A lot of people ask us if a vegetarian or vegan diet is better for them. The short answer is “it depends.” First, let’s be clear about what these diets are. A vegetarian diet is one that eliminates all meat. A vegan diet goes further, eliminating meat and all animal byproducts like milk, eggs and even honey.
Now, there are lots of reasons beyond health that a person might want to follow a vegetarian or even a vegan diet. These include religion, cost, concern for animals, and the environment. These are topics for another day. Here I want to focus only on whether or not vegetarian or vegan diets are actually healthier.
Many studies show that there are clear health benefits to vegetarian and vegan diets, but that’s when you compare them to the typical American diet which is not the healthiest. Plant-based foods are often much lower in added oil, sugar and salt. In the U.S., we consume far too much of these. In addition, some people believe that consuming dairy products is associated with higher rates of bone decay as well as increased joint pain. We should say that these findings are somewhat controversial at this point. A plant-based diet can also be less expensive, especially if you purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmer’s markets and local stores.
But, a plant-based diet does present challenges. It can be difficult for vegetarians, and even more so for vegans, to get all the essential vitamins and nutrients their bodies need each day. For example, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc and iron are all essential nutrients that are found mostly in meat and dairy products. There are other plant-based sources for these, but the diet must be monitored closely. It can also be difficult for some people to maintain a plant-based diet too. After all, who doesn’t love a great burger or a barbequed pork chop? Resisting the temptation to “slip” off a plant-based diet can be very difficult for some.
If you want to try a plant-based diet, then by all means go ahead, but be informed. Being vegetarian doesn’t just mean you can eat vegetables that you like. It means making sure that you are getting the vitamins and nutrients you need. But you don’t need to go that far, if you don’t want to.
So, what is the alternative? How can you eat healthy without going to the extreme of a plant-based diet? It’s really a matter of degrees. We often say that you don’t have to go to extremes to eat healthier. Even simple changes can have a big effect on your health. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that a balanced diet consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables along with complex carbohydrates, lean meats and low fat dairy products has significant health benefits. And let’s face it, most of us don’t eat as well as we should.
Just reducing the amount of fat, added sugar and sodium in your diet will make a huge difference. Making sure you eat enough vegetables along with smaller portions of lean meat will also help. You can eat the foods you love, but learn how to make healthy choices too.
Remember, healthy choices you make each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
Do You Wish Your Kid’s Ate Better? Check out our FREE eBook at www.HealthyFamilyFuture.com. Many of the strategies in this book can be used by both children and adults.
You may also want to read: What’s the Deal with Picky Eaters?, Healthy Eating: Use a Shopping List, Is Organic Really Worth the Cost?