It is one of the constants for those keen to find a more balanced meal plan. As the name implies, it is also one of the most hyped-up discussions and stances on what contributes to the best diet around there.
I had a few other names in my mind connected to the topic I am about to take up. From the Veal versus Vegetables Vendetta to the Chicken versus Cauliflower Competition.
Or perhaps I should have opted for a Radish versus Rabbit Rumble?
Whatever I choose, it did not pass the SEO test. In the end, it is all about the same thing.
Should we opt for a vegetarian diet or stick to a more omnivore type of eating?
Diets come in various shapes and sizes, pros and cons, must-do’s and to avoid. We are literally inundated with dietary approaches. Anyone feeling the urge to go and do some online research will find hundreds of thousands of tutorials on which dietary choices one must make to get lean.
And sorting out the best that works for you is an impossible feat.
Yet, one of the hottest topics raised these days is the difference between vegetarian and omnivore diets. There are even differences in what the definitions of each one actually includes and excludes. I just keep it simple. Feel free to fill it in how you believe it suits you.
The main difference between both dietary approaches revolves around the consumption of meat and fish. Some include fish. Others swear that our swimming friends should not be included and still able themselves a vegetarian. Again, the overall concept is what I am aiming for. Not going deeper into the vegan, pescatarian and fruitarian types of choices one makes as it otherwise will turn into quite an extensive story.
The trend to choose which camp one belongs started around the same time the environmental issues of today’s world entered the spotlight. There are ample documentaries out there on how cattle are raised to cope with the demand for more food to the insecticides used to get a fuller, more colourful crop. The division between both camps grew bigger and bigger, leading to fighting what one believes is right.
And who is actually right?
If you ask hard-core vegetarians why they choose to become a vegetarian, their reasons are extensive. From the environmental matters and how cows, pigs, and chickens are manufactured and inhumanly slaughtered to firm cultural and religious beliefs (to name a few), all their reasons have and are founded on some validity.
With a growing population rate comes a growing consumption rate – we need to feed more mouths. So new ways to speed up the process were essential. Numerous studies lean that the incremental intake of meat increases the chances of modern-day diseases, hence abstaining from it benefits one’s health. The connection of how farms breed their animal stock and become more efficient is now made. It is no longer a grass-fed stock that hit the cold storage sections of supermarkets but almost conveyor-belt style delivery of more and more meat.
Can I disagree with this? No, I can’t, and I won’t.
On the other side of the war are the omnivores: those opting to regularly add meat, fish or poultry to their diet. Again, I can add carnivores to this group, but for the sake of simplicity, I avoid this. Just as much they choose to get a good sirloin steak from the grill or succulently put their teeth in a grilled chicken, their decisions to not go plant-based as much value as those from the vegetarian side of the nutrition fence. Their reasoning has been scientifically proven and it comes with valid quality peer-reviewed material.
Should I choose their side as the right one? No, I can’t, and I won’t.
When reading and listening to both sides of the fence, there is one thing that stands out.
It is all about personal choice. Be it for health, religious, cultural, or ingrained beliefs of an environmental kind.
Plant-based diets come with a lot of health benefits. Vegetables aren’t called the “Mother Nature’s Medicine Cabinet” for nothing. Loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and fibres, the benefits towards a healthier you are undeniable.
However, the choices to hit the vegetarian path come with trends and little awareness of what one may need to supplement. From B vitamins (especially B12), Omega-3 fatty acids, to certain minerals, vegetarians have to work harder (either eat more or take additional supplements to bring homeostasis to their internal works) not to fall off the health wagon.
In addition, protein intake is, in general, lower than those adding a slice of meat to their diet. Various studies have shown this. While some vegetables, nuts and seeds, or fruits may have some protein, it may not always be easy to get adequate protein intake. Of course, dietary choices such as tofu are great protein sources, but the choices are less, especially when cutting out eggs is also part of your belief.
Taking the stance of a meat and fish eater, the above are ample reasons to continue decorating one’s plate with a good slice of grilled or well-cooked meat. Other studies have shown that choosing certain animal products comes with all the benefits of getting more plant-based nutrients. After all, many animals graze, eat leaves and feast on vegetables. These studies show that one plus one actually is three.
I cannot ignore that in many cultures, eating meat and fish is part of one’s way of living. It is an intangible heritage that binds family values on levels that define a nation, a religion, a family. Or when you live in certain areas in the world – like the Inuit – where vegetables may be scarce and where the presence of fish and other animals are more at hand. These people are healthy because their bodies have adapted to this type of food for generations. The body is highly adaptable in that sense.
Cruel? That is a discussion on its own.
The transition towards more vegetarian choices revolves for a large part about the environment. Yet also this is debatable. Vegetarians may choose to opt for non-meat diets because of the cruelty factor. Yet still may pack their vegetables in loads of plastic, choose brands that are grown and produced on the other side of the world (transportation cost), and are thrown away more after than they can chew. The vision of being environmentally friendly changes slightly. The same can be said for meat lovers, I admit that.
Ever considered the amount of insecticides used?
The benefits of eating out less and choosing to eat more home-cooked meals?
Or while choosing a plant-based diet for better health, but still binge-eat on so-called vegetarian chips or other simplified carbs?
Still going wild on supplements without knowing what your body needs in daily recommendable amounts?
Or leave a sustainable butcher who raises its cattle without artificial hormones out in the cold because one chooses not to go for meat? There are plenty of people out there who think and sell otherwise.
Or do you believe that the amount of plastic dropped in the environment only affects the fishing industry? I can tell you, this is not the case.
And so on.
There are more than enough reasons to extend this list of why or why not. What I am trying to say here is that there is no best diet or the best choice when taking all factors under consideration. Each of these has its place in whatever milieu, climate, or category you place yourself in. And that’s all fine.
Because there is no best diet.
But one thing is for sure.
If it affects any aspect of your health, why continue?
What will be your motivation to firmly stand by your choice of nutritional intake when you feel sick, lethargic or notice side effects because you are not aware of what, when, why and how you are eating your foods? Is the environmental impact by choosing one diet or the other, a limiting factor to stick to what you believe in?
I have chosen a diet that works best for me. A diet where I am not relying on supplementing any vitamins, minerals or other compounds that comes in a pill form or chemical compound because I am not taking it into my diet in one form or the other.
If you thrive as a vegetarian, I applaud this and fully support this. The same goes for those not wanting to cut out their burger or fish fillet.
The right approach in nutrition coaching is taking an agnostic approach towards whatever your goal is. We are all individuals with individual pursuits, goals and beliefs. The world population, and its pursuit to become healthy, is not captured in one single diet.
You do your diet. And I support this.
Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments. | Bethenny Frankel