By Victoria Ward
The debate between whether or not humans were meant to eat meat has a long and dense history. But, with the vegan movement gaining traction in the past decade it may be time to broaden the discussion; should humans have any animal products at all?
Both vegan and vegetarian diets are touted as healthy, environmentally-friendly, ethical eating options. Today, we’re going to compare and contrast the two to see which is actually healthier. Let’s kick things off by talking about the basics of each diet.
The vegetarian diet is one that excludes all meats, with some discussion in the vegetarian community about what category fish falls under. Fish-eating vegetarians are called pescatarian, but in recent years they’ve started moving away from the classification of vegetarian and become their own unique dieting style.
Although vegetarians can’t eat meats, they can still have animal products like milk, honey, and eggs. Milk is one of the most well-balanced macronutrient foods available, with 8 grams protein, 12 grams carbs, and 8 grams fats per cup. Honey provides a great source of antioxidants and natural sugars, and eggs contain lots of vitamin B12 and protein.
The vegan diet excludes both meat and animal products, usually for ethical concerns about the treatment of animals or for environmental protection. The hypothesis on the latter being that the mass population of livestock produces an over-abundance of methane that weakens the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
This claim has strong scientific merit, and it opens up a great discussion on whether the livestock population should be regulated. And, if we release the 21 billion cows, chickens, pigs, and goats that were previously used for this purpose, can we expect to see any negative environmental consequences?
Comparing the two diets
The biggest criticisms of the vegan diet are usually towards malnutrition and anemia. But, are these baseless claims or do they pose real threats to vegans? Regarding the vegetarian diet, the most common critique is that eggs and milk pose certain health risks, and that it’s bad for the environment to mass raise cattle and chickens for this purpose.
First, let’s look at the claim that it’s difficult to get the daily recommended calories and macronutrients from a vegan diet. If we try to make a 2,000-calorie-a-day vegan diet, what would it look like? Well, the main sources of proteins and fats are going to be from nuts, soy, hemp seeds, and quinoa. Most carbs will be from potatoes, rice, fruits, vegetables, and oats.
A cup of walnuts alone is 523 calories, 52 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbs, and 12 grams of protein. Combine that with a cup of soybeans, which is 830 calories, 37 grams of fat, 56 grams of carbs, and 68 grams of protein, and we’re already at 1,353 calories. Add to this some rice, vegetables, and fruit and it’s very easy to more than meet the 2,000-calorie goal.
So, is it actually hard to get the proper nutrients in as a vegan? No, at least not if you eat healthy foods.
Let’s move on to the other claim, which was that vegans risk anemia from vitamin B12 deficiency. While it’s true that B12 can only naturally be found in animal products, there do exist vegan-friendly supplements and fortified foods. Is it likely that a modern-day vegan will become anemic then? Probably not.
Now, let’s move onto eggs and milk. The concern with eggs is that they raise cholesterol. However, studies show that eating one or two whole eggs per day didn’t raise the cholesterol of any participants in the study. In moderation, eating eggs likely isn’t harmful to the individual then. Whole milk may not be as healthy though, since it’s high in saturated fats. Although high in calcium, which forms kidney stones, milk consumption paradoxically lowers your risk of kidney stones by up to 29%.
In conclusion, both diets have many pros and cons. Ultimately, eating either diet seems to promote personal health, especially if milk and eggs are only consumed in moderation, in the case of vegetarians. However, the issues of ethics and environmentalism are serious, and each person should do research so they can draw their own conclusions.
Victoria Ward is a neuropsychologist with a deep interest in holistic health, nutrition, and fitness. Her hobbies include jogging, yoga, and cooking. When she’s not working, she can be found reading Christian fiction or napping.