Vegetarian, Vegan, and Healthy Diets Explained

All of us choose to eat foods based on our own personal needs and wants as well as to fuel the engine that is our body.  Some select a particular diet to meet specific nutritional needs, some to fuel high-energy output, others choose diets to support their values and follow a personal moral compass.  In all cases, we need to keep moderation and balance in mind.

Moderation – eating only those amounts of foods and calories needed to meet your body’s energy needs – and balance – eating a wide variety of foods to take in the vitamins, minerals, fats, fiber, and other necessary nutrients are critical to a healthy body and mind.  The trick is identifying and owning your lifestyle: sedentary, highly active, somewhere in between, and personal values.  Once you own your lifestyle, you can begin to learn about your caloric needs.

Nutrients require more thought if you select a restrictive diet or a diet focused on a narrowed-spectrum of food options.

Theories on dietary balance are many and varied, including several, changing recommendations by the USDA.  The USDA offered the Basic 7, the Basic 4, the Food Guide Pyramid, My Pyramid, and the current My Plate which does not address healthy fats as all the predecessors had previously.

Restrictive diets rarely work for anyone for long.  Restrictive diets are generally composed by a person to eliminate certain “bad” foods such as desserts, gluten foods, or other specific foods or food groups.  Often we see restrictive diets based on popular fads such as paleo, Atkins, and more.  An example of a restrictive diet that may be followed for either medical reasons or for personal reasons is the Gluten-Free Diet.

Narrowed-spectrum diets are those diets we choose to feel better, or for health reasons, or for personal preferences.  Vegetarian and vegan diets are examples.  Vegetarianism is comprised of several variations but, simply stated, is a diet free of meat, fish, and fowl flesh.  Vegans forgo eating – and often wearing or utilizing in any way – all animal-based products.  Vegans face the greatest difficulties in finding the right balance and quantities of nutrients.

Flexitarians follow a plant-based diet with the occasional meat item on the menu. These folks do their best to limit meat intake as much as possible and they have an almost entirely plant-based diet. This is not technically considered a “vegetarian” diet.  Pescatarians technically do not follow a vegetarian diet but avoid fowl, red and white meat.  They may eat fish and seafood and are sometimes referred to as Flexitarian or semi-vegetarian. Pollotarian is a semi-vegetarian diet that avoids red meat, certain white meats such as pork, fish, and seafood but eats poultry and fowl. Macrobiotic dieters eat mostly grains but can also eat fish. They don't necessarily identify as vegetarians.