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What Is a Vegetarian/Vegan Diet?



Vegetarian and vegan diet plans continue to grow in popularity. In fact, studies show that vegetarians alone account for up to 8 percent of the global population—and with good reason. Beyond the ethical and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, a well-planned vegetarian or vegan lifestyle can supply an abundance of micronutrients, provide extra energy, and reduce the risk of chronic illness.


While transitioning to a new diet takes serious research and understanding, embracing a plant-based lifestyle is simple. However, it’s essential that you know the fundamentals and understand the nutrients you need to remain healthy. If you are considering switching to a plant-based diet, keep reading to learn about important nutritional considerations of being a vegan or vegetarian.


What Is a Vegan Diet?


All vegans are vegetarians, but vegetarians are not vegans. A vegan diet is the strictest version of vegetarianism and eliminates all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty. Vegans exclude meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and animal-derived products such as gelatin, honey, carmine, shellac, albumin, casein, and whey from their diets.


When following a vegan diet, it’s important to read labels and ask restaurants about how your food is being prepared. Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is often eye-opening for people, as many candies, breads, and other processed foods are made with animal products. Many vegans choose to avoid non-food items that involve the inhumane use of animals or animal by-products as well, including:


  • Leather 
  • Wool 
  • Silk 
  • Beeswax 
  • Certain consumer goods like soaps, latex, and cosmetic products 


Vegans get all of the macro- and micronutrients they need from fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.


Vegan Health Benefits


It’s important to note that just because you are restricting certain foods doesn’t automatically make it healthy. In fact, not eating the right foods can lead to nutritional deficiencies. You need to follow specific nutritional guidelines to ensure your body receives the proper amount of B12, iron, protein, and other essential nutrients.


By adhering to nutritional guidelines, vegans can expect the following benefits:



So, is a vegan diet a healthy choice? When you provide your body with the nutrients it needs to excel, it certainly can be. In fact, a new study from The Journal of Nutrition states that a vegan lifestyle can be very healthy, as participants displayed higher levels of unsaturated fats and antioxidants.8


What Is a Vegetarian Diet?


While vegetarianism is less strict than veganism, vegetarians still restrict their diet by eliminating most animal products. Vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish. Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you follow, you may still eat honey, dairy, or eggs. The most common vegetarian classifications include:


  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Consume dairy products and eggs 
  •  Lacto vegetarians: Consume dairy products 
  • Ovo vegetarians: Consume eggs 
  • Pescatarian: Consume fish and seafood (not meeting the traditional definition of vegetarianism, but a common diet choice that closely follows the guidelines)


As explained above, many vegetarians include eggs, dairy, and even fish and seafood in their diets. Additionally, vegetarians rely on fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and meat substitutes to maintain a healthy diet.


Vegetarian Health Benefits


Depending on your diet plan, a vegetarian regimen has proven to include many health benefits, such as lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels,9 lowered hypertension rates, lowered blood pressure, and a decreased chance for type 2 diabetes.10 Additionally, vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease7 and often have a lower body mass index. 


However, like any diet, vegetarians should exercise and exclude unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking alcohol in excess. For a vegetarian diet to be considered healthy, you need to feed your body with plenty of protein, fatty acids, calcium, and iron.


A healthy vegetarian diet includes:


  • A regular source of vitamins B-12 and D 
  • Eating eggs and dairy products in moderation (if at all) 
  • Reducing your intake of high-fat and high-sugar foods


Nutritional Deficiencies of Plant-Based Diets


While there are many benefits to following a vegan or vegetarian diet, equal challenges exist—such as learning how different food sources provide nutrients for your body. We know that certain people need more or less of particular nutrients based on the information their DNA provides. It’s important to understand your body's composition before embracing a plant-based lifestyle.


When cutting some or all animal products out of your diet, it becomes more difficult to get certain vitamins and minerals from your food. If you’re genetically predisposed to specific nutrient deficiencies, switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet may not be the best decision for your health. Plant-based diets can pose severe health risks for some individuals, including serious neurological consequences—studies show that metabolic B-12 deficiency even increases the risk of stroke.11


Consider these common deficiencies of a plant-based diet and learn how to supplement essential nutrients:


  • Vitamin B-12: Supplement with a vitamin or nutritional yeast 
  • Vitamin D: Supplement with sun exposure 
  • Zinc: Supplement with legumes, beans, and whole grains 
  • Iron: Supplement with leafy greens, lentils, dried fruits, and whole grains 
  • Calcium: Supplement with kale, mustard greens, turnips, chickpeas, and broccoli


Living a Smarter and Healthier Life With a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet


If you’re worried about the transition, here’s the good news: manufacturers and restaurateurs are catching on as vegetarian and vegan diets continue to grow in popularity. A wealth of veg-friendly options are available on the grocery shelves and restaurant menus, making a plant-based diet more accommodating now than it ever has been. But as trendy as it may seem to become a vegan or vegetarian right now, it’s crucial that you first consider your body’s DNA and how it will react to a plant-based diet—or any diet, for that matter.


