The vegan lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular these days. A common reason people consider converting to a vegetarian or vegan diet is to lose weight, improve health, avoid contaminants in meat, and compassion for animals. However, it’s imperative to research the proper way to plan meatless meals to avoid serious nutritional deficiencies.
If you are considering a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you may want to start by reducing your meat intake and incorporating more meatless dishes into your weekly meal plans. Further research and experimentation can help you determine if a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is right for you.
There can be some confusion regarding the terms vegan and vegetarian. Vegetarians eliminate meat but some include dairy products and eggs in their diets.
Vegans, on the other hand, eliminate all animal products, dairy, eggs, and often avoid any products made from animals.
Differences Between Vegan and Vegetarian
A vegetarian excludes meat, poultry, and seafood from their diet. Some vegetarians also exclude dairy, some don’t, and some may consume eggs. Likewise, vegans avoid meat, poultry, and seafood, but they also take it a step further by eliminating all animal products from their diet. This includes any type of animal milk and eggs. Vegans avoid foods produced using animals or animal products in any way, including honey. Many vegans also avoid household products, clothing, or other items made from animal products or tested on animals.
Additionally, the terms vegan and vegetarian can be difficult for many to differentiate as some people think the words have the same meaning.
To add to the confusion, some vegetarians are called “lacto and or ovo” and include dairy/eggs in their diet.
So as you can see, the term “vegetarian” can mean different things to different people:
A true vegetarian eats no meat at all, including poultry and fish.
A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats dairy products and eggs, but excludes meat, fish, and poultry.
A lacto vegetarian eats dairy products but not eggs.
An ovo vegetarian eats eggs but not dairy products.
Therefore, when considering converting to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle it’s imperative to do your research. Make sure you are clear on the differences between the diets and that you have a good understanding of what’s involved in the switch. Making the change to a more restricted diet can be challenging to follow. Many restaurants don’t offer vegan options, so understand your choices for grabbing food on the go will be limited. Also, making meals will require more preparation and pre-planning.
It’s important to make sure meals are well-balanced and include sources of vitamin b12, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, and vitamin d.
Per Dr. Josh Axe a wellness physician certified in clinical nutrition, popular radio show host, and sought-after national speaker points out some important issues when considering a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Switching to a vegan diet is considered a healthy move by many, but it may not be all it’s cracked up to be in some bases. Below are some of the downsides to eating a completely vegan diet long term (more than several months): (6)
Protein deficiency (lack of amino acids). Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and are important for cellular health and proper metabolism. Too little protein can call muscle wasting, cognitive changes, mood swings and weakness.
Low levels of vitamin B12. You can only get vitamin B12 in substantial amounts by consuming meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, so vegans usually need to take supplements.
Lower intake of other nutrients like zinc, sometimes calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Higher intake of antinutrients like phytic acid. There are grains, beans and legumes, such as raw soybeans, lentils and mung beans, that may contain trypsin inhibitors. These inhibitors can block key digestive enzymes. Also, grains can contain phytic acid that can keep you from digesting calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. However, soaking and sprouting your grains and legumes can greatly reduce phytic acid.
Potential inability to put on muscle. This may be due to the lack of certain vitamins that we normally get from meat and fish.
Overconsumption of carbohydrates. One of the most common trends I’ve found from working with hundreds of vegans and vegetarians is that they tend to overconsume carbohydrates and hidden sugar foods. Eating too many carbs can cause candida and yeast overgrowth along with weight grain. There are some vegans who have created a better balance, but this is far from the majority.
Fatigue and feeling exhausted. Again, this is usually due to the lack of certain vitamins and minerals that we normally get from meat and fish, such as iron and B vitamins.
SOME ALARMING CONCERNS FOR KIDS:
The issue of children consuming vegetarian/ vegan diets is controversial. Some experts report it’s not safe for children while others state it can be perfectly healthy if followed properly.
Per EurekAlert! an online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society : reports that when:
parents pursue a vegan diet for their child, they must seek and strictly follow medical and dietary advice to make sure their infant receives adequate nutrition. Both mother and infant should follow advice regarding supplementation” advises Professor Mary Fewtrell, chairman of ESPGHAN’s nutrition committee comments:
The biggest risk to vegan children is that of vitamin B12 deficiency.
Foods derived from animals have been shown to be the only reliable source of vitamin B12 and a deficiency of the vitamin can have devastating effects. Vitamin B12 is essential to the creation of DNA, indispensable for the maintenance of the nervous system, and a lack of it can result in hematological and neurological disorders, causing damage in young children which can be irreversible.
Therefore problems can arise when parents are unaware of the associated risks of switching to a more restricted diet….
Stories of vegan parents being arrested for malnourished children pop up every few years in the U.S., and the cases in Italy have made international news.
In Arizona, Kimu Parker was arrested in April 2005 for nearly starving her three children with a diet she and the children’s father called vegan. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison; the father, Blair Parker, got 15 years.
In Florida in 2005, Joseph and Lamoy Andressohn got probation for neglect in the death of their 6-month-old son, who was fed only wheat grass, coconut water and almond milk.
In Georgia, Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas were sentenced to life in prison for the 2004 death of their 6-week-old son, who starved to death after they fed him a too-limited diet of soy milk and apple juice.
Therefore, do your research! Know that if you make the decision to change to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you must make sure you and your family get the proper nutrients. It can be challenging with a busy schedule and eating out can be difficult with many restaurants offering limited or no meatless options. It can be easy to fall into the trap of relying on unhealthy choices such as junk food, pizza, fries, and desserts due to the lack of available choices. Meals should be well balanced with complete proteins and you may need to consider supplementation.
Be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician, family physician and or certified nutritionist to ensure you and your family are getting the proper nutrients in your diet.
Converting to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle can be a great way to help the environment, combat obesity, lower blood pressure, and cholesterol. However, make sure to consult with a nutritionist and your physician on proper guidelines.
Follow these tips to make sure your diet is healthy and provides the proper nutrients:
- Include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables with all your meals. Make smoothies and juices to make it more appealing for kids and picky eaters.
- If needed consider supplementation with a multivitamin that contains b12, iron, zinc, and vitamin d. Discuss this with a nutritionist or your family physician.
- Make sure you get enough protein in your diet- beans, nut butter, protein supplements, etc.
- Have regular family check-ups with complete blood workups to make sure you and your family are getting adequate nutrients on a daily basis.
- Plan your meals and snacks each week to make it easier to avoid eating processed foods loaded with sugar and unhealthy ingredients.