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Health

January 2, 2022
Omnivores, vegans and vegetarians, always the same dispute: who has the healthiest diet? This question could be part of a television contest, but it would be misleading because it may not have a 100% accurate answer. Below we show a series of evidences so that you can give the best possible answer.
The omnivorous diet is the best known to be followed by the majority of the world’s human population. According to the RAE, an omnivore is an animal that feeds on all kinds of organic substances, that is, all food groups are included.
On the opposite side, a vegan diet is one that does not include foods of animal origin. Therefore, meat, fish, eggs, dairy and honey would be excluded. And, somewhere in between, are vegetarian diets, which are those that exclude meat and fish but not dairy and eggs.
It should be noted that any of the aforementioned diets, as long as it is well planned, is healthy. Since 2015, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics establishes that vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate. They can provide health benefits, both in the prevention and in the treatment of certain diseases. Another issue is the sustainability of food, but this deserves a separate article.
It is known that a balanced omnivorous diet, following the intake recommendations, could be classified as healthy. Here we understand this diet as one in which alcohol, processed products, pastries, or red meat are not consumed more than once a month, etc.
But we always tend to extremes, and the rhythm of life and the influences of the environment distort what a healthy diet could be. Thus, we consume red meat almost daily, snacks with processed foods such as cooked ham, and alcohol, and we think that wine is healthy because it is included in the Mediterranean diet. But nothing could be further from the truth, since the WHO does not establish safe doses of consumption.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, processed meat is a human carcinogen, which means that there is enough evidence to say that these products cause cancer. While red meat is classified as a probable carcinogen.
In addition, they have recently identified DNA damage that links high consumption of red meat to colorectal cancer.
Research related to vegetarian and vegan diets is relatively recent, since it has been in recent years that there has been an increase in people consuming this type of diet.
In Spain, in 2019, there were 3.8 million of vegetarians and vegans. The motivations for following these diets are very varied and include a commitment to the lives of animals, ethics, health and the sustainability of the planet. Although, perhaps, we could also add fashion to these reasons.
What do these plant-based diets have to make us think they are healthier? Well, a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, cereals, legumes and protein sources of plant origin. Perhaps the biggest difference lies in what they don’t contain: animal products that are high in saturated fat.
There are many studies evaluating the different health benefits of these diets and exploring their relationship with different diseases, improving or preventing them. For example, the negative effect of blood lipids when they are high is known. Therefore, following a vegetarian diet can be beneficial since it modulates said profile.
The body needs to be constant in its processes. The acid-base balance is important to maintain this homeostasis and nutrition plays a primary role. Foods like meats, fish, eggs, and cheeses promote acidic media. If this is not counteracted with the consumption of fruits and vegetables can be harmful to health.
Therefore, a vegan diet would be much healthier than a vegetarian and therefore an omnivore.
Another well-known diet-related disease is type 2 diabetes mellitus. People with a plant-based pattern have lower risk to develop it, since plant products act on different parameters reducing this risk.
Finally, we could highlight the importance that the study on the intestinal microbiota and its relationship with some diseases is acquiring. It has been observed that vegetarian and vegan diets improve the profile of our intestinal bacteria, protecting us against different diseases.
In food, extremes may not be good, but if they are well planned, they are healthy alternatives. In view of the climate crisis we are experiencing and the environmental impact of raising animals for human consumption, perhaps it is not unreasonable to reduce the consumption of products of animal origin and increase those of plant origin. This will not only improve our health, but also that of the planet.
With this information we already know the options. Now it is up to each person to choose the healthiest and most sustainable.
About the author. Sonia Martínez Andreu. Contracted Professor Doctor of the Department of Nursing and Physiotherapy. Director of the University Expert in Vegetarianism and Dietary Planning in Vegetarian Food, Universitat de les Illes Balears.

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