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Is ‘Vegan’ or ‘Vegetarian’ Really That Much Healthier?

Women prepping veggies in the kitchen.

It seems that lately, more and more people are choosing to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. By technical definition, vegetarians do not eat meat of any kind. Likewise, vegans do not eat anything that originates with animals including eggs, honey, or dairy. Sometimes these choices are influenced by religious beliefs, in which case the choice is very different. But overall, is choosing one of these particular diets truly healthier?

Yes, these diets can be healthier because oftentimes they have eliminated many sources of high cholesterol and fat. However, they are not healthier by default. For example, if you live off of potato chips, you would probably be following at least a vegetarian diet, but that would not be considered healthy. There are a number of subsets to vegetarianism based on what you choose to incorporate (for example, a lacto-ovo vegetarian excludes meat, fish, and poultry but does include dairy products as well as eggs).

One of the most difficult tasks for a vegetarian or vegan is to make sure your body is receiving the protein and nutrients that it needs to sustain itself without adding an excess of processed foods to your consumption. Soy products, beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can help provide the protein that most people get from animal-based products. Even avocados are a surprising source of protein and unsaturated fats. Calcium is another vital nutrient that is often missing from vegetarian and vegan diets. Try to increase your intake of dark green vegetables such as kale and broccoli as well as calcium-fortified juices and tofu.

The short version is that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet can be healthier, but any diet regimen can be healthy if you make smart decisions about your food choices.

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