Monday, August 5, 2013

Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet?

You may be surprised to learn that there are a variety of vegetarian diets. The table below shows the five basic types of vegetarians and what they will or will not eat, although this table is not exhaustive because I'm sure there are individuals who are combinations of these types.

 photo vegetarians_zps8a5df135.png

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The basic component of a vegetarian diet is the avoidance of animal flesh. As shown above, there are various types of vegetarians who may also choose to avoid fish, eggs, or dairy products. Semi-vegetarians are the least restrictive and are simply defined as people who make an effort to consume less animal products. Vegans are considered the most restrictive and are covered in more detail in Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet. People who decide to become a vegetarian usually do so based on ethical, environmental, and/or health concerns. But since the vegetarian diet is not an organized or commercially advertised diet like the previous five diets, there are no standardized dietary recommendations to discuss here. Nonetheless, I will discuss the good and bad consequences of eating a vegetarian diet.

What's Good?
By eliminating land animal flesh from the diet, the vegetarian is on the right track in terms of  reducing the amount of protein that many humans over-consume (humans only need enough protein to comprise 5% daily caloric intake).

Eliminating fish in addition to land animal flesh is another step in the right direction, and also reduces the person's fat intake and chances of mercury poisoning. In general, fish has 1.5 to 2 times more cholesterol than animal flesh. Furthermore, plants make all omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids...not fish! More on this in Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet.

Also avoiding the consumption of eggs is a great step because eggs are very high in cholesterol and fat, in addition to being high in animal protein.

Fun Facts about Eggs

One large egg contains 185 mg cholesterol and has 64% fat content
The USDA recommends consuming no more than 300 mg cholesterol per day

In other words, if you consume TWO EGGS per day,
you have already exceeded the 300 mg cholesterol limit
2 eggs for breakfast = No more meat or dairy for the rest of the day!

Even if you consume one egg for breakfast,
you must not forget that eggs are used in many packaged foods such as:
breads, pastas, cookies, cakes, mayonnaise, salad dressings, soups, sauces, etc.

It should be called the terrible egg!

Avoiding dairy is a wonderful step in the right direction, because dairy is especially concentrated in animal protein and is high in cholesterol, sugar, fat, estrogen, and antibiotics that lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria (recall Part 4's Fun Facts About Milk).

Beyond the health benefits that some vegetarians may realize, vegetarian diets also help reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the meat and dairy industries. Vegetarians may also feel better about not contributing to the death or mistreatment of animals for their food. To hear more about these types of issues, you can read my Stewardship series.

What's Bad?
As described above, being a type of vegetarian that still consumes animal flesh, fish, eggs, and/or dairy products is a step backwards. The over-consumption of animal products in general (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) lead to an excess of protein, which puts strain on your liver and kidneys and increases the acid load on your body. The increased acid load results in weaker bone health over time. That over-consumption also leads to increased fat and cholesterol intake, which promote heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I recommend that all dairy, meat, and fish be eliminated from your diet.

Perhaps the most important point of today's post: just because you avoid animal products in your diet does not mean you are consuming a healthy diet. Animal products are one type of food that should be eliminated, but it is not the only type of food that determines your overall state of health.

Does the vegetarian still consume oils? Processed and enriched foods? Are they avoiding carbs? Are whole grains missing from the diet? If the answer is yes, then the vegetarian is off track. As I have mentioned before, moderation is not the answer - you must look at the entirety of your diet. Simply following a vegetarian diet is only half the picture.

Bottom Line:
Although eliminating some forms of animal products from your diet is a step in the right direction, it does not necessarily mean that you are consuming a healthy diet. Dairy should not be consumed by any human being, so the lacto vegetarian is severely off track. Animal flesh, fish, and eggs are best avoided as well. The healthiest diet is a whole foods, plant-based diet.

Next -- Part 7: What About the Vegan Diet? 
Previous -- Part 5: What About the Weight Watchers Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

No comments :

Post a Comment