This is a very hot topic at the moment as the vegan movement has been gaining ground over the last few years and with the rise of many vegan documentaries and research showing the benefits of reducing red meat and animal product intake. Many of my clients (when they first meet me) come in and immediately ask - are you vegan? or are you going to make me go vegan? (most with a slightly scared look on their face).
Ok, spoiler alert, no I am not vegan or vegetarian and probably never would or could be (more on that in a bit). However, I try and now have at least 3 or 4 days per week where I am generally vegetarian and reduce my animal intake as much as I can. Even doing this reduced it significantly as I used to have either chicken or beef almost daily, sometimes even twice a day.
Now, not that I need to justify why i'm not vegan, but I'm half Lebanese so to me a life without Lebanese food - hello kibee and kafta are life!! if haven't tried them you are severely missing out - is not a life I want to live. If you've tasted my mum's Lebanese cooking you'll understand what I mean when I say it's nothing short of amazing and there's no way i'm missing out on that deliciousness and letting my siblings take all the leftovers home.
I know that If i really wanted too I could just not eat it, but sometimes I WANT to eat meat or chicken. That's the difference. Whilst I rarely cook red meat at home, on an odd occasion I literally just feel like a good steak or slow cooked lamb. At those times I know I could be doing a lot worse for my body then eating a bit of poultry or red meat every now and then. So for me, my balance and the diet that I can stick too, is having red meat or chicken occasionally and not feeling guilty about it because life is too short for guilt around food (ain't nobody got time for that).
That's what I teach my clients, that life is about balance and that you don't need to be sticking to any diet or way of eating that you don't want too or won't/ can't stick too. If they want to go 100% vegan then I support them and make sure they do it sensibly and are getting the right nutrients as if you are not careful being vegan or vegetarian you can run the risk of becoming deficient in certain nutrients. BUT then at the same time, if they shudder at the idea of never eating meat again, then I support that too whilst also educating them on the benefits of reducing their meat and animal product intake.
One thing I also tell my clients is to distinguish If they are doing it just because they think they should but their heart isn't entirely in it, as in they will miss eating meat, poultry and dairy. Or if they are doing it because they truly oppose the cruelty to animals and don't care about not eating animal products ever again. Because if your heart isn't in it, then maybe full time veganism isn't for you and that committing to even a couple of days of vegan or vegetarian eating per week might be better and give you that balance that way not depriving yourself of anything. Even that reduction in animal products can provide numerous health benefits of which are spoken about below.
Eating vegan is a very healthy way to live and can provide many benefits. However, just as any way of eating, you cannot assume that just because someone is vegan that they are healthy. For the same reason that you cannot assume gluten free is healthy or that someone that does consume meat is completely unhealthy. There are now vegan alternatives everywhere even at fast food restaurants and some (no make that all of them - as I would not eat from a fast food restaurant to save my life) I would not touch with a 10 foot pole. I would much rather my clients have a varied diet of vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains and some animal products then turn vegan because they think they are being healthy but then go and load up on vegan pastries, cakes, chocolate, pizza and pasta because that is all they eat and they don't actually like vegetables. Many packaged vegan products, like their non-vegan alternatives, such as biscuits and cakes can be (not always, but can be) high in sugars and saturated fats and contribute to an unhealthy diet. Just like anyone, you have to be proficient in reading labels to ensure you are not eating excess sugars and artificial colours and making sure that you are getting the vast majority of your nutrients from fresh, whole, non packaged foods.
The different types of Vegetarians
As a general rule all vegetarians exclude meat, poultry and fowl from their diets. There are different levels of vegetarians as some include fish and seafood, dairy and egg products in their diets
- Pescatarian - A vegetarian that eats fish/ seafood
- Lacto-vegetarian - Eats dairy
- Ovo vegetarian - They eat eggs.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian - Eats both dairy and eggs.
- Vegan - exclude red meat, poultry, fowl, fish/ seafood, eggs, dairy and other animal derived products in their diet. Depending on the level of veganism some refrain from wearing wool, silk or leather and don’t use skincare or house products that are derived from any animal origin.
Reasons to reduce your animal product intake
A diet with reduced animal intake -
Reduces the amount of saturated fat in the diet as animal products contain some of the highest sources of saturated fats.
Can help reduce weight and help to maintain a stable weight.
Has been shown to be higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
Can reduce heart disease and cardiovascular diseases.
Can reduce your chance of type 2 diabetes.
Generally higher intake of fruits and vegetables as they eliminate animal products
So, do you need to go vegan?
No, absolutely not if you don't want too!
Being Vegan is not the be-all and end all to being healthy as many of the documentaries that have come out over the past 18 - 24 months would have you believe. It's funny because many vegans call themselves "plant based" - Based - as in that statement should be used to mean "I eat majority plants But there is room for other nutritious, nutrient dense food in there too" - which going off that logic I have a plant based diet too.
And that is what I teach my clients, the bulk of your food should be fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds and good fats but then eggs, dairy and lean meats can also form a part of it too. I know myself I would much rather a client be having some animal products a few times a week and being happy and enjoying life then converting them to vegan and them completely giving up on being healthy as they hate it and go the opposite direction and completely fall off the bandwagon.
So the moral of the story is . . .
EAT A BALANCED DIET FULL OF FRUIT, VEGETABLES, NUTS, GRAINS, SEEDS, LEGUMES, EGGS, DAIRY AND LEAN MEATS BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY - ONE THAT YOU ARE HAPPY WITH AND CAN STICK TOO!!!