I EAT A MORE PLANT BASED DIET. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? VEGETARIAN? VEGAN? PESCETARIAN? SEMI-VEGETARIAN (FLEXITARIAN)
I was never one to look at the vegetarian foods on a menu card. My meals were centered around the animal protein. Scenario: I receive my menu card, skip the starter because I would rather have dessert. I head on to the beef and lamb dishes and scan through quickly. Next I go to the fish dishes and finally I check out the chicken dishes. Pork was never on my radar unless I had no other option. And for the vegetarian dishes, they did not count at all. That page could have been ripped off and I would not even notice. Then one day my husband became vegetarian. He quit eating meat cold turkey. I thought to myself “never!” Besides, how will I have all the necessary nutrients I require to get through this life? Then the “irritating vegans” came along and I thought, I would hate to be someone like that. If you do not know who these are, these are the extreme animal advocates that are constantly in your face and use guilt to make you feel like the devil; if you eat meat.
But as someone who is interested in health, I decided to do my own research. After watching a lot of documentaries such as What The Health, and flipping through tons of research articles, I decided to lead a more “plant based diet”. So what does that mean exactly?
What is a plant based diet
According to the Association of UK dietitians, A plant-based diet is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products. This is a very broad definition. Plant based diets are further divided into subclasses such as Vegetarianism, veganism, pescetarianism, semi-vegetarianism (flexitarianism), lacto-ovo vegetarianism and ovo-vegetarianism. What do these names mean? And what are their differences?
Understanding the types of plant based diets
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as follows: “A vegetarian is someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based foods (e.g. salt) with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs”. It further classifies the other diets I mentioned above as subtypes of a vegetarian diet.
Vegans or Complete Vegetarian
This is the strictest of all the subtypes of vegetarianism. Veganism is not just a diet but more of a lifestyle. The Vegan society defines veganism as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Vegans do not eat any animal products at all, including honey, dairy and eggs. But even further, they do not use products that contain any part of an animal such as wool or leather. Vegans do not use products that may have been tested on animals. While this may not be feasible for many, it is becoming easier for vegans to find vegan friendly products. A lot of products sold in stores may contain animal ingredients so vegans need to read labels very carefully. Vegan products will usually have a logo such as the thumbnail on the right or the word “vegan” would be written with a checked box. People become vegans for several reasons such as health, environment, ethical reasons and so on.
Did you know that oreos are vegan? And it is also possible to buy vegan pringles? There are also vegan ice-creams made from soy and they taste just as amazing as other ice-creams. So this diet is not as hard as you may have initially thought.
Pescetarians or Pescatarians
These are fish vegetarians. Although pescetarians maintain a plant based diet, they include fish and other sea foods such as clams, mussels, lobster and crabs. In other words, pescetarians do not eat meat from animals except sea creatures. Pork, beef and poultry are not part of their diet. This is very often a first step towards full vegetarianism. Many people seem to be able to give up red meat and chicken but hold on to fish and sea food. A common argument for this is the need for omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish products such as salmon and tuna; as well as the inadequate availability of perfect vegan fish alternatives. While flax-seed oil may provide a boost of omega 3, it is not a substitute to omega 3 fatty acids derived from fish.
Flexitarians or Semi-Vegetarians
This is a relatively new term and an interesting diet. The Flexitarian Diet is a style of eating that encourages mostly plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation. So these semi-vegetarians eat mostly a plant based diet and only eat small quantities of meat and other animal products. These are often people who give up meat for health reasons. Due to its flexible nature and focus on what to include rather than restrict, the Flexitarian Diet is a popular choice for people looking to eat healthier. There are no clear-cut rules in this lifestyle.
This is the most common form of vegetarianism. The word lacto comes from the latin word “Lac” meaning milk and ovo to eggs. These are people who do not eat beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish or animal flesh of any kind, but do eat eggs and dairy products such as milk and cheeses. When most people speak of vegetarians, they are referring to lacto-ovo- vegetarians. This also applies to products in stores with the label “vegetarian”. If you are strict on your diet, you may have to read through the ingredients to be perfectly certain of what you are purchasing.
These are vegetarians who eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
Are people who eat eggs but not dairy products.
These are the major groups that I have chosen to focus on in this blog post. However, there are way more diets out there. Give yourself the liberty of trying some meat-less meals someday. Perhaps the next time you are out to a restaurant, flip to the vegetarian meals, it might surprise you.
What category do I fall under?
Personally, I find that when put into a category as the subtypes above, you tend to get criticized for the choices you make. One slip and you have an army prodding at your back. Your diet is personal. It is completely your choice. When I say I eat mostly plant based foods, people are quick to place me into one of the categories. But I have learned to set boundaries in life. Whatever I say I am is exactly what I am. The labels placed on you by others do not matter. No one should force you to be what they think you should or should not be. If you decide to add more wholefoods and plants to your diet, do it because you want to; and not because your favorite celebrity said so or because it is the current trend.
Secondly, if you have been advised by a doctor to cut down on meat consumption, do not be scared to make that change for fear of criticism from your peers. You only have one life to live so live with intentionality. Watch informative documentaries and read articles and decide for yourself. And if or when you do, you will be more likely to stick to it knowing the benefits to your health.
Finally, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before embarking on a new diet.