I have a friend that recently posted on Facebook that she is considering a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle as well as possibly going gluten free. I know the basics-a vegetarian eats a plant based diet, while a vegan does not include any animal product, such as eggs or milk in their diet and gluten free are foods without wheat. I know there are more facts to these lifestyles, and pros and cons of each one so as usual, my curious mind searched for some answers in order to assist my friend.
Vegetarian- The broad definition of a vegetarian is someone who excludes meat, poultry and fish from their diet, but include dry beans and lentils (these take the place of meat and fish as the major source of protein). According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians are also at lower risk for becoming obese, due to diets with significantly lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. However, vegetarians can most easily become deficient in protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B-12 and vitamin D, due to the fact that these nutrients are less prevalent in plant-based diets. The lactovegetarian diet includes plant foods plus cheese and other dairy products. The ovo-lactovegetarian (or lacto-ovovegetarian) diet also includes eggs. Semi-vegetarians don't eat red meat but include chicken and fish with plant foods, dairy products and eggs.
Vegan- In addition to being vegetarian, vegan do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products or honey. The key to a nutritionally sound vegan diet is variety. A healthy and varied vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The term ethical vegan is often applied to those who not only follow a vegan diet, but extend the vegan philosophy into other areas of their lives, and oppose the use of animals or animal products for any purpose such as wearing furs or leather.
Gluten Free- A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Avoiding wheat can be challenging because wheat products go by numerous names. The hardest part of the gluten free diet is probably when you realize that wheat is in almost every processed food imaginable. Gluten-free food is normally seen as a diet for celiac disease, but people with a gluten allergy should also avoid wheat and related grains.
There are numerous reasons why someone, like my friend, would adjust their diet to meet their needs. Some of these reasons are:
• The negative impact of animal foods on health
• The damage associated with animal foods and the environment
• Religious beliefs
• The desire to protect and respect animals
With any of the lifestyles discussed, the key is to be aware of your nutritional needs so that you plan a diet that meets them.