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The Animal-Free Diet: The Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism and Veganism
The idea of food as a lifestyle decision is growing. People go fat-free, carb-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free; they go organic, Kosher, or join the slow food movement. There are many reasons people choose dietary restrictions – to promote good health, to fend off bad health, to help the environment, for ethical or religious reasons, and even purely out of habit or family history.
Vegetarianism and veganism have been around for centuries, particularly in certain cultures and/or religions, and the reasons for committing to these lifestyles are enormously varied.
Vegetarians consume no animal flesh – red meat, poultry, and seafood are avoided – but they may consume other animal products, depending on personal preference. For example, lacto-ovo vegetarians consume both dairy products and eggs, ovo-vegetarians consume only eggs, and lacto-vegetarians eat only dairy products.
The vegan lifestyle is more restrictive. It typically avoids animal products of any kind – vegans stay away from meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey as well as other products that you might not think of, like gelatin, silk, and wool clothing.
Years ago the word “vegan” was virtually unheard of, but lately celebrity vegans like Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson, Paul McCartney, Alicia Silverstone, Natalie Portman, and Ellen Degeneres are raising its profile. The result is that more and more people are following in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci, Mohandas Gandhi, and Albert Einstein and choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Health is a major factor in the shift to a diet with few or no animal products. People who worry about obesity and high cholesterol simply have to look at the role animal fats play in their diets. But ethical concerns about animal welfare, food safety and the antibiotic resistance fostered by feedlots are also making a vegetarian or vegan diet more attractive.
The Health Benefits and Drawbacks of the Veggie Life
What are the demonstrated health benefits of being vegetarian or vegan? Most people are aware of the advantages of cutting down on red meat or perhaps reducing one’s whole milk intake – but is it really necessary to make a full-fledged lifestyle change? In the same vein, what are the drawbacks or risks associated with vegetarianism/veganism?
To help us tackle all of the important issues, we turned to Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU and author of the blog, Food Politics; and David Katz, MD, MPH, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center. We also polled some of our readers on how their vegetarian/vegan diets work for them.