Everyone has their own opinion on the healthiest lifestyle, but I was shocked when this video I put out spurred a little controversy. I was providing tips for parents whose children wanted to go vegetarian (something many people have asked me for help with), and a complete stranger attacked me, equating a vegetarian lifestyle to being so unhealthy it was on the level of child abuse. Mind you, every parent who has ever asked me this has done so in the vein of letting the child express their individuality while still getting the needed nutrients.
This completely shocked me. I don’t expect others to eat or think like me, or to agree with me. In fact, most people don’t, but I didn’t expect to be attacked like that (especially when I happen to be way healthier in general than many of my meat eating friends.) But instead of lashing out or trying to convert this person to “my ways,” I became curious. And I dug into the facts.
If you’re going to evaluate what the healthiest lifestyle is, vegetarian or meat eater, I figured the best way is to look at measurable health factors. I chose six categories that are generally considered measures of overall health: diabetes, cancer, cholesterol, iron, B12, and effect on sleep.
I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist; these findings are based on my own research and personal experience (as a vegetarian since 1997).
Diabetes Risk for Vegetarians
According to 2017 research by Duke, higher consumption of red meat and poultry significantly increases your risk of developing diabetes. To be fair, I’m pretty sure this is heavily weighted by the WAY Americans, and specifically American restaurants, prepare these products. If you stripped out high fat content red meat, as well as breaded and fried options, I bet the results would be different.
CanCER Risk and Meat
This one gets a little complex, because there’s a lot of different kinds of cancer, and each type has a lot of different kinds of factors. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, and the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating red meat increases your chance of developing colorectal cancer.
For me, this is really good news, and though not why I went vegetarian, I was relieved when I heard this. Both my aunt and my grandma died of colon cancer. I’ve actually asked my doctor about this and she didn’t find these reports to be very conclusive, more coincidental.
On the other hand, the research also shows that consuming dairy may lower your risk of these kind of cancers. Studies have also shown that eating fish can help reduce your risk of colon and liver cancer.
Do Vegetarians Have Lower Cholesterol
You probably know that two factors that affect your cholesterol. The first one is genetics, and the second is what you eat. As far as genetics, if you have bad genes for cholesterol, that’s you just have to deal with that.
As far as the diet part, this gets a little interesting. Every time I go into the doctor, and they see my cholesterol, they’re shocked at how low it is. Part of that’s because I’m a vegetarian. I think I honestly scored on the genetic side, I really have never had any problems, I don’t know anybody in my family with cholesterol issues.
When you take a deeper look, the truth is, you can have high cholesterol whether you’re a vegetarian or not. If you’re a vegetarian that’s eating all sugary carbs and high-fat dairy, you’re likely to have high cholesterol. If you’re a meat eater that is eating fatty red meat all the time, then you’re probably going to have high cholesterol. Cholesterol only comes from animal sources, so vegans are mostly have low cholesterol, unless they have major genetic issues.
Is Iron a Problem for Vegetarians
Iron can be a major concern when you stop eating meat. I take supplements, but I also try to work in spinach and other iron-rich foods to account for this. It’s interesting when you look at the research, because vegetarians who eat a well-balanced diet don’t have any higher risk of anemia or deficiency than meat eaters do.
You can primarily only get B12 from red meat sources; you can get it from nutritional yeast and supplements, but primarily it’s from red meat. But, even knowing this, the stats on this really shocked me. The studies show that two out of three vegetarians are deficient in B12, while only 5% of meat eaters are.
Does Eating Meat Affect Sleep
There’s really no conclusive evidence on sleep, whether a vegetarian diet or a carnivore diet causes you to sleep better at night. There are certain foods within each diet that can help you sleep better or maybe upset your sleep, but, overall, they’re even-steven.
Conclusion: Vegetarian vs. Meat Eater
After looking at the studies on six health factors, a vegetarian lifestyle can be just as healthy as a meat eating lifestyle. It’s about how you do it. It’s about balance and paying attention. When it comes to your diet, too much of one thing is not good, no matter whether it’s carbs, fat or meat.
Some people choose to be vegetarian because they find it healthier. I personally think this is because it makes them more aware of the nutrients they’re consuming. When you take on a lifestyle change, vegetarian or not, it requires learning new ways of putting meals together. To me, learning is growing.
Finally, let’s just be kind to each other and not make assumptions. I never assume meat eaters are healthy or unhealthy, and no one should assume that about vegans or vegetarians either. You do you, and let others do their thing.