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World’s Best Diet Part 6–Vegetarian/Vegan

If you google the word diet, you will come up with over 200,000 results.  Every week, month, year, and decade a new study or article comes out claiming certain foods are killing us, or that some other food or nutritional approach will lead us to the promised land.  Unfortunately, articles are written to create traffic, so scientific research is often misreported or spun to sell magazines or generate website traffic.  The truth is, there are many ways to skin a cat.  All of the evidence on nutrition (in regards to weight loss) points to two undeniable truths.  First, that dietary adherence is king.  It doesn’t matter how perfect or evidence based a nutrition plan is, if you can’t follow it, it doesn’t matter.  Before starting any eating plan, you must ask yourself how easy it will be to maintain long term.  Second, you must achieve an energy deficit to lose weight (eat less energy than you expend each day).  Though “calories in, calories out” may be slightly over simplified, it is still the underlying rule to any weight loss success.   For any weight loss plan to work, you must consistently follow the pla, and you must be in a caloric deficit.  This series will highlight the nine most popular current nutrition approaches, and the pros and cons of each.

Vegetarian/Vegan

Claims: These diets claim to be healthier because they eliminate animal products as a food source.  Claims are vast and include: reducing cancer risk, improved bone health, lower mortality rates, protecting against chronic disease, etc.  Vegetarian diets are those which do not include flesh/meat of animals (though some do include fish) but will typically do include dairy and eggs.  Vegans on the other hand do not consume any products that come from animals (in some cases even excluding honey).

Reality: All of the claims from Vegans and Vegetarians on superiority for health come from correlative studies which do not control for confounding variables.  They simply take a survey and use correlations to draw conclusions.  Correlative research cannot draw conclusions, it can only direct us toward areas that need further study.  Of the 6 studies to ever look at health outcomes among vegetarians and vegans, 3 showed reduced mortality for meat eaters, while 3 showed reduced mortality for non-meat eaters.  The 3 studies that showed advantage to vegetarians all compared religiously motivated groups to general population (who tend not to be overly concerned about their health).

Pros: Tends to encourage the consumption of more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Cons: Often leads to inadequate amounts of protein being consumed.  Anytime entire food groups are removed, there is an increased risk of deficiencies.  In this case, the following nutrients may be compromised: B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, and Iodine.  Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, meaning it tends to fill you up more than fats or carbohydrates.  If protein levels drop, as is often the case in these diets, the chances of over consuming calories rises.  Low muscle mass levels are a risk due to inadequate protein intake.  In my experience, I have only met 2 (out of around 30) vegetarians over the last 20 years who were not either overweight and/or under muscled.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1

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