Is a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle healthier for you?

Hi there: So last week I introduced the debate ‘Is being vegan/vegetarian healthier for you?’ And now I want to present my answer to this question. Yours may differ. And that’s ok. But I thought it would be important to have the information listed below before coming to a conclusion.
 
Before I get to the article however I wanted to share something funny from last weekend with you. After stairs last Saturday we had everyone over for brunch. Yes, you do get rewarded for exercise. Anyways while we were preparing the meal we offered everyone something to drink and cinnamon buns. But there were no takers. I was pretty surprised that after a hard 90 minute workout no one was going to go for a cinnamon bun. Alexandra and I continued on preparing the food while everyone sat out on the deck. At the end of the meal as plates were being cleared I noticed all the cinnamon buns were gone except one. Good to see everyone was able to relax and enjoy themselves. We look forward to more of these in the future.


 
So back to the vegan/vegetarian (v/v) question…it seems like people automatically ascribe this as being a healthier way of living without considering all of the facts. So here we go.
 
Benefits
I do recognize there to be some benefits to being a v/v the most obvious being that you’ll eat more fruits and vegetables. Many of us don’t get enough fruits and veggies to begin with and then we tend to eat the same ones repeatedly with little variety in our nutritional habits. So out of necessity a v/v will eat more fruits and veggies which would be a good thing.
 
As well, by incorporating more fruits and veggies into the plan we will get a shift towards a more alkaline diet. Most North Americans tend to eat a diet that is more on the acidic side of the pH scale whereas plant foods will bring up the alkalinity and help us in the this way.
 
With more fruits and veggies we will get more vitamins, minerals, fibre and hydration than we do from other types of food. Lastly, if we eat fresh fruits and veggies we will be reducing our consumption of processed foods.
 
Limitations
But there are some definite limitations to being a v/v. This includes many of the nutrients that come from animals that are essential for optimum health. Some of the nutrients that we would be excluding from our diet would include:
* iron
* vitamin B12
* zinc
* creatine (not essential but we do get it from red meat)
* vitamin D (which makes absorption of calcium and phosphorus more difficult)
* omega-3 (specifically DHA)
 
Ease to follow
For many people following a healthy diet comes down to how easy you can make it for them. The easier I can make it for an individual to follow a nutritional plan the better chance at compliance there will be.
 
However if I’m expecting someone to have to learn which plant proteins they need to combine to make a complete protein I’ve added an extra step to the equation. And if this person travels and cannot eat most foods they find on the road I’ve made it harder for them as well. And lastly, if not all members of a family are on board with a v/v lifestyle it may mean double the amount of shopping, food prep and cooking.
 
These things definitely don’t make it easier for someone to follow and have success.
 
Evolution
This is more for fun. If you’re interested check out the following link to read about the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis. Basically what it does is argues for the fact that meat was necessary for brain development. The basis of the hypothesis is that as you increase the mass of an animal you increase the metabolic rate of that animal. When similar sized prehistoric animals were discovered it was noticed that the brains of early man were smaller than current day man. And the the gastro-intestinal tract of early man was much larger than what our current bodies have. In order for the GI tract organs to retract there had to be a switch in the foods consumed, i.e. towards meat, and allowed for the development of our larger, modern day brains.
 
http://www.jstor.org/pss/2744104 ***the font is small but it gives you the citation to read more on this if interested***
 
Junk food
One thing that sometimes gets overlooked is that many of the new junk foods on the market were created for the v/v crowd. For example think of foods such as tofu burgers and hot dogs, tofu lattes, vegan ice cream or cookies and corn dogs. Simply removing meat and or animal products doesn’t make a food item healthier and in these cases actually makes it worse for your health-wise.

Supplement or real food
If you asked most people whether it was healthier to eat real food or take supplements most would answer real food. However by being a v/v there is a problem. Are you going to be deficient in the essential nutrients listed above or are you going to supplement? If you’re not going to supplement then you will have deficiencies which may lead to:
 
* iron deficiency – anaemia, irritability, unusual food cravings, headaches 
* vitamin B12 deficiency – fatigue, decreased mental work capacity, weakened concentration and memory, irritability, depression
* zinc deficiency – behavioural and sleep disturbance, delay in wound healing, skin lesions such eczema, psoriasis and acne, hair loss 
* vitamin D deficiency – rickets, osteomalacia, osteoporosis, as well as problems with calcium and phosphorus absorption 
* DHA deficiency – Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit
 
Not supplementing doesn’t necessarily mean you will get any of these conditions or diseases. Nor does eating meat and animal products ensure that you won’t get them either. However not having these nutrients in your diet puts you at greater risk.
 
Now which is healthier for you? The occasional lean cut of beef? Or taking pills, capsules, tablets and powders?
 
So what do you think? Is v/v healthier than eating meat and animal products. If you’re a v/v and feel I’ve missed the mark let me know.
 
Your coach,
 
Chris.
okanaganpeakperformance.com ‘always moving forward’

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