Omnivores, vegans and vegetarians, always the same dispute: who has the healthiest diet? This question could be part of a TV quiz show, but it would be misleading because it may not have a 100% correct answer. Below we show a series of evidence so that they can give the most accurate answer possible.
It does not depend only on the meat
The omnivorous diet is the best known for being followed by the majority of the world’s human population. According to the RAE, an omnivore is that animal that feeds on all kinds of organic substancesthat is, all food groups are included.
On the opposite side, a vegan diet is one that does not include foods of animal origin. Therefore, meat, fish, eggs, dairy and honey would be excluded. And, at an intermediate point, there are vegetarian diets, which are those that exclude meat and fish but not dairy and eggs.
It should be noted that any of the diets mentioned, as long as it is well planned, is healthy. Since 2015, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics establishes that vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate. They can provide health benefits, both in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Another issue is the sustainability of food, but this deserves a separate article.
about meat consumption
It’s known that a balanced omnivorous dietfollowing the intake recommendations, could be classified as healthy. Here we understand this diet as one in which alcohol, processed products, pastries, or red meat are not consumed more than once a month, etc.
But always we tend to extremes, and the rhythm of life and the influences of the environment distort what could be a healthy diet. Thus, we consume red meat almost daily, processed snacks such as cooked ham, and alcohol, and we think that wine is healthy because it is included in the Mediterranean diet. But nothing is further from reality, since The WHO does not establish safe doses of consumption.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, processed meat is a human carcinogen, which means that there is enough evidence to say that these products cause cancer. While red meat is classified as a probable carcinogen.
Furthermore, they have recently identified DNA damage that link high consumption of red meat with colorectal cancer.
Research related to vegetarian and vegan diet it is relatively recentgiven that it has been in recent years when there has been an increase in people consuming this type of diet.
In Spain, in 2019, there were 3.8 million of vegetarians and vegans. The motivations for following these diets are very varied and include a commitment to the life of animals, ethics, health and the sustainability of the planet. Although, perhaps, we could also add fashion to these reasons.
Are some healthier than others?
What is it about these plant-based diets that makes us think they are healthier? well an older consumption of fruits and vegetables, cereals, legumes and protein sources of plant origin. Perhaps the biggest difference is what they don’t contain: animal products that are high in saturated fat.
The studies that evaluate the different benefits of these diets on health are numerous and explore their relationship with different diseases, improving or preventing them. For example, it is known the negative effect of blood lipids when these are elevated. Therefore, following a vegetarian diet can be beneficial since it modulates said profile.
The organism needs to be constant in its processes. Acid-base balance is important in maintaining this homeostasis and nutrition plays a primary role. Foods such as meat, fish, eggs and cheese promote acid environments. If this is not counteracted with the consumption of fruits and vegetables can be harmful to health.
Therefore, a vegan diet would be much healthier than a vegetarian one and therefore an omnivore.
Another well-known disease related to food is type 2 diabetes. People with a plant-based pattern have lower risk to develop it, since plant products act on different parameters reducing this risk.
Finally, we could highlight the importance that is acquiring the study on the intestinal microbiota and its relationship with some diseases. It has been observed that vegetarian and vegan diets improve the profile of our intestinal bacteria, protecting us against different diseases.
In food, the extremes may not be good, but if they are well raised, they are healthy alternatives. In view of the climate crisis we are experiencing and the environmental impact of raising animals for human consumption, it may not be unreasonable to reduce the consumption of products of animal origin and increase those of plant origin. This will not only improve our health, but also that of the planet.
With this information we already know the options. Now it is up to each person to choose the healthiest and most sustainable.
*This article was originally published on The Conversation.
*Sonia Martínez Andreu, author and pHired professor Doctor of the Department of Nursing and Physiotherapy of the University of the Balearic Islands.