Your individual genetic makeup may give additional insight to which nutrients you need to pay special attention to if you switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Most plant-based diets are lower in vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. With GenoPalate, you’ll learn exactly which nutrients your body needs more or less of so you can feel your best on any diet you choose—plant-based or otherwise.


Ready to start living a healthier lifestyle? GenoPalate uses your genetics to develop your nutrition and food recommendations that are custom to your body. Download a free sample report today!

Existing DNA
$89.00$39.95

  • Upload your 23andMe or AncestryDNA data

  • Predisposition of 2 sensitivities

  • Metabolism rate of 2 substances

  • Genetic needs for 23 nutrients

  • The 85+ best foods for you

DNA Kit
$189.00$149.95

  • DNA Analysis in CLIA-certified lab

  • Predisposition of 2 sensitivities

  • Metabolism rate of 2 substances

  • Genetic needs for 23 nutrients

  • The 85+ best foods for you

DNA Kit + 5 Recipes
$229.00$189.95

  • DNA Analysis in CLIA-certified lab

  • Genetic needs for 23 nutrients

  • The 85+ best foods for you

  • Delicious recipes based on your genes

  • Mix and match breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes

Existing DNA
$89.00$39.95

  • Upload your 23andMe or AncestryDNA data

  • Predisposition of 2 sensitivities

  • Metabolism rate of 2 substances

  • Genetic needs for 23 nutrients

  • The 85+ best foods for you

DNA Kit
$189.00$149.95

  • DNA Analysis in CLIA-certified lab

  • Predisposition of 2 sensitivities

  • Metabolism rate of 2 substances

  • Genetic needs for 23 nutrients

  • The 85+ best foods for you

DNA Kit + 5 Recipes
$229.00$189.95

  • DNA Analysis in CLIA-certified lab

  • Genetic needs for 23 nutrients

  • The 85+ best foods for you

  • Delicious recipes based on your genes

  • Mix and match breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes

References:

1. Macknin M, Kong T, Weier A, et al. Plant-Based, No-Added-Fat or American Heart Association Diets: Impact on Cardiovascular Risk in Obese Children with Hypercholesterolemia and Their Parents. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015;166(4). doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.12.058. 

2. Lee Y-M, Kim S-A, Lee I-K, et al. Effect of a Brown Rice Based Vegan Diet and Conventional Diabetic Diet on Glycemic Control of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A 12-Week Randomized Clinical Trial. Plos One. 2016;11(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155918. 

3. Azadbakht L, Esmaillzadeh A. Soy-Protein Consumption and Kidney-Related Biomarkers Among Type 2 Diabetics: A Crossover, Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 2009;19(6):479-486. doi:10.1053/j.jrn.2009.06.002. 

4. Aune D, Rosenblatt DAN, Chan DS, et al. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014;101(1):87-117. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.067157. 

5. Douglas C, Johnson S, Arjmandi B. Soy and Its Isoflavones: The Truth Behind the Science in Breast Cancer. Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry. 2013;13(8):1178-1187. doi:10.2174/18715206113139990320. 

6. Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabaté J, et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Colorectal Cancers. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(5):767. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.59. 

7. Tong TYN, Appleby PN, Bradbury KE, et al. Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ. September 2019:l4897. doi:10.1136/bmj.l4897. 

8. Miles FL, Lloren JIC, Haddad E, et al. Plasma, Urine, and Adipose Tissue Biomarkers of Dietary Intake Differ Between Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian Diet Groups in the Adventist Health Study-2. The Journal of Nutrition. 2019;149(4):667-675. doi:10.1093/jn/nxy292. 

9. Wang F, Zheng J, Yang B, Jiang J, Fu Y, Li D. Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2015;4(10). doi:10.1161/jaha.115.002408. 

10. Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Rimm EB, et al. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. PLOS Medicine. 2016;13(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039. 

11. Spence J. Nutrition and Risk of Stroke. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):647. doi:10.3390/nu11030647.

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