There’s a lot of animosity between the vegetarians and omnivores of the world. While meat-eaters would argue that animal proteins provide optimal nutrition, meat abstainers argue the opposite: that plant-based diets are just as nutritious-and healthier for the planet - than diets including meat and animal products.
So who’s right?
While both sides provide valid arguments, there’s no clear winner here, especially in a developed society. While animal proteins provide all nine amino acids essential for human growth and development, vegetarian diets are perhaps healthier than ever before: we now know that Vegans and other plant-based esters benefit from B-12 supplements, and there’s no scarcity of vegetarian proteins, at least in the modern world.
While those abstaining from meat in undeveloped countries are at heightened risk for nutritional deficiencies, that isn’t necessarily the case for vegetarians living in western society.
At the same time, animal proteins tend to have more biologically available iron and provide more protein per ounce than plant-based proteins. They also have a lower carbohydrate content, which is important for individuals with prediabetes, insulin resistance, liver problems, and obesity. While many animal proteins contain more fat than plant-based proteins, this isn’t always the case as many vegetarian proteins are prepared with large amounts of added fat to enhance flavor.
At the end of the day, both plant and animal proteins both have a lot to offer, and you should be consuming both. Those who eat meat should favor lower-fat varieties (with the exception being fatty fish like Salmon), and Vegetarians should take caution around vegetarian foods with lots of added fat.
Remember that, given the high carbohydrate nature of a vegetarian diet, carb overload can be a reality. Stick to smaller portions of pasta, rice, and bread, and favor high protein options like beans, tofu, tempeh, and eggs and dairy products (for ovo-lacto vegetarians).
GUIDELINES FOR MEAT EATERS
- Pass on the salt and fat: Steer clear of fatty and cured meats, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, Type II Diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
- Join a new school: Favor fish and seafood, which is under-consumed in Western nations. Seafood (especially fatty fish) provides valuable Omega-3 Fatty Acids that have cardioprotective benefits.
GUIDELINES FOR VEGETARIANS
- B-12: Even if you’re an ovo-lacto vegetarian, you may want to consider a B-12 supplement (a B-12 supplement is considered essential for Vegans). Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal products- a deficiency of Vitamin B-12 can cause megaloblastic anemia and neurological disorders, so be sure to speak with a physician to create a supplementation plan that meets your needs.
- Beware of carb overload: Many vegetarians make up for what their diet lacks in meat by increasing their consumption of carbohydrates - especially grain-based carbohydrates. Keep in mind that a diet overly high in carbohydrates can increase the risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and other conditions related to insulin resistance. Favor lower carbohydrate options whenever possible, and be sure to focus on whole grains and vegetables rather than pasta, rice, bread, or snack foods!v