A recent article from The Economist discussed the advantages of vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous diets, highlighting the point that ultimately, a healthy diet is about making high-quality food choices.
Worldwide meat consumption continues to grow – especially in developing countries where individuals tend to buy more meat as they grow in economic status – but commitments to vegan or vegetarian diets are growing even faster.
Several studies mentioned in this article present different statistics on the numbers of vegans and vegetarians in the world and in various countries, including the United States. In a 2017 analysis, market research group Nielsen found that three percent of the American population considers themselves to be vegan, and six percent to be vegetarian. There’s also the idea of the “flexitarian” – someone who fluctuates between maintaining an omnivorous diet versus a vegetarian or vegan diet. Nielsen found that nearly two out of five Americans claim to live a flexitarian lifestyle.
Whether an individual focuses on eating healthier meats or stops eating meat all together and replaces the void with vegetables and fruit, they could be making a very healthy choice, but is a vegan or vegetarian diet truly “healthier” than an omnivorous diet? Confirmation either way is inconclusive for a few reasons highlighted in this article from The Economist:
- Some studies have found that vegans and vegetarians have lower mortality rates than omnivores, and some have found that there is no difference between vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous.
- Consuming different types of meat can influence health in different ways, e.g., eating lots of red meat or processed meat versus eating poultry or fish.
- Non-dietary factors can influence health problems too.
Omnivores could achieve the same benefits that vegans or vegetarians do if they made healthier choices (eating more vegetables and fruits) in addition to their animal protein. Similarly, individuals who refrain from eating meat but also refrain from eating fruits and vegetables won’t be as healthy as other individuals who do eat lots of fruits and vegetables, regardless of their meat choice.