Are vegetarian or vegan diets really healthier?
Posted on 1st November 2019 at 11:43
Today I examine the true ins and outs of meat free diets and whether removing all animal products is really necessary.
I will be honest I sat here wandering what the hell to write for this week’s blog.
Then a conversation with a client gave me this perfect subject which is something I have been meaning to delve into for ages.
Now there are many different reasons why people go vegetarian or vegan.
First of all if it’s down to personal preference of not wanting to eat animal products due to your own ethics then fair enough. Everyone is different.
Now the environmental reason is a big one and I am personally someone who has a real passion to do all I can to reduce my carbon footprint and make as many changes as I can.
I'm a member of the WWF, I never buy coffee in a disposable cup, try and avoid ever buying plastics bags, recycle as much as I can and I'm actually working with my rugby club to try and find new ways to make the club greener on the whole.
So I try and do what I can and always look at more ways to do this.
As a farmer’s son and living on a farm for all of my young life I feel that farming can take a large amount of stick about the environment. I cannot argue that farming practices in countries like the US, Brazil or Argentina where they are chopping down acres of forest is not sustainable and is harming our envoirnment, but the standards and sustainability of UK farmed food is very high.
Also grazing land in this country is land that is actually preserved due to farming practices which is surely good for the environment?
Sustainability is the key thing but someone who says they don’t eat meat because they do it for environmental reasons yet drives a 4x4, buys new clothes every month, flies across the world frequently and buys a single use coffee cup every other day is a pretty big hypercritic.
But what about those people who go vegan and vegetarian for health reasons?
There are a fair few documentaries and bits of press floating about at the moment that basically say eating vegetarian or vegan is healthier than eating meat and dairy.
There are many things to really consider when looking at meat free versus meat eating diets. Below are some important things to really think about and understand.
1. Vegan/Vegetarians are more health seeking – This is a big one that can really play a massive role when studies are performed on meat free diets versus meat eating diets. Now what can many vegan and vegetarians have in common? Most likely don’t smoke, drink very little, exercise frequently, potentially manage stress via yoga or meditation and on the whole our more health seeking individuals. These lifestyle factors can make a huge difference. You compare that to a participant in a study who eats meat but also smokes, doesn’t exercise and the meat they eat is poor quality. How can we realistically say that person is less healthy because they eat meat? The lifestyle factors play such a big role and can in many cases skew results in favour of vegetarian and vegan diets.
2. Eating more fruit and veg is important – One thing we can certainly agree on is that eating more fruit and veg and therefore more dietary fibre is a good idea. So what do you think happens when someone drops out animal products? Yes bingo, they eat more fruit and veg. But you can still eat loads of fruit and veg whilst still enjoying meat and dairy and still be very healthy. Fruit and veg are not exclusive to a vegan or vegetarian diets so maybe just trying to eat more of these foods instead of removing all animal products might be a good idea?
3. Eating less processed foods – Another thing vegan and vegetarians will most likely do is eat less processed foods and also make more food from scratch. Now there is no reason why you can’t enjoy a pizza now and then but if you barely prepare any of your main meals then that's not going to be the best thing from a health standpoint. So maybe just look at your diet and think about preparing more of your own meals and reducing processed foods.
4. Diets make money – The reality is with any new diet or popular movement in a new way of eating is that someone will jump on it and make money. Years ago there was a study showing why breakfast was very important and guess who funded it? Kellogg’s, shock. It’s important to always be critical of information you see on the web. Think about any potential bias and what are the considerations from both sides.
5. Look at real research and real people – The final point I will make is to look at real honest data that doesn’t lie. In 2017 one the largest cohort studies ever done was published where they compared vegetarians, non-vegetarians, pescatarians and semi vegetarians in Australia. They looked at over 240,000 people followed up over an average of 6 years and found no significant difference in mortality rates amongst groups. This study also took into account smoking, blood pressure, age and alcohol consumption so was pretty bulletproof. The final group of people to look at is those who live in the Mediterranean. Often seen as the healthiest diet going, the average age in these areas is right up there with the world’s highest alongside Japan. Now what do the Mediterranean and Japenese diets have in common? Yes meat, dairy, eggs and fish are all included. All alongside a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and a range of dietary fats. When you've got many indivduals in these countries living 100+ years the arguement that removing animal products will make you healthier looks pretty weak.
I hope you've found this blog useful and it's given you a few different perspectives to think about. By all mean maybe have a few evening meals a week which are meat and dairy free, I actually do this myself. But don’t feel that you need to cut out animal products all together in the quest to be healthier.
Just focus on balance, eat more fruit, more veg, more whole grains and think about food quality.
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