and cruelty, both in their diet and lifestyle choices.
Reduced demand for animal products: By abstaining from all animal products, vegans contribute to reducing the demand for animal farming and its associated ethical issues.
As with Vegetarianism, some dietary shortcomings do exist and are worth considering, including:
Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vegans are at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, necessitating supplementation or fortified foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids: While plant-based sources of omega-3s are available (e.g., flaxseeds, walnuts), some vegans may need to monitor their intake.
Potential for inadequate protein intake: Vegans must carefully plan their diets to ensure adequate protein consumption from sources such as legumes, tofu, and tempeh.
Potential for excess carbohydrates: Some vegans may consume too many refined carbohydrates, which can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels.
When it comes to social and practical challenges, Veganism can present a couple of potential barriers including:
Limited dining options: Finding vegan-friendly meals can be challenging in certain areas, potentially affecting social activities and travel.
Food preparation and planning: Veganism often requires more careful meal planning to ensure a balanced diet, which can be time-consuming for some individuals.
It seems of late that vegetarianism and veganism have become increasingly popular choices and rightfully so! Both offer a spectrum of dietary choices, each with its own set of benefits and shortcomings. Both promote health, environmental sustainability, and ethical considerations. However, it is important for individuals adopting these diets to be mindful of potential nutrient deficiencies and plan their meals carefully to ensure a balanced intake of essential nutrients. Ultimately, the choice between vegetarianism and veganism, as well as their various subtypes, is completely up to the individual based upon their personal values, health goals, and the desire to contribute to a more ethical and sustainable world.
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