A Closer Look at Vegetarianism, Gluten-free, and Vegan Diets

A Closer Look at Vegetarianism, Gluten-free, and Vegan Diets

Without covering the entire spectrum of diets ranging from the paleo diet (aka the caveman diet), to the Atkins diet (focusing on carbohydrate intake), there’s three predominant nutritional ideologies we should all be aware of, regardless of whether we abide by them.

Let’s start with vegetarianism. Simple enough, vegetarians are just human herbivores, right? Not quite. Not all vegetarians are alike. Whereas lacto-vegetarians do not consume white or red meat including fish, fowl, or eggs, ovo-vegetarians consume egg products. While both groups turn away from red or white meat, they derive protein from different sources. Other less strict vegetarians choose to reduce meat consumption rather than eliminate it altogether. These diets create flexibility for the individual. After all, who can resist the allure of smoked bacon?

Then there are gluten-free diets. We often associate gluten-free diets with people with celiac disorder. But this isn’t always the case. Some individuals are turning to gluten-free diets as a hip trend. According to studies from 2009-2010, the number of gluten-free individuals increased three-fold! Thus far, there is little evidence to show health-benefits of gluten-free diets for individuals without celiac disorder. Lebwohl et al (2017) even demonstrated lack of gluten might interfere with cardiovascular health. Moreover, gluten-free diets are costly without substantial long-term benefits. The only justification for a gluten-free lifestyle lies in individuals living with celiac disease whereby small amounts of gluten may cause adverse effects.

Finally, think of the vegan diet like a more radical version of vegetarianism and closer to the human herbivore. Vegan diets consist of a solely plants, neglecting the dairy products vegetarians consume. Compared to meat-eaters, fish-eaters and vegetarians, vegans have the lowest BMI, lower plasma cholesterol and mortality from cardiovascular disease (Key, 1999). However, the downside to such diet lies in the rigor of consuming only plants. To derive the same nutrients non-vegans obtain from meat, milk, or egg protein, vegans utilize an assortment of nuts, beans, and fortified carbohydrates. The assumption that vegans are always healthier doesn’t hold up if there is a lack of variety in fruits, vegetables, and plant-based products. Like any diet, diversity and balance is key.

With the three common food-isms out of the way, you might feel more confident sampling various dietary regimes. But aside from these three, there are hundreds of diets that might satisfy your unique health needs. While these diets might seem confining, an easier alternative is to start thinking about the ingredients we consume, and ensuring we have at minimum a well-balanced diet. Just some food for thought. Starting with baby steps, by first reducing trans-fat intake found in fast-food and then progressing to more challenging goals, such as eliminating red meat altogether may work to transition dietary changes. A TED-inspired lifestyle movement is taking hold where individuals take on something new for 30 days. It has given me the opportunity to start everything from indoor rock-climbing to starting my own food blog. If there’s a bandwagon You’re dying to hop on, it would be this one. Trying a different cuisine or cleansing your palette with vegetarian diet just might be your cup of tea.

ReferencesLebwohl, B., Cao, Y., Zong, G., Hu, F. B., Green, P. H., Neugut, A. I., … & Willett, W. C. (2017). Long term gluten consumption in adults without celiac disease and risk of coronary heart disease: prospective cohort study. bmj, 357, j1892.Key, T. J., Davey, G. K., & Appleby, P. N. (1999). Health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 58(02), 271-275.

Xin Xu is a post-graduate health-science AU student, aspiring clinician, globe-trotter, parrot-breeder and tea-connoisseur.