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Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian or Flexitarian?

There are so many different preference diets out there, some more extreme than others. We delve into 3 of the most common diets, vegetarian, vegan and pescetarian and explain why a fourth option, flexitarian, is actually the one we like the most.

What is the difference between Vegetarian and Vegan?

Vegan diet philosophy excludes all animal-based products (meat, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy). Some people following a vegan diet philosophy even avoid honey. Vegetarian diet choices exclude all animal products but include animal produced foods such as eggs and dairy (which is what we call Ovo & Lacto respectfully). 

What is the benefit to me?

With an increasing amount of focus on climate change and our environment vegan and vegetarian diets certainly leave a smaller carbon footprint through their reduced impact on production & agriculture. 
In terms of health, vegan and vegetarian diets are typically lower in total and saturated fat and higher in dietary fibre (from all those vegetables and fruits). However, being ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ does not guarantee someone is eating ‘healthier’.

So Vegetarians eat more vegetables?

You would think so right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often there continues to be a low intake of fruit and vegetables and a dramatically higher intake of carbohydrates (such as mushroom risotto, hot chips or spaghetti Napolitana). Mammals (including humans) instinctively eat to the point at which we have consumed enough protein and; unless well balanced; adequate protein can be tricky on vegan and (to a lesser extent) vegetarian diets, thus increasing portion size consumed.

Is there any risk to my health?

Mostly a well balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is very healthy, although the key is well balanced. On a vegan diet getting enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamin B12 is very tricky (B12 typically needs to be supplemented). The key is to focus on plant-based proteins (legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy (milk, tofu, cheese) products) and ensure some at EACH MEAL. Specifically, legumes/lentils, cashews and amaranth (a grain) are key sources of iron for vegetarians/vegans (key particularly for women). A squeeze of lemon juice should always be added to meals to increase absorption of iron from your digestive tract. You should always check the calcium content of your non-dairy milk to ensure it at least matches dairy milk at 300mg/250ml serve. 
Vegetarian diets are much easier to balance (with eggs and dairy providing more protein, B12 and calcium options), however, iron is still tricky (particularly for women who have a higher need for iron than men).

What is a Pescetarian?

Pescetarian eating is choosing to avoid meat and poultry but continuing to eat fish and seafood. This strategy adds in a lot more flexibility (particularly when eating out) without the carbon footprint from land-based livestock. 

What is a Flexitarian?

This is the strategy we like the most. Flexitarian philosophy (otherwise called ‘casual vegetarian’) is when people mostly choose vegetarian options (with a high intake of legumes, lentils, tofu and nuts) however, are accepting and happy to consume chicken, fish or meat occasionally. 
We like this option because it promotes plant-based diets, while still being flexible enough to manage social situations (like family BBQ or eating out). It’s also more of a choice than a ‘rule’ that is often attached to vegan/vegetarian diets.

So, vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian or flexitarian? As is the case with most things in life, we suggest a healthy balance is best. Too much of any one type of food does not give us any benefits over a balanced, healthy diet.

If you’re looking for more in-depth information about the various options, Dietitians Australia has a few great articles with more information. Alternatively, whether you’re dealing with a health issue or simply wanting to ensure you’re consuming the healthiest options for your body, get in contact with SS Diets for a confidential chat.