-Describing yourself as plant-based doesn’t necessarily convey exactly what you do and do not eat because there are many different kinds of plant-based diets.
-Vegans adhere to the most stringent dietary guidelines by excluding all forms of meat, eggs, dairy products, and even honey, whereas vegetarians do include dairy products and eggs.
-Balancing your nutritional goals with social and ethical considerations will help you choose the exact diet that fits your lifestyle.
Your friend or a family member has just informed you that they’ve turned plant-based. But what does that actually mean? What will their new diet consist of? A lot of people call themselves vegan or vegetarian. How many different kinds of vegetarians are there?
Here in the U.S., interest in plant-based diets has increased in popularity over the past few years with a 2017 report, "Top Trends in Prepared Foods 2017", claiming that as many as 6% of the U.S. population now describe themselves as ‘vegan’ . This is up from only about 1% claiming to be vegan in 2014. Whether this statistic represents people who have actually adopted a strict vegan diet, or whether it simply represents the number of people who are sympathetic to the vegan philosophy is unclear. But it does demonstrate that interest in the U.S. in vegetarian diets and related philosophy is increasing. The same 2017 report states that in Germany, 44% of the population describes their diet as ‘low-meat’, which has increased upward from 26% in 2014.
Introducing the philosophical component into any discussion involving vegetarianism or veganism is important, because there is invariably some kind of philosophical basis underlying the decision a person makes to change their diet from animal-based to plant-based. Traditionally, this philosophical commitment or reasoning has been related to some religious or spiritual ideology or discipline. In India, for example, the long history of Hindu culture includes many saints and sages, like Kabir and Nanak, who extolled the spiritual benefits of a vegetarian diet. Hindus also revere cows, so eating the meat from a cow is considered abhorrent by most Hindus. Sikhs are strict lacto-vegetarians, as are Hindus, meaning that they include animal milk, and milk by-products, in their diets.
Why People Choose Plant-Based:
Here in the U.S., during the twentieth century, many people who initiated a plant-based diet, did so as a result of their exposure to Hindu culture and ideas. But the reasons for a person to choose plants over animal products have now grown, to include:
-interest in an ethical lifestyle
-interest in sustainable lifestyles
-prevention of chronic illnesses
Ethical living includes the recognition of the sanctity of animal life and the desire to treat animals in a compassionate manner, which encompasses not only the killing of animals for food, but also the non-ethical use of animals in product testing and similar exploitative circumstances.
Researchers have long understood that the use of meat as a primary protein source in the human diet is highly inefficient, and unsustainable in the long term. It is inefficient because it takes a large amount of plant protein (corn, grasses, and grains) to produce animal protein. If people were to consume the plant protein directly, rather than feeding it to livestock, it would reduce the amount of required plant protein by approximately one-half.
Because we have a finite amount of available agricultural land, the utilization of the additional land required for the production of animal feed is unsustainable in the long run. With the accelerating growth of the world’s population, eventually we’re simply going to run out of available farm land.
There is also the question of the carbon footprint, the amount of greenhouse gasses produced as a result of different diets. In a study published in the ‘Journal of Health Services Research & Policy’, researchers computed the carbon footprints of a Mediterranean diet compared to the more red meat-based diets consumed in the U.S. and the U.K. What they discovered was that the Mediterranean diet, which is low in beef, had a significantly lower carbon footprint than the U.S./U.K. diets. Global agricultural production contributes 25% to 30% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions . The chief source of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is the methane gas emitted by cows during their digestive process.
Scientific research has documented the reduced health risks associated with eating a plant-based diet, which include :
-lower risk of high blood pressure
-lower risk of cardiovascular disease
-lower cancer risk
-lower risk for developing obesity and metabolic syndrome
-lower risk for developing other chronic illnesses
The Different Kinds of Plant-Based Diets and Lifestyles:
There are now about six different classifications:
1. VEGANS – People who adopt a vegan diet also adopt the vegan lifestyle philosophy. The vegan philosophy embraces the sanctity of animal life and the ethical treatment of animals in a broad, general sense. The vegan philosophy includes the exclusion of all animal-based foods in any form, including red meats, pork, fish, fowl, eggs, and dairy products. This also includes foods like honey, which involve animals (bees). Vegans object to the fact that the collection of honey invariably results in various honeybee body parts (legs, wings) being co-mingled with the honey. Vegans are often passionate about a variety of related issues, including the unsanitary way milk is collected from cows and the treatment of dairy cows and their offspring. The male offspring of dairy cows are usually tagged for early slaughter, and mother cows are separated from their offspring to increase their total yield of milk. Vegans will be quick to equate a chick egg with the chicken’s menstrual cycle and avoid animal by-products, such as skins and leather.
2. LACTO VEGETARIANS – The lacto-vegetarian diet is essentially the same as the vegan diet, except that lacto-vegetarians include milk and milk derivatives in their diets. Many lacto-vegetarians choose to include dairy based on an ideological premise. The principal philosophical difference they have with vegans is that lacto-vegetarians do not object to animal derived foods, like milk, because the animal is not slaughtered. Milk is a by-product of the animal, and therefore milk and milk derivates are acceptable. Lacto-vegetarians also point to the minimal effect that dairy consumption has on climate change in comparison to beef consumption.
3. OVO VEGETARIANS – The ovo-vegetarian diet is essentially the same as the vegan diet, with the exception of the inclusion of eggs.
4. LACTO-OVO VEGETARIANS – The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is perhaps the most common form of vegetarian diet. Lacto-ovo vegetarians include both eggs and dairy products in their diets.
5. PESCO VEGETARIANS – Pesco-vegetarians include fish in their diets. Pescado means fish in Spanish. Pesco-vegetarians are also referred to as pescatarians. Pescatarians are not true vegetarians, but they do exclude all other types of animal foods in their diets. Some pescatarians eat eggs and dairy while other don’t. The pescatarian diet has been adopted by some vegetarian Christians who believe that Jesus and his disciples consumed fish.
6. FLEXITARIAN – People who are leaning toward a vegetarian diet, who prefer plant-based foods over animal-based foods, are referred to as flexitarians. A flexitarian has made no firm commitment to the vegetarian diet, but limits his meat intake. A flexitarian will include meat in his diet when either personal or social preferences dictate.
Which Kind of Plant-Based are You?
You may have recently begun a plant-based diet, or you may have been living on a plant-based diet for many years; or perhaps you are new to vegetarianism and are considering which type of vegetarian diet is best for you. It’s up to everyone to make dietary choices that best fit their individual health and fitness needs and goals. Either way, choosing a plant-based lifestyle will benefit not only you, but the entire planet as well